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Blair: My Christian conscience is clear over war
The Independent (U.K.) ^ | 03/02/03 | Andy McSmith and Steve Richards

Posted on 03/01/2003 3:07:50 PM PST by Pokey78

Exclusive: The Prime Minister answers questions from 'Independent on Sunday' readers over his beliefs and motives

Tony Blair has told critics that his Christian conscience is clear about the terrible death toll which could follow a military strike against Iraq.

In a unique dialogue with Independent on Sunday readers, the Prime Minister declared: "I would never go into war if I thought it was morally wrong." Mr Blair has responded in detail to the many concerns raised by our readers over the past weeks.

His answers were composed at 30,000 feet as he flew back from talks with the Spanish Prime Minister, José Maria Aznar.

The exercise is a sign of Mr Blair's increasing anxiety to keep talking to critics of his Iraq policy, so that even if he cannot win them over, he can at least persuade them that he is doing what he genuinely believes is right.

Labour MPs who voted against the Government last week have been invited to private chats with the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw. The Muslim News is reporting that Mr Blair will hold talks this week with the Muslim Council of Britain.

Tony Blair finds himself in the extraordinary position of contemplating a war that is opposed by a majority of voters and much of his own party. The Falklands conflict hugely enhanced Mrs Thatcher's political reputation and helped her to win a landslide in the 1983 election. The war in the Balkans led by Mr Blair in his first term was broadly popular. In contrast a pre-emptive strike against Iraq, probably only a few weeks away, is the source of much greater anxiety and downright opposition. What makes the current situation even more extraordinary is that Mr Blair's normal style is to seek at least a degree of consensus before embarking on a precarious course. Now he seeks support having already embarked on a high-risk course, one in which there is no obvious way back.

It is just over a year ago that President Bush gave his first clear public signal that Iraq was in his sights. Mr Blair declared his support, specifically raising the need to "deal with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction". He has been unswervingly loyal to President Bush, while insisting that he would have been urging a similar course if the President had not instigated it himself.

There have been differences of emphasis between the US and Mr Blair, in particular on the need to revive the Middle East peace process and the importance of the UN. But Mr Blair has stated publicly many times that in his view "the UN has to be a route for dealing with Iraq, not an excuse for avoiding it". This suggests that Mr Blair would back the US if he cannot get a second UN resolution.

To his credit Mr Blair has sought a dialogue with those who oppose the war. Previous prime ministers rarely engaged in public with those who disagreed with them. Last week, uniquely, Mr Blair agreed to answer the concerns of Independent on Sunday readers directly. In all, you sent us nearly 400 questions. We chose 10 of the most representative for him to answer, which we publish here with the Prime Minister's reply. But every one of your questions has been passed to Mr Blair.

How can you reconcile a pre-emptive attack on Iraq with your Christian beliefs, especially in view of the pressure from church leaders around the world?

Helen O'Sullivan, 35, Hertfordshire

Of course, my beliefs and values are obviously hugely important to me. I would never go into a war if I thought it were morally wrong or if I thought it was not in the best interests of this country.

I have never claimed to have a monopoly of wisdom but, just as I don't doubt the sincerity of those who oppose military action, I hope they will understand that I believe equally firmly that the international community can't let Saddam's defiance continue.

As I have said, I hope, even now, that military conflict can be avoided. We have gone out of our way to give Saddam another chance to disarm peacefully though this means he would stay in power. It is up to him whether he takes this chance.

Sending our forces into action is the hardest decision any prime minister ever makes. I've done it twice in major conflicts, and, there was opposition and understandable concern on both occasions.

The first time was when our forces intervened in Kosovo to halt the barbaric ethnic cleansing of Kosovan Albanians, who were Muslims, at the hands of Milosevic, another brutal dictator. The international community had tried hard by peaceful means to control the orgy of killing and expulsions that he had unleashed on the Balkans but failed.

Our military action was not without mistakes. Innocent people died. I deeply regret that. But the ethnic cleansing was halted. Milosevic was kicked out by the Serbs and is now on trial for war crimes. The Balkans now has the chance for a better future. I don't think anyone could fairly say we were wrong to intervene.

And in Afghanistan, we have given people the chance to build a better future. They have a long, long way to go. But the Taliban, one of the most repressive regimes seen in modern times, has been removed. The al-Qa'ida training camps in Afghanistan have been destroyed, their network disrupted, their leaders killed, captured or on the run. Girls are going back to school. Life is still very hard but I don't think one could say their chance of a peaceful and prosperous future is not better now than before we intervened.

