I asked Blair about all the mistakes and even disasters that followed the fall of Saddam: the American failure to anticipate mass looting, the insurgency, the unending casualties, the torture at Abu Ghraib prison.There are a couple of things to say about this, but I'll only comment briefly because I'm about to go to the gym and then hang out with my girlfriend's cat:
"On that I take a slightly heretical view," he said. "I think that when anything like that happens it's ghastly and terrible and should be condemned immediately and dealt with. But I also think that people are cleverer in the Middle East, in Iraq and places like that, than we often give them credit for. And what they see is something terrible happening and the U.S. acting on it, the U.S. politicians under pressure, the U.S. soldiers responsible being prosecuted. I think people say these things happen, but the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy when something terrible happens someone is held to account and in a dictatorship they're not."
First, I like a lot of what Blair is trying to get across here. The attitude about the statement I emphasized is something that a lot of anti-war/anti-Bush/anti-American/whatever people should probably consider. We're so disgusted with Abu Ghraib, and the civilians dying in Iraq, and there are protests and calls for the architects of the war to resign--and rightfully so. But there is very little uproar in the liberal community about the crimes Saddam committed, or the actions of Hamas, or even of the living conditions in North Korea that continue every day. Somehow it's more saintly to highlight our own sins than to decry injustices elsewhere.
But while Blair makes a very poignant sound bite, he shifts the focus away from what people are most upset about in these domestic transgressions. I agree--and who wouldn't--that those responsible for Abu Ghraib should be held to account. After all, that's what we do in a democracy. But have those ultimately responsible been held to account? The public knows about a few of the major infractions that we've committed, and a few select parties have been put to justice; but it's foolish to think for one second that the U.S. system doesn't have major inherent flaws. It truly is a choice between the lesser--but much lesser, in my opinion--of two evils.