Tony Blair and the Ghost of Suez

09/14/2010 07:23 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Dr. Charles G. Cogan Associate, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School

It is a commonplace that Britain and France drew contrasting lessons from their misadventure in the Suez affair of 1956, in which they sought to overthrow the Egyptian strongman, Gamal Abdal Nasser, without telling the United States. This ill-fated expedition, which was aborted by pressures coming from two directions, from the U.S. and the Soviet Union, cost Britain the permanent loss of its great power status and further discredited the French Fourth Republic, leading to the return of Charles de Galle to power two years later.
The lesson the British drew from the Suez affair was never again to let distance come between them and the Americans. The French to the contrary, and mindful of Nikolai Bulganin's implicit threat to nuke London and Paris, which drew only a pro forma response from the U.S., decided never to become dependent on the Americans again.
This evening, Tony Blair, in an interview with Margaret Warner on "The News Hour," would not or could not bring himself to regret his 2003 decision to join with the U.S. in invading Iraq. I believe his primary motive, among others, was not to let daylight appear between the U.S. and Britain. I further believe that if Tony Blair had vigorously opposed the invasion, there never would have been an Iraq war in 2003. Not everyone would agree with this, but a sizeable number of people do. The strong support of America's closest ally was the ideal cover for the Bush Administration's invasion of Iraq.
I find it hard to accuse Tony Blair of duplicity in the matter of existence (or non-existence) of nuclear weapons in Iraq prior to the war. Rather, I would characterize him as a true believer whose religious conviction about the evil of Saddam Hussein may have gotten in the way of his judgment.
So where does that leave him? He had to end his prime ministership under the prodding of Gordon Brown; he missed out on the presidency of the European Union because public opinion was against him for his role in the Iraq invasion; and he can't make public appearances in the British Isles for his book, "A Journey," because of this same hostility.
In spite of it all, Tony Blair is still quite a draw.