Alex Massie

Tony Blair’s Foolish Sabre-Rattling

Text settings

Here's Tony Blair, speaking at AIPAC yesterday:

We should be clear also.

Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons capability.

They must know that we will do whatever it takes to stop them getting it. 

The danger is if they suspect for a moment we might allow such a thing.

Emphasis added. This doesn't really differ from long-established US policy except that the Americans tend to be a little less vocal when it comes to pledging military action. Then again, they'd be the ones having to take the decision to attack and they, not Blair, would be the ones who'd have to deal with the consequences.

Doubtless Blair would protest that he trusts the matter won't come to a head and doubtless too he's right to suppose that there's an element of game theory to all of this. But even Blair must appreciate, even when speaking at AIPAC, that he's talking though his hat.

Whatever it takes? Well, one can imagine circumstances in which air strikes are launched. But if they don't work? (And few people, I think, believe that there can be any certainty or even probability that they will.) What then? The answer is that neither Washington, nor I think Israel, is going to do or be in a position to do "whatever it takes" to prevent Iran building a nuclear bomb. (No-one's going to invade Iran, for instance.)

We know that and it seems probable that the Iranians know that too. Which makes such talk seem somewhat odd. What does it benefit anyone to have Blair writing cheques neither he nor anyone else has any real intention of cashing? It's almost as if Blair thinks that the west needs to adopt the traditional Don't Mess With Us, We're Just Crazy Enough To Do Something Crazy approach normally reserved for, well, crazy regimes run by crazy people. The problem with this, however, is that it simply provides more incentives - if they needed any! - for Iran to press on with its nuclear programme to guarantee, from their perspective, their own defence.

This, I think, is likely to be true whether the US or Israel launch airstrikes or not and also true even if those strikes "work". The rational response to being attacked is to build up your defences so it won't happen again. Why should we suppose that the Iranians would react any differently? 

Equally, it's not hard to see how this sort of talk and behaviour both strengthens the existing (vile) regime and makes it likely that, for reasons of national pride and honour if nothing else, any alternative, successor regime (should there be one) will also be likely to press ahead with the nuclear programme.

So what, exactly, is Blair hoping to achieve with this sort of talk?

No, I don't know how to persuade the Iranians that it's not sensible for them to have the bomb and yes, I'd much rather they didn't have one but you tell me how this sort of stuff is supposed to advance that cause.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleInternationaliran