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Columns and Articles by Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman

October 02, 2010

Take Another Look at Tony Blair—Who Maybe Got It Right.

History does not necessarily validate contemporary assessments of famous politicians. Tony Blair, one of the most popular British Prime Ministers ever, left office under a cloud of opprobrium, not only by his own countrymen, but American progressives as well. He was condemned for having supported the war in Iraq (the 2003 war) and was dubbed “George Bush’s Poodle.” This is a sad end to what was a dazzling career—but maybe it is not the last word.

In Philadelphia (September 13, 2010), Blair received the Liberty Medal for his global human rights work and commitment to international conflict resolution. The focus of this annual award is the promotion of liberty worldwide. Blair was honored for his work with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, promoting religious tolerance; for his efforts to improve governance in Africa (an endless tar-pit); and for advancing peace in Northern Ireland and the Middle East.

Blair is also on book tour with his memoir, A Journey, the receipt of which is not as uniformly happy as his award ceremony. British and Irish anti-war protesters blast Blair for working with the Americans and taking a leaf from Iraq, throw shoes and eggs at him. What does Blair say in his own defense?

Although some American columnists gave snide reviews of his memoir, Charley Rose conducted an enlightening interview with Blair. Blair conducted himself with honor. Does he regret his decision to take Britain into the Iraq War? Of course, he agonizes over the loss of life—both our soldiers and Iraqis as well. However, he still believes that it is a noble cause to free people from horrific rule. It is impossible to regret the removal and death of Saddam Hussein and his monstrous sons.

He was asked if he had known then what he knows now about weapons of mass destruction, would he still have supported the invasion? Blair said something that is not popular today: that although we did not find WMDs when we went in, that does not mean that there had not been such weapons; they may have been spirited out in Russian convoys, just before we went in. (I believe this too.) And he noted that had we not gone in, Saddam would have restarted his programs; all the scientists and facilities were in place and just needed a go-ahead. (I heard this from an Iraqi physicist who defected to the US as well.)

Blair obviously believes that all people deserve to have decent governance. I would like that too—but I don’t think we few can take on the billions of people living in ignorance who are not ready for participatory governance. But Blair is tireless.

Let us remember how unpopular Harry Truman was when he stepped down as President. This man, without even a college degree, the successor to the dazzling Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was a senator so obscure that most people never gave him a thought until he was thrust into the role by the death of Roosevelt. What we did not know then was how sterling and diligent was his character—and what a great constitutional expert he was (on his own, not courtesy of university education). Both Democrats and Republicans now embrace his administration as a model the presidency.

Ronald Regan was regarded by most well-educated liberals as an idiot who only knew Hollywood. We have since learned how bright he really was by reading his writing, particularly his correspondence. This was a thinking man. And the same was true for President Eisenhower, who was thought to be a pleasant dolt. He was not.

We have another situation today in how President Obama is regarded. He started his administration with adulation that approached the embarrassing: that he could walk on water. Today, just two years later, he is attacked (for different reasons) by both the far right and the far left.

How this landmark presidency will look in a few decades will be very different from the heat and no light of today. We need a little distance to see our leaders fairly—and outside of the coziness of mob think.

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Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and writer. You may contact her at Lfarhat102@aol.com or www.globalthink.net.