Friday, July 18, 2003

Irresponsible Politics

I know that it is the rule in politics to strike one's opponents precisely when they are down, but the big fuss being made by the Democrats about the so-called "16 Words" - namely that Bush said "the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" - strikes me as wrongheaded in the extreme.

Nor is it enough for the Democrats to have attempted to make a great fuss out of such a minor issue; it seems they now feel that even British domestic politics is within their remit, if it serves their own partisan priorities. According to the Daily Telegraph,

Mr Blair was due to appear at the White House for a joint press conference in which questions about the uranium claim seemed sure to dominate.

Those Democrats who were against the war, or who are now positioning themselves as critics after the fact, saw Mr Blair's visit as an opportunity to go after Mr Bush by exploiting the differences between the two men over the uranium from Niger.

Some 41 House Democrats signed a letter this week calling on Mr Bush to ask Mr Blair to disclose the source of the intelligence that has led Downing Street to stand by the Niger claim even as the White House tried to run away from it.

This is simply a step too far! Let us leave aside for a moment the fact that the British government has already stated that it cannot compromise the confidentiality of its' sources: do the Democrats really believe that they do themselves or their country any sort of favor by undermining the government of the only country America can depend upon in Europe? Do they really believe that a British government led by Gordon Brown and the extreme left will side with America over Old Europe, even if a Democrat were to win the presidency? Or are the Democrats of the opinion that Europe will cease to matter once their party is in power, and France and Germany will magically return into the embrace of a more "multilateralist" American government?

There is a great deal I dislike about Blair's government; I despise his timidity towards traditional Labour party constitutuencies, I detest his inability to desist from tinkering with the country's institutional arrangements in the name of "modernity", I loathe the patronizing and deceitful arguments put forward by his government about the consequences of the proposed European constitution, I hate all of these things, and have no great desire to see Labour remain in power, but I do not wish to see Blair fall because of his support for a cause that was clearly just, whatever the quality of some of the arguments made for it.

If the Democrats want to see Bush removed from power, I would suggest that they move on from the whole "Bush lied" argument, on to more constructive ground, as Thomas Friedman suggested recently. Rather than refight the battle over the merits of the war in Iraq, they would do better, both from a political and a moral point of view, to talk about winning the peace. It isn't as if there isn't plenty to criticize on that score, as even right-leaning papers like the Daily Telegraph continue to make clear. So what if "Bush lied"? One could equally plausibly argue that FDR pushed America into an unecessary confrontation with Nazi Germany, but no one would dare argue that he was wrong to do so.