What we’ve heard so far about Tony Blair’s interview with Fern Britton is about as revealing as it gets with a man who persists in revealing absolutely nothing – whilst he constantly denies possible reasons for the war in Iraq, can anybody find me a single interview in which Blair explains what the actual reasons were? Except for his oft-repeated assurance that he thought it was the right thing?
But it is revealing that he is now downplaying the significance of WMD and falling back on the Saddam-was-a-nasty-man argument that holds so little water as a reason for the invasion (if getting rid of dodgy leaders is a valid reason for war – which it isn’t – why not Zimbabwee? Why not Korea? Why not Italy? Why not put in the time and resources needed to make the operation successful?). Blair is obviously on the defensive, downplaying the original cited reasons for war by suggesting that, even without those reasons, it was a jolly good job we went in anyway. It’s as if he’s expecting to need back-up justification for when he’s revealed to have led us into war on false pretences.
Equally concerning is his statement about his Christian faith, which he speaks of as something which “sustains” him, with the pretty massive caveat that “what your faith can’t do, I’m afraid, is tell you what is the right thing.”
This is worrying for two reasons: firstly, because as self-elected faith leader Blair misunderstands the very core of Christianity. For him, it is simply a crutch: a way of feeling better when everything is going wrong, a reason to be nice to each other. That’s not Christianity – it’s humanism with fancy clothes.
It’s no wonder he doesn’t see his faith as serving any useful purpose. Not for him a transformative God whose sacrifice conquered death; not for him a living word which, rehearsed through communion with church and God, can offer wisdom even on contemporary moral issues. Certainly not for him a faith worth dying for. The ironically-named Tony Blair Faith “Foundation” is grounded in such vague theology that Richard Dawkins could sign up for a membership card with no qualms whatsoever.
As a society we’re wary of personal belief coming into politics – I would say unreasonably so. Before you get your knickers in a twist, I’m not advocating politicians justifying decisions with their faith either publically or personally – faith used as a claim of infallibility is also a serious misunderstanding of what it actually means. But the second reason why Blair’s statement undermines his credibility, not just as a faith leader but a political one, is that he distances what he calls “the right thing” from the beliefs on which his values are (presumably) based. Essentially, it is an admission that political expediency overruled any system of morality in his decisions.
Cynical generation that we are, we already know that’s true for most politics. But we can’t surgically remove morality from everything that goes on in government – without denying the complexity of political decisions, or suggesting that they can be simply split into decisions of “right or wrong”, what Blair calls “the right thing” must be informed and guided by personal (and indeed universal) beliefs – otherwise, what is it based on?
It is a particularly worrying question in the case of Iraq, given that the only solid reason Blair has given for the invasion was that he “thought it was the right thing”.