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Who Should I Vote For?

I was taking this here quiz to see who I should vote for in the upcoming British elections. Labour beat out the Liberal Democrats despite my soft on asylum views in part because of the university tuition issue (free college, I think, is more a subsidy for the rich than aid to the poor) but more importantly because of my opinion that the United Kingdom was right to invade Iraq. This sits, I know, awkwardly beside my view that the United States was wrong to invade Iraq. Nevertheless, I don't think it's nearly as counterintuitive as it seems. The merits of different positions vary according to one's position. Given U.S. determination to invade, leaders everywhere had to make a calculation. Strident opposition to the invasion was in French interests. Such opposition was also in Gerhard Schroder's domestic political interest. But Germany would have been better served by low-key opposition à la Canada. Britain, Australia, and Poland all, quite correctly in my view, judged that throwing in with the USA was a better option than the available alternatives, given a shitty situation shaped by crappy policymaking on the part of the Global Hegemon.

At any rate, I expect that exactly zero percent of this blog's readers will find that argument convincing. For obvious reasons, Tony Blair can't make it in public. Still, I think it's right. What I'd like to know, though, from any U.K.-based readers in the audience is whether anyone over there makes this argument. In other words, that the war was wrong, in the sense that America shouldn't have invaded, but that British participation in the war, given that the war was going to happen anyway, was the best available policy.

April 14, 2005 | Permalink


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» my british stance from The CardBoard Box Mansion
Who should I vote for?Your expected outcome:LabourYour actual outcome: Labour 6Conservative -83 Liberal Democrat 102UK Independence Party -41 Green 47You should vote: Liberal DemocratThe LibDems take a strong stand against tax cuts and a strong one in ... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 14, 2005 10:32:55 AM

» my british stance from The CardBoard Box Mansion
Labour 6Conservative -83 Liberal Democrat 102UK Independence Party -41 Green 47You should vote: Liberal DemocratThe LibDems take a strong stand against tax cuts and a strong one in favour of public services: they would make long-term residential care ... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 14, 2005 10:34:23 AM

» Oh, to be in England from Jim Snowden's Second Omnibus
I'm not English, but given the way this country is going, there are many days when I'd like to be. Anyway, with the Brits preparing to decide Tony Blair's fate in a few weeks, there's a quiz where you can determine who you'd vote for. [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 14, 2005 5:47:59 PM


It doesn't sound like the type of argument a proud countrymen would tend to make.

"First they came for..." and since it wasn't me, the best play was to just go along with it...we are talking about war here.

Posted by: theCoach | Apr 14, 2005 10:16:46 AM

I'd love to hear a politician explain this reasoning to the parent of a soldier who was killed in Iraq. Because essentially, according to your formulation, they would have to say "Your son died in a war we know is wrong, but provided us a way to suck up to a superpower. If we had not sacrificed your son's life, Americans might have changed the name of English Breakfast Tea to Freedom Breakfast Tea and Republicans in the House might have said mean things about the Queen."

So how many lives is that worth?

Posted by: Bill Rabkin | Apr 14, 2005 10:29:06 AM

I'm confused. Why was strident opposition to the war right for France, low-key opposition right for Germany and Canada, and meek submission right for Britain, Australia and Poland?

Please elaborate.

Posted by: right | Apr 14, 2005 10:30:48 AM

This sort of reasoning could also used to justify Democrats in this country supporting the war as well. The might be perfectly rational behavior, but it is it ethical? What would Kant say?

Posted by: RC | Apr 14, 2005 10:30:50 AM

Matt forgot to take his anti-wonk pill this morning.

Finesse is fine if you're a weak team struggling to stay alive and that's all you have, but to win you ultimately will have to overpower the other team with a straightforward attack. The Dems have been playing finesse + stall for so long that they don't know anything else.

Where to get the power from is the big question, of course. The Dems are indeed a weak team and have to play this way, but they should be trying harder to change that.

Posted by: John Emerson | Apr 14, 2005 10:34:59 AM

Huh! Turns out I support the Conservatives after all. And here I am telling people that I support Blair. Who knew?

