1 May 2004  
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Iraq is not worth the life of a single British private
Frank Johnson
Mr Blair’s Iraq war seems to be becoming more and more unpopular among British voters, especially among the only ones who now tend to vote: the middle classes who switched from the Conservatives to Mr Blair and ensured his two landslides. Yet the official opposition does not look like winning a single vote out of the war’s unpopularity.

‘I have already confessed all this to Max Clifford.’

If the Conservatives want to win more seats at the next general election, they should come out against the war. At the level of their leadership, they will not. At that level, they will continue to quibble about points of detail, about such matters as what more British troops would do. The Conservative leadership, like Mr Blair, has become too much embroiled with the Republican Right and the American neoconservatives to do otherwise; they are the victims of too many ‘Atlanticist think tanks’. But individual Tory candidates, at the election, should strive to make known to their voters their opposition to the war. This will be difficult. Few voters are aware that their local candidates differ from their party leadership. But local debates are held in local venues, such as churches. There is also the local press. These afford ways in which Tories can make known their opposition to a war which Middle England — which is at heart Tory England, even when it votes for Mr Blair — opposes.

To be opposed to this war is not left-wing. The war can be opposed on sound Tory principles. Sound Tory principles teach that Britain should only go to war in defence of our national interest and our security. Mr Blair told the Tories, as he did the country, that our national interest was threatened by Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. MI6 told Tory frontbench spokesmen in private ‘briefings’ that this was the case. It has become clear that they were, at best, mistaken. Mr Blair secured Tory support for the war either erroneously or misleadingly. The weapons of mass destruction had either themselves been destroyed or had never existed. Otherwise the United States, with all its resources, would have found them.

It seems that the country, however unfairly, regards Mr Blair as devious. If the Tories say that he was devious towards them about the war, the country will believe the Tories. The evidence suggests that devious is what the country knows he is. The Tories are not the first whom he has deceived; betrayed, even. He has just deceived and betrayed some of his closest allies: the Blairite Europeans who stood by him in opposing a referendum on the European constitution.

Iraq threatened no British national interest. It was but one among many horrible regimes. They cover the globe. We go to war against few of the others. Only the Left ever suggests that we should. Tories know that that would result in perpetual war. Their ancestral wisdom tells them that we should go to war only when a horrible regime threatens Britain — as Saddam’s, with his lack of weapons of mass destruction, did not. He was a threat to Iraq, not to Britain. We should weep for the Iraqis. But as Bismarck said of the Ottoman empire’s treatment of dissident Christians, ‘I shall remember them in my prayers but I shall not make them the object of German policy.’ That is not cruel. It is far crueller for a statesman to endanger the lives of his own soldiers in a cause unrelated to the security of their homeland. His own countrymen’s lives are the lives for which a statesman is responsible, no other. Bismarck also said that the Balkans were not worth the life of a single Pomeranian grenadier. Iraq is not worth the life of a single British private.

Tories say that they had no alternative but to support this war once British troops were engaged in it. That is honourable but misguided. British troops can be engaged in war that a non-Tory prime minister has embarked on and which is unjustified or failing. To continue to support it is to reinforce failure. There are precedents for the Tories not doing so. After the first world war the Tories were in coalition with a Liberal prime minister, Lloyd George. He acquiesced with Churchill — who was then a Liberal — wanting to make war on the infant Soviet Union. The Tory leaders, Balfour and Bonar Law, were opposed, even though one would assume that Tories above all would be anti-Bolshevik. So they were. But it was Bolshevism in Britain — as manifest in strikes and subversion — which they thought more pressing, not in Russia. They knew that foreign intervention would rouse Russians to the Bolshevik side, as foreign intervention has aroused Iraqis against the coalition. Next, Lloyd George — out of the messianic liberalism so attractive to Mr Blair — wanted to support Greece against Turkey when Greece sought to appropriate territory from a Turkey weakened by her defeat in the first world war. The Tories opposed that too, even though Turkey had recently been Germany’s ally against Britain. Tory principles of the British interest saw no further threat to Britain from Turkey. Turkey did not join Germany in the second world war and was Britain’s ally in the Cold War. The Liberal Lloyd George, like the liberal Blair, was wrong.

Nor should the Tories believe that by supporting President Bush’s war they will ingratiate themselves with the United States. They will merely ingratiate themselves with Mr Bush and with one faction of the United States, the Republican Right and the neoconservatives. Our special relationship, in which Tories should continue to believe, should be with the whole of the United States, not with a faction. True, Lady Thatcher’s special relationship was with a faction, the Reaganites. But that was because both, rightly, shared a view of the Soviet Union not shared by liberal opinion in their own countries. Churchill’s special relationship was with America, not just with the Democrat Roosevelt. Churchill took care to cultivate the Republican opposition in order to win it from isolationism, which indeed it abandoned in favour of the war effort against Germany.

Not that Mr Blair is thanked on the American Right. Privately, they blame him for restraining Mr Bush and forcing him to justify his war to the UN. They can never be satisfied. There is nothing for a British politician in cultivating the American Right, and the Tories should stop doing so. They are seeking votes in Britain, not at some neoconservative dinner party or ‘think tank’.

© 2004 The Spectator.co.uk