Both these conflicts were controversial. Both led to innocent people being killed. But, I can say that, despite the difficulties and what went wrong, we did the right thing. And I would never commit British forces to any action unless I was confident we were acting for the right reasons and that, at the end of it, the world would be a safer and better place.

Helen O'Sullivan works as a PA at the Queen Mother Hospital for Small Animals – part of the Royal Veterinary College in London. She is single, lives in New Barnet, and is a member of her local Methodist church.

"Tony Blair and George Bush call themselves Christians, but then call for a pre-emptive strike on Iraq. I find this very difficult to reconcile, because most Christians want to pursue the path of peace and diplomacy – as the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope have said. Also, the case for war still hasn't been proven, and that makes me highly suspicious of whether there is a hidden agenda."

Are you not concerned that, by allying Britain with the US against an Islamic regime, however corrupt and dangerous that regime may be, you will be exposing us to even greater threat in the future from Islamic- based terror organisations, such as al-Qa'ida?

Judy Moore, 49, Norwich

Saddam's Iraq is a corrupt and dangerous regime, as you say. And we do face a serious threat from terrorist organisations. But one of the main reasons Saddam must not be allowed to retain his weapons of mass destruction is to reduce this threat. For the real nightmare is that the twin threats of WMD and terrorism come together.

We know terrorist organisations are trying desperately to get their hands on such weapons. And, ever since 11 September, we also know that they would not hesitate to use them. Their aim, as we have seen in New York, in Bali and Nairobi, is simply to kill as many people as possible.

The most likely source of such weapons is rogue states like Iraq. So if we allow them – in defiance of the United Nations – to retain and develop such weapons, we are making the world a more dangerous place, not a safer one. It's why we have to act to ensure Saddam is disarmed, to uphold the authority of the UN and to send a message to other unstable states that the international community is serious about preventing the proliferation of WMD.

As to the threat from organisations like al-Qa'ida, the evidence shows they are ready to kill and maim in any country. There have been terrorist arrests across Europe including countries which, at present, take a different line on Saddam. And the terrible attack on young people in Bali shows that we are kidding ourselves if we believe our citizens are less of a target if we keep a low profile on terrorism or WMD.

I want to add two other points. It's a fact, of course, that the two million or so people who have lost their lives because of Saddam – both within and outside Iraq – have been overwhelmingly Muslim, just as those who have most to lose if he is allowed to keep his WMD are his own people and his Muslim neighbours. I can see why al-Qa'ida pretend that efforts to ensure Saddam complies with his international obligations are somehow anti-Muslim but we should not fall into that trap.

I also want us to step up our efforts on the Middle East peace process, not because of Iraq but for its own sake. There are a great many difficulties to overcome but there has been progress at least towards the foundations of a solution based on security for Israel and a viable Palestinian state. President Bush, who is the first US President to commit himself to a Palestinian state, emphasised this in his speech on Wednesday.

Dr Moore, who is married with a 13-year-old son, is director of counselling at the University of East Anglia, Norwich.

"The motivation behind my question was a concern that if we act out of fear and hatred, we are just going to generate more fear and hatred. I wonder what Tony Blair knows that the rest of us don't. He seems to be courting disaster from a place of utter conviction – but I don't quite understand where that conviction is coming from."

Resolution 1441 is based on a quantitative assessment of Iraq's weapons programme, so until they have accounted for every documented and suspected weapon, they will be judged as non-compliant. Surely this is designed for them to fail?

Christian Murphy, 31 south London

I really would urge everyone to read resolution 1441. It is a straightforward resolution expressed in remarkably straightforward language. It says Saddam is already in material breach of his disarmament obligations. It gives him a "final opportunity" to comply or face "serious consequences". It says that Saddam has to give an accurate, full and complete declaration of his WMDs [weapons of mass destruction], that any false statement or omission would be another material breach and that Iraq must give full and unhindered co-operation to the UN inspectors. He hasn't done any of this.

As the experience of South Africa over its nuclear programme showed, with full and active co-operation, disarmament can be achieved very quickly. Without this co-operation, it is virtually impossible, particularly in a country like Iraq, which is the size of France. It's why in four years the inspectors found no trace of Saddam's biological weapons programme until his son-in-law defected and revealed the truth. They are not detectives, they are scientists and weapons experts. It's not their job to play hide and seek with Saddam. It's up to Saddam to come clean.

