Tony Blair, object lesson

I’m not an expert on current British politics, but Tony Blair’s core problem seems fairly straightforward. He has lost many Labour voters because of his position on Iraq and he can’t recoup this support from Conservative voters because he is a Labourite and is positioned to the left on domestic issues.
I think there is an unfortunate lesson here for our own politics. In next year’s presidential election, the Democratic nominee will be scrambling to convince voters that he (or she?) will vigorously prosecute the war on terrorism. As part of this campaign, he will find ways to assure voters that he would use the military against hostile regimes whenever the evidence warrants such action. Depending on developments in Iraq, and on what the candidate said about Iraq before the war, we may hear that “I too would have attacked but I would have done a better job of bringing in allies” or “it was wrong to attack Iraq because the evidence didn’t warrant it” or some variation. But no Democrat will rule out the kind of action we undertook in Iraq as something he would do in other situations.
Most voters may well be inclined to accept these assurances. But should they? A Democratic president who started a war like the one against Iraq even in the face of strong evidence regarding WMD (the kind everyone assumed we had before the war with Iraq) would be castigated by his political base, leaving him naked against his Republican enemies (as Tony Blair stands naked today). It is still possible that the Democratic president would act in the national interests without regard to the political consequences, as Blair did. But Blair is exceptional. I can’t think of many Democrats who would risk political capital to defend the country against serious, but perhaps not imminent, threats. The path of least resistance will be to let these kinds of problems fester, as Bill Clinton did.
The strong pacificist (when it comes to defending American interests) strand in the Democratic party may be a plus for Republicans interested in winning elections. But, because the Republicans won’t win all of the elections, it poses a huge threat to our national security.


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