I suppose it has something to do with the fact that I don't care at ALL about fox hunting or British school tuition, but I care a great deal about participation in the war.

In any case, despite what the survey says, I hope Blair wins and the Conservatives get crushed.

As to Matthew's argument, I wonder if he might explaini why he believes that the benefits to Britain of sucking up to the US outweigh the costs of participating in an unjustified (in Matthew's opinion, not mine, of course) war? And why is this calculation different for the UK than it is for Germany or Canada?

I suspect that no one has made the argument because, in reality, it is a dumb argument.

Posted by: Al | Apr 14, 2005 10:49:58 AM

This post is truly pathetic. If Andy Sullivan or some other poor bastard typed something like this one morning, he would've been savagely ridiculed for weeks. And for a good reason. Let's just pretend we didn't see this post.

Posted by: abb1 | Apr 14, 2005 10:51:23 AM

That's not the consensus, this is:
Tony Blair was a willing enabler to America's invasion. With strong opposition to the US the UK could have prevented a huge mistake in Iraq. Not many people believe the war was justified, further that Blair knew at the time the evidence was scant. He has apologised for being wrong about the war, but it came late and at a great price. Opposing France on just about anything is always a plus, but it is an embarrassment that he was weak in opposition to a soundly hated American president.

Posted by: Michele | Apr 14, 2005 10:51:39 AM

Well, I'm going to tentatively agree with Mr. Yglesias' take...just a little bit.

First, the harsh reality. Mr. Blair did not make this argument, even in roundabout terms. Instead, he lied outrageously to his country to justify the war. I don't see how MY's scenario would have required Mr. Blair to adopt identical methods to those of the Bush administration.

However, in terms of practicality, this idea actually did get some play a while back, viz the Palestinian issue. Tony Blair's support was presumed to come at the price of US reengagement with the Israel-Palestine peace process. In light of this, Mr. Blair could have performed a dicey cost-benefit analysis. A comparatively small British force supports the United States in Iraq, British casualties are hopefully not too severe, and in return perhaps Israelis and Palestinians stop killing one another so much.

Israel has indeed received some gentle prodding from the US recently. It remains to be seen if US involvement lives up to Mr. Blair's expectations. Given this administration's track record and AIPAC ties, color me skeptical. Plus, anecdotally, my father just recently condemned Mr. Bush pressuring Israel, based on the whole "Support Israel to accelerate the Rapture" mindset. So the fundies could have an effect on this, too. At times like this, I really wish the founding fathers had desired separation of church and state, backed up by an independent judiciary, instead.

Posted by: mds | Apr 14, 2005 10:55:21 AM

Matt is making the classic hindcast mistake. Given what we
know now, it looks like Blair should have thrown in with
Bush, since now the war has already taken place. Prior to
the war, however, it's not obvious that if Blair had
opposed the war we still would have gone in. The existence
of the "coalition" was very useful *at the time* for Bush
to rally support for what was, *at the time*, a war that
was marginally unpopular even in the U.S. (People seem to
forget that polling in late 2002 was running against going into
Iraq). That is, if the Bush strategy had been obviously "go
it entirely alone", it's not obvious what would have happened.

Posted by: matt Newman | Apr 14, 2005 11:19:32 AM

Wait, so, which one is the Sensible party and which one is the Silly party?

Posted by: two frogs, one called Kipper the other not | Apr 14, 2005 11:24:50 AM

Matt is not wrong of course, that politically speaking Blair made the right choice to go to war alongside the US against the Baathist regime of Iraq. The Dems here who supported going to war also made the right choice, politically. Go reread Hillary's speech in favor of authorizing the war. Go back and see what Jane Harman was saying in the leadup to the war, or John Edwards.

What Matt misses is that morally speaking Blair made the right choice as well. Blair understood this perfectly. Very begrudgingly, enough Brits understand this such that he will be reelected.