As the first step in response to resolution 1441, Saddam had to give an open, honest declaration of what WMD he had and where they were, so they could be destroyed. On 8 December he submitted the declaration denying he had any WMD, a statement not a single member of the international community seriously believes. I doubt whether many Independent on Sunday readers, no matter what their stance on military action, do either.

Christian Murphy runs his own management consultancy company. His wife Zoe is expecting their first child.

"The whole basis of the UN inspection programme was to ensure that Iraq was disarmed of serious weaponry. Attacking them won't do that. If the US were really concerned that Iraq had dangerous chemical weapons, there is no way they'd have that many troops so near her border. I'm a disappointed with the way our government has handled the situation. They've lost the direct connection they once had with the people."

If your government has detailed knowledge supporting the fact that Iraq poses a threat to the rest of the world, why hasn't that knowledge been shared with the rest of the world?

Becky Hone, 25, London

I am not saying that Saddam is about to launch an attack on London or Paris or New York. I am not even saying he will immediately launch another attack on one of his neighbours, although everything in Saddam's history shows he will do once he thinks he can get away with it. And when he does, emboldened by success in defying the UN and stronger because of his WMD, the international community will have to intervene again but will find him much more dangerous. My real fear – and this is what intelligence does show – is how desperately terrorist groups are trying to get their hands on WMD, their intention to use them to cause mass civilian deaths and how unstable states such as Iraq are the most likely source of these terrifying weapons. As I have said, the real nightmare is that the twin threats of WMD and terrorism will combine. If we don't uphold the UN's authority over Saddam's WMD, we will be sending out a very dangerous signal of weakness which makes this much more likely.

Becky Hone's brother, Tom, 23, is a naval engineer aboard HMS 'Ocean'.

"I'm not naive enough to think that the Government has to share everything with us, but this is about real people's lives. I don't like the idea of my brother risking his life without understanding the reasons."

If the UN refuses to authorise war, how will you justify it if Iraq is attacked without regard for this decision?

Ami Hope-Thomson, 19, Aberdeen

The UN has been trying to get Saddam to disarm peacefully for 12 years. Saddam has defied 17 resolutions. Resolution 1441 gave him a final opportunity. The resolution we have just tabled at the UN has given him yet another chance.

I hope, even at this late stage, that war can be avoided. I genuinely hope that Saddam takes the opportunity he has been offered to disarm peacefully. I also believe, if it proves necessary, we will build support for military action.

Many people said last summer that the United States would ignore the UN route. They haven't. But we have said all along that the UN has to be a way of dealing with Saddam's defiance over his WMD, not a way of avoiding it. If the UN does not act to enforce its authority, I believe we are storing up serious problems for the future.

Ami Hope-Thomson is studying Spanish and history of art at Aberdeen University.

"It seems Tony Blair will follow America whatever happens, and I find that very disappointing, especially if there is no further resolution from the UN. He should start listening to other European leaders, rather than just Bush. If he goes ahead with this, I think it would be a very bad move for him politically. I just believe that we should avoid war at all costs. There is no point sacrificing the lives of all those civilians just to get rid of one man. There must be another way."

We might not like Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq but we have been neither threatened nor attacked by it. We have no treaty obligations with any of Iraq's neighbours (none of whom have been attacked either), nor any legal obligations to the people of Iraq. No link between Iraq and al-Qa'ida has been discovered. So why are you intent on forcing the UK to take part in and pay for an act of aggression against Iraq that has no legality, and that the majority of your fellow citizens do not want?

Ann Keith, 62, Grantchester, Cambridgeshire

The simple answer is because we are a member of the UN Security Council which voted in November by 15-0 to warn Saddam that he had a final opportunity to comply fully with his disarmament obligations or face serious consequences. If the UN is to have any authority – and I believe this is vital in the modern world – then we must act if necessary.

But I also don't think in the modern world it is any longer realistic to think you can just pretend things are happening elsewhere and it is not going to affect you. Surely this was the lesson we all learnt from 11 September. The international community, for good reasons as well as bad, turned a blind eye to Afghanistan and the links between al-Qa'ida and the Taliban. I can imagine what the reaction would have been if I had said before 11 September that the international community must act militarily against al-Qa'ida in Afghanistan. But with hindsight, we know that would have been the right thing to do.

