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British vs. American politics

July 14th, 2004 (03:17 pm)
irritated

current mood: irritated
current song: Sting - Children's Crusade

On the BBC this morning, I heard Tony Blair addressing Parliament about the evidence used to justify the invasion of Iraq (the British panel investigating abuse of intelligence just released its report). Here's some of what he said, taken from the BBC article:

No one lied, no one made up intelligence. No one inserted things into the dossier against the advice of the intelligence services,[...]

But I have to accept: as the months have passed, it seems increasingly clear that at the time of invasion Saddam did not have stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons[...]

For any mistakes made, as the report finds, in good faith, I of course take full responsibility, but I cannot honestly say I believe getting rid of Saddam was a mistake at all.

Now, yes, this is pretty clearly a politician in Full Hedge Mode. But what struck me was the vast gap between Blair and Bush. Here's Bush commenting on the analogous report that a Senate committe released week:

I haven't seen the report yet. I know it's quite critical. [...] I'll tell you what we do know. Saddam Hussein had the capacity to make weapons. See, he had the ability to make them. He had the intent. We knew he hated America. We knew he was paying families of suiciders. We knew he tortured his own people, and we knew he had the capability of making weapons. That we do know. They haven't found the stockpiles, but we do know he could make them.

(We know he could have made them, if he had had the matériel, and if he had had time to reconstruct his factories, and if he had been able to keep his chemists making weapons instead of letting their skills atrophy.) And, again, at a campaign stop:

Although we haven't found the stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we were right to go into Iraq, and America is safer today because we did. We removed -- (applause) -- we removed a declared enemy of America who had the capability of producing weapons of mass destruction. He had that capability. And he could have passed that capability to terrorists bent on acquiring them.

Blair is hedging on why the mistakes were made, but he's still taking responsibility for having made them. Bush is basically in denial on the whole problem, and spinning new lies to get people to ignore it. (It's not just that Bush is in the middle of a campaign; in the nature of things, a British Prime Minister is essentially always on campaign--if his support erodes, his government collapses and he has to hold elections.) It just makes me so mad that the US system produces Bushes instead of Blairs.

Comments

Posted by: C. Virtue (cvirtue)
Posted at: July 14th, 2004 12:30 pm (UTC)

Surely there have been non-useful PMs? Or do they get axed much quicker?

Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: July 14th, 2004 12:44 pm (UTC)

There probably have; and there have certainly been PMs that were unpopular with large segments of the population (e.g., Thatcher). The British suffer from the "safe district" problem just like we do, after all, and the PM just needs the support of enough MPs, not of enough voters. (The British add an extra twist: you don't have to live in the district you're nominally representing. So senior MPs of party X stand for office in districts where party X always wins.)

In any case, usefulness may not be the metric here; what struck me may have been more a matter of style. Blair and Bush messed up; Blair admits it; Bush doesn't. This may be tied to the "flip-flop" myth: Bush can't admit he was wrong because that would be flip-flopping.

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