Posted by: JohnFH | Apr 14, 2005 11:33:05 AM

I agree Matt, Blair was and is genuinely concerned that the world community take on 'bad actors' (Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Iran, N. Korea) and resolve problematic conflicts (Israel/Palestinians, Darfur) working primarily through the UN and using NATO or whatever grouping can be cobbled together to enact and follow thro a UN resolution. It is not in the UK's interest to join with other powers to create a rival power which rivals US influence outside Europe's sphere of influence. The UK's best intersts long term are best served by using the special relationship to try and moderate and shape behaviour than oppose it.

He's also a realist who knows that the US is likely to be the worlds only superpower for some time yet and that this is preferable to say China or Russia being the military superpower. Ipso facto the US will provide the initiative, the leadership and be the major contributor in any consensus action to confront bad actors and problematic conflicts and the best the UK government can do is to hopefully influence and moderate Americas actions. For example Blair supported the removal of Saddam but he has also been at the forefront of demanding that there be a serious attempt to resolve the Israel/Palestinian conflict which is at odds with the US stance of allowing Israel to take the lead.

That Blair has been castigated as Bush's lap dog speaks less to Blair's inclination to follow blindly and more to this administrations hubris that prevented Blair from exacting a substantial influence in return for the UK's support.

Remember, Blair's support did influence Bush to visit the UN for his "your with us or against" lecture and almost got Blair his desired 2nd resolution. Without Blair's influence would Bush have even bothered to visit the UN?

Blair calculated that he would better serve the UK and the cause of the global community by being inside the tent pissing out, unfortunately this leaves him in the unenviable position of being seen to have supported and enabled the US for little or no gain. I say there is nothing wrong in the calculation save underestimating this administrations mendacity.

Posted by: postit | Apr 14, 2005 11:35:46 AM

Like mds, I can recall speculation floating about, that Blair would parlay his loyalty to Bush as a bargaining chip, and get concessions on all sorts of good leftish causes -- aid to Africa, environmental agreements, restraining Israel. I haven't seen a whole helluva lot of difference in U.S. policy on any of these fronts (hard to say about Israel, since recent events there owe a lot to unpredictable circumstances). Of course, that shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Even if the rumors about Blair's hidden agenda were true, well before our glorious Mesopotamian adventure Bush had shown himself perfectly willing to toss yesterday's ally aside with today's garbage. Which makes Blair's purported scheming, and MY's argument, pretty goddam naive.

Posted by: sglover | Apr 14, 2005 11:36:24 AM

How is your argument any different from anyone that said Blair was Bush's poodle?

Posted by: jerry | Apr 14, 2005 11:38:52 AM

Prior to the war, however, it's not obvious that if Blair had
opposed the war we still would have gone in.

Um, I suppose it depends upon how obvious "obvious" is. Given the drumbeat for invading Iraq in the 90's, and the fact that it made no sense whatsoever to be focusing on Iraq after 9/11, I would say it was fairly clear that there was a desire to invade Iraq no matter what.

The existence of the "coalition" was very useful *at the time* for Bush to rally support for what was, *at the time*, a war that was marginally unpopular even in the U.S.

Yes, but it didn't have to contain Britain. Even with Britain, the "coalition" touted by the administration was pathetic in terms of troop strength or other support. Without Britain, the administration would have simply lied about the "coalition of nations" anyway. Don't the US Virgin Islands count?

That is, if the Bush strategy had been obviously "go it entirely alone", it's not obvious what would have happened.

The US would have gone ahead and invaded Iraq. This administration was hellbent on invading Iraq. If the Maine had blown up in Havana harbor during this administration, the US would have invaded Iraq. And "going it alone" would continue to poll poorly with the electorate, which would then reelect George W. Bush rather than change horses in mid-Apocalypse, because Democrats want Saddam to rape your children.

Posted by: mds | Apr 14, 2005 11:50:57 AM

I sort of agree.

I thought it was OK for the US to invade Iraq, but wrong for Canada to join in. The US needed to maintain its hegemony in the middle east, and was going to invade no matter what we did. But Canada had no foreign hegemony to preserve, and all we would have gotten out of joining is some dead Canadian boys and more invitations to Crawford ranch.

