The Rational Actor: Realism, Blair and Iraq

Blair

Hot off the press, the tenth anniversary of the declaration of war on Iraq by the United States and the United Kingdom has arrived. George Bush and Tony Blair have received their expected criticisms, as the legacy of the latest Western invasion of the Middle East lives on in the public mind. In Britain, there are those that accuse Blair of war crimes, of neo-imperialism and of lying to the public. It is true that the justification for the invasion of Iraq has been picked apart since 2003, primarily with the discovery that Sadaam Hussein was not in fact in possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). However, in the case of Blair and his government, it could be argued that the British Prime Minister was simply acting as a rational realist when he pledged his support to George Bush a year before the invasion. To support America, a policy that Blair pursued to maintain British influence in the international sphere, was in the country’s best interests. That is not to say that these notes justify any of the bloodshed or destruction that has occurred in the last decade. But for the purposes of academic discussion – for realism, war is logical and inevitable – it is interesting to observe Tony Blair as a rational actor in international politics.

The core of realism is the consideration of the immediate and the self, and only these two concepts. This is developed on the back of political thought that views all humans as rational and self-interested. Indeed, this creates quite an ignorant theory, dismissing a considerable amount of potentially important information and activity, but in some cases, and to some individuals, this philosophy is valid and acceptable. Yes, in the scheme of things, Britain has lost soldiers to the war in Iraq; about £4.5bn from a ‘special reserve’; international prestige etc. America has also paid the price for going to war. What’s more is that these were predictable losses. But for the realist Blair, it is not that he ignored the potential consequences of actually going to war, but he considered Britain’s position vis-à-vis its allies in the international sphere and acted based upon those discernments instead.

Hence, this is reason that Blair pledged British support for the primarily American invasion of Iraq in 2003. He considered the Anglo-American alliance of more importance to British security than any loss that would be incurred from invading Iraq. In reality, this says more about American hegemony than British, or Blairite, realism. For America to continue to hold enough power in the international arena to manipulate British support for an illegal war – on the basis that neither the US nor the UK received a UN sanction – says something. There will no doubt be further discussion of American influence over institutions such as the UN and the Security Council, and indeed why America and its ‘butler’ Britain have been able to effectively ‘get away’ with unjustified and unsanctioned military action.

To conclude, as much as Blair should take the blame for the British involvement in the Iraq War, his viewpoint should be considered from a realist perspective. Britain, in his eyes, stood to gain more from maintaining the Anglo-American alliance than dismissing it. The nature of this ‘special relationship’ is the true matter for suspicion here. Not Tony Blair and his ‘rational realism’.

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