Ann Keith is the assistant librarian at Christ's College in Cambridge. She lives with her two cats in nearby Grantchester, and has one daughter and two grandchildren.

"When I was considering my question, I thought back to my youth. If we'd launched attacks like this in those days, we'd have gone to war with Stalin. We knew he was imprisoning and torturing hundreds of thousands of people, but we didn't behave like this. For whatever reason, George Bush is trying to finish what his father started, and Tony Blair has been caught up in his coat tails. At base, there is no legality for their actions, either morally or diplomatically."

How can you justify using our weapons of mass destruction in a pre-emptive strike against another sovereign country – because they have weapons of mass destruction?

Dr John Holder, 52, London

It is Saddam, not us, who has used weapons of mass destruction against both his own people and his neighbours. I have no doubt that if he thought he could get away with it, he would use them again. That's why the UN decided 12 years ago that he must be disarmed and why the Security Council reaffirmed that decision unanimously in November through resolution 1441. Unlike Saddam, Britain does not have chemical or biological weapons. We do have nuclear weapons but have never used them and have no plans to use them.

Dr Holder, who runs Chelsea Financial Services, is married to Susan, a chef.

"Iraq should be given far more time to destroy their weapons: war should be the last resort, not the first option. I'm fed up with all the spin, all the changes in direction from the Government. First of all it was about the weapons, then the moral case for regime change. Mr Blair's moral righteousness is ridiculous. The 'do what we say or we'll beat you up' attitude is not a way of conducting world diplomacy."

Were we to launch a pre-emptive attack while there are still options open, it would make the world a more dangerous place by setting a precedent other nations might follow in the future. How do you morally justify a policy that, by clearly departing from the norms of international behaviour, undermines the chances of peaceful negotiations in the future?

Dr Terence Moore, 75, Cambridge

But the UN has tried unsuccessfully for 12 years to get Saddam to disarm peacefully. And if he doesn't co-operate then no number of inspectors and no amount of time is going to ensure it happens in a country almost twice as big as the UK. The UN inspectors found no trace at all of Saddam's offensive biological weapons programme – which he claimed didn't exist – until his lies were revealed by his son-in-law. Only then did the inspectors find over 8,000 litres of concentrated anthrax and other biological weapons, and a factory to make more. We still don't know what has happened to 1.5 tonnes of VX nerve gas, 350 more tonnes of chemical warfare agent, growth material to produce three times the amount of anthrax destroyed and thousands of chemical bombs.

So I think what would make the world a much more dangerous place is that if we continue to let Saddam defy the authority of the UN by retaining his WMD. Because history shows he will use them again to intimidate or attack his neighbours. We would then have to intervene, as we did when he invaded Kuwait, but we would find him stronger and more dangerous.

And when the UN came to deal with other threats from other rogue states perhaps who are also developing WMD, what will its authority be? And what credibility will the UN have when it makes a demand of another country? This weakness won't lead to peace but to conflict which when it comes will be more bloody and greater in its devastation.

Dr Moore, who is a fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, was a lecturer in theoretical linguistics at the university until he retired eight years ago. He is currently working on a study of Thomas Locke and has three grandchildren.

"One of the implications of a pre-emptive attack is that it will change the rules fundamentally. It will send a message to countries like North Korea that aggression is not outside the norms of international behaviour. I believe that Tony Blair made a serious error of judgement in aligning himself with the Bush administration far too early. The Prime Minister's sincerity is not the issue – you can be sincerely wrong."

I teach children a little older than your youngest son. I imagine the absolute desperation teachers must be feeling in Iraq. I am also a mother. How can you, as a father and person in such a responsible position, be party to the horror which is about to descend on the ordinary people of Iraq?

Barbara Jones, 59, Bangor, North Wales

I passionately believe if we don't ensure Saddam disarms, if we don't stand up for the authority of the UN, the result will not be peace but more bloodshed and devastation – not just for the people of Iraq but, in the longer term, for those in neighbouring countries and the wider world, including this country.

It is to disarm Saddam and uphold the authority of the UN that we must stand firm. If we need to take military action to achieve this – and I still genuinely hope it is not necessary – every effort will be taken to avoid civilian casualties. It will be Saddam's regime and his forces which will be targeted.

But your question suggests that somehow life is normal in Iraq now for mothers and children. It is not – and it hasn't been since Saddam seized power over 20 years ago.

