BUSH AND BLAIR, two leaders who have in common monosyllabic names beginning with "B" and spines of steel, are linked forever in history by their decision to rid the world of Saddam Hussein. In the last two days, the one has addressed his nation, the other his parliament about the coming war. For all the overlap in the thrust and content of their speeches, however, the president and the prime minister differed interestingly in the justifications they offered for intervening in Iraq.
First, Bush and Blair differed in the way they grounded the legitimacy of using force to dislodge Saddam's regime. Bush was the more radical. While he cited last fall's U.N. Security Council resolution 1441--as well as its predecessors from the 1990s, resolutions 678 and 687, both still in effect, and both authorizing "the United States and our allies to use force in ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction"--he traced the legitimacy of his action beyond them, to its very root, asserting: "The United States of America has the sovereign authority to use force in assuring its own national security. That duty falls to me as commander in chief by the oath I have sworn, by the oath I will keep."
Blair, in contrast, staked his claim squarely on last fall's U.N. Security Council resolution. "We have to act within the terms set out in resolution 1441," he said, "That is our legal base," though he added that he acts "with a clear conscience and strong heart" because of the unremitting suffering that Saddam has inflicted on the Iraqi people.
No doubt this difference reflects the two countries' political cultures--the don't-tread-on-me Yankees being the more jealous of popular sovereignty and warier of international institutions that dilute it. Both men, to be sure, expressed support for the United Nations, and both spoke of the necessity of confronting the threat posed by the coming together of terrorist groups and weapons of mass destruction. But only Bush did so plainly in terms of national self-defense.
Second, Bush and Blair differed in the effects they foresee from their joint (and allied) action. Both men spoke of enhancing world security and of freeing the Iraqi people from the tyrant's grip. But where only Blair spoke of rescuing the United Nations from irrelevance, only Bush stressed the hope that, in the long term, regime change in Iraq will be a catalyst for change in the Middle East. Bush believes that a "vital and peaceful and self-governing" Iraq can set an example for its neighbors and that American and allied assistance, over time, will "advance liberty and peace in that region."
This is the visionary project that Bush's critics love to caricature. In a recent column, former Democratic senator Gary Hart dripped with scorn for the idea that "we intend to conduct a political revolution among 1.1 billion people spread from Gibraltar to eastern Indonesia"; that we will "bring democracy to the Arab world at the point of a bayonet." History will tell whether Bush's confidence in the power of freedom deserved to be so distorted and ridiculed. For now, let me end with an e-mail received yesterday afternoon from an acquaintance in Kuwait.
Dr. Ahmad Bishara, former vice dean of the College of Engineering and Petroleum at Kuwait University, is a writer, magazine publisher, and leading voice for liberal democracy in his part of the world. He writes:
Dear friends everywhere:
The next few weeks will yet again bring this region, our country and our people to the fear of war, that old enemy of mankind. However, our fear this time is pregnant with hope: that our Iraqi neighbors will be free at last from their yoke; and that our children will sleep their nights and go to their classrooms in peace, fearing no more.
So, as we all pass the forthcoming dreadful hours, we pray that Almighty God showers the brave soldiers of the US, Britain and their allies with His blessings and covers them with His protection in every move and direction. For, they are the saviors of the future of this region's children. We salute them; and may God bless them all.
--A Bishara, Family and Friends
Claudia Winkler is a managing editor at The Weekly Standard.