Perhaps the UK calculation is different? If Blair hadn't signed up, would GWB have invaded? Would a lack of US invasion hurt British interests? If so, then a minimal contribution would have been the best UK option. Bu I can see UK getting away with low key opposition a la Canada, preserving British lives, moving closer to Europe, and getting the global benefit of no Saddam Hussein without the cost of managing a chaotic, insurgency-ridden Iraq.

Posted by: Ikram | Apr 14, 2005 11:54:57 AM


excellent post, except for the part about "little or no gain." It's worse than that. Blair's support for the US-led war was, in terms of electoral politics, a losing proposition or at least an extremely risky one.

The gain, however, was great as far as the prospects for a free and democratic Iraq are concerned, and the wider repercussions throughout the Middle East (Libya, Lebanon, etc.). These things matter to someone like Blair or Ann Clywd or other Labor MP's with a moral spine.

Posted by: JohnFH | Apr 14, 2005 11:56:21 AM

I am a pathetic sod. The little survey says I should vote for the Liberal Democrats. I'm Labour leaning but against the war.

Posted by: stan | Apr 14, 2005 12:02:07 PM

Bill nailed it, in the second comment.

LibDems for me, 72%

Posted by: MattB | Apr 14, 2005 12:02:27 PM


and you might have come out as a Kucinich supporter in the surveys many of us took during the Democratic primaries. But you wouldn't have actually voted for him.

Posted by: JohnFH | Apr 14, 2005 12:05:34 PM

I'm thinking this is one of Matt's silly "I'm a contrarian today!" turns, given that he gives no actual justification for why the UK, Australia, Poland, et al would have it in their interests to bend over for the US's Iraq adventure while Canada, France, Germany, Russia, etc. all rebel against the global hegemon. Matt's usually pretty thorough in explaining the stuff he actually believes in; I'll wait for regular posting to resume.

Posted by: Iron Lungfish | Apr 14, 2005 12:05:51 PM

First off, "[F]ree college, I think, is more a subsidy for the rich than aid to the poor." Are you kidding me? With progressive taxation, this simply isn't possible unless the government is cutting other programs that benefit the poor in order to fund college educations. With globalization, the only way someone young can avoid competing income-wise with someone in China is to have a college degree. For many of the poor, going to college entails significant financial duress for their whole family for at least four years.

To me, the only justification for allowing significant disparity between the rich and the poor is that our just society rewards success and gives everyone a chance at succeeding. To be true to that, society should provide a quality education to all through college and then ensure that initial employment opportunities are based upon merit. I can think of no better liberal cause.

Posted by: Dennis | Apr 14, 2005 12:11:09 PM

"The gain, however, was great as far as the prospects for a free and democratic Iraq are concerned, and the wider repercussions throughout the Middle East (Libya, Lebanon, etc.)"

I'm glad that it's clear to you that the war was a Good Thing for Iraq and the Middle East. About 90% of humanity, however, is more skeptical about the matter.

Posted by: rea | Apr 14, 2005 12:16:59 PM

OK, how about this justification for MY, from a British reader: at present the area of Basra is under UK military occupation and is reasonably quiet. At present, the leading cause of UK military deaths is traffic accidents.
Without a UK presence in the coalition, Basra would be under US military occupation and would therefore be a hellhole, cf. the rest of the country. (It has been seriously suggested that Basra is so quiet because the locals know very well that if they cause too many casualties and the UK pulls out, they will be replaced by the US; and so they are keeping tight hold of Nurse for fear of finding something worse.) Therefore: it was wrong for the US to go to war, but given that they were going to do so anyway, it was right for the UK to go along and mitigate the postwar occupation damage. I'll buy that argument. Note that it only holds if you reckon the US would have gone to war in the face of opposition from the UK. I don't think that's entirely unreasonable.

Analogy: I am a policeman in, say, Communist Poland. I believe it is wrong for this dissident to be arrested, but given that he will be arrested anyway, I should go along and help arrest him, because otherwise the arrest will be conducted by Big Karol and Little Wlodya, who will take the opportunity to put the boot in a few times, and my presence will discourage them from doing so.

Posted by: ajay | Apr 14, 2005 12:18:19 PM

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