Saddam has been a reckless aggressor, invading two countries and firing missiles at five. But it is the Iraqi people who have suffered most at his hands. He's used chemical weapons against them as well as Iran. Hundreds of thousands have been killed, tortured or imprisoned by this barbaric regime. Thousands more have been driven from their homes. Four million are in exile.

And for those that remain, Saddam is exploiting UN sanctions deliberately to create misery for his people as a propaganda and political tool. He has siphoned off something like $3bn from the oil-for-food programme for the use of him and his family and to safeguard his hold on power, while 60 per cent of the Iraqi people are dependent on food aid.

All this in a country which before Saddam's coup just a generation ago was as rich as Portugal and Malaysia. The innocent die every day in Iraq at the hands of Saddam and we shouldn't forget that. The ordinary Iraqi people, as you describe them, will be the biggest winners if Saddam is ousted from power.

Barbara Jones is married with two daughters. She teaches at a local primary school and belongs to both the Welsh Congregational Church and the Quakers.

"I can imagine the utter terror in the eyes of my class of three- and four-year-olds, should they be forced to witness armoured tanks on the streets of our village or military aircraft coming to bomb their homes and school. Are the children of Iraq different from ours just because their country happens to be governed by Saddam Hussein? Are they in some way different from Tony Blair's own children?

"Aggression is the bully's way forward. This government strives to eradicate bullying in our schools, while condoning and participating in the act on an international level."

If it is morally right to go to war in Iraq to overthrow a tyrant who terrorises his own people, why are we not also intervening by force in Zimbabwe and other nations ruled by despots?

Mike Wilmott, 42, Wiltshire

If military action proves necessary, it will be to uphold the authority of the UN and to ensure Saddam is disarmed of his weapons of mass destruction, not to overthrow him. It is why, detestable as I find his regime, he could stay in power if he disarms peacefully.

But as I have said, if Saddam is ousted then those who will gain most will be the Iraqi people. It is not the reason we should act but it is, I believe, an answer to those who think the moral arguments are all against military action.

So that's why your analogy with Zimbabwe doesn't really work. There is an explicit UN resolution – in fact any number of them – telling Saddam to disarm. Resolution 1441 gives him a last chance and warns him of the serious consequences if he doesn't comply. I don't hide my concern over what is happening in Zimbabwe or my contempt for the Mugabe regime. But we are not in that position with Zimbabwe.

It doesn't mean, of course, that we should turn a blind eye to what is happening in Zimbabwe or elsewhere in Africa, and we are not. I should point out, too, that British forces have already intervened in Africa under this Government. I'm proud of the action we took to intervene in a vicious civil war in Sierra Leone to safeguard the democratic government and restore peace.

Mike Wilmott, who works in the planning office at his local council, is married to Kirsty. They have two children, aged 12 and 14.

"I'm concerned that this war might increase tensions between Christian and Muslim countries on a much bigger scale. In countries like Pakistan, Uganda and Sudan, elements of radical Islam could easily become inflamed by the situation. A lot of people I know are less than impressed by our Government's handling of the situation – one of my friends has already sent back their Labour membership card."

Our thanks to the following readers who sent in questions to Mr Blair

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Foreign Affairs; Front Page News; News/Current Events; United Kingdom
KEYWORDS: liberalcaseforwar

1 posted on 03/01/2003 3:07:50 PM PST by Pokey78
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To: Pokey78
Blair will not blink now
2 posted on 03/01/2003 4:29:03 PM PST by Mister Baredog
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To: Pokey78
These people obviously didn't care what his answers were, they just wanted to carp. There should a GAG warning for this article...I'm still wretching!
3 posted on 03/01/2003 4:36:39 PM PST by gracex7 (That bloody warmonger Churchill.The bombing of London was all his fault.Hitler really wanted peace!)
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To: Pokey78
I was watching him on C-SPAN talking to anti-war citizens. He has guts and serious convictions, a lesser man would have caved by now. I have rethought my distain for him.

Considering the Turkey wrench we got today, the un opposition, and the public opposition, I am beginning to believe there really is an anti-follow-through conspiracy.

Damn them all.

4 posted on 03/01/2003 7:27:14 PM PST by LibertyThug
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To: wayne_shrugged
Read this, it's long but worth it. This is what (anti-war questions to Blair) I was telling you about.
5 posted on 03/01/2003 10:56:58 PM PST by LibertyThug
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