by Terry Jones
I would like to pay a tribute to the courage of Tony Blair. During these dark days in the build-up to war against Iraq it is reassuring to find ourselves with a leader who demonstrates such fearlessness in the face of tremendous odds.
Despite bitter opposition,Tony Blair has demonstrated that he will push ahead stalwartly with whatever the US intends to do. Even though the majority of his fellow countrymen are against the war (despite last week's propaganda campaign in the media), Mr Blair has shown not the slightest sign of wavering from his determination to do whatever Mr Bush wants. It is true that he has regrettably had to cave in over the question of debating the issue in Parliament, but he has fearlessly shown his contempt for the process by not allowing a vote. Mr Blair realises that he needs all the nerve he can command to resist demands for democratic discussion, if Mr Bush is to have any opportunity of dropping bombs on Iraq before the mid-term elections.
I would like to say a special word about another side of Tony Blair's courage - his moral courage. Tony Blair has the guts to stand on platform after platform repeating the words of the President of the United States even though he must be well aware that in so doing he makes himself a laughing stock to the rest of the world. Tony Blair has the balls not to be influenced by the knowledge that people imagine he is the US President's parrot and that his knee jerks only when George W. pulls the strings. It must take a very special kind of stamina to withstand that sort of daily humiliation. It is time we gave Mr Blair credit for it.
Tony Blair's dedication to carrying out the policies of the White House proves time and again that he has the courage of their convictions. He is prepared to back Mr Bush's arguments to the hilt even when they are palpably nonsensical. When Mr Bush cites Saddam Hussein's contempt for UN Security Council resolutions as the justification for his own determination to do the same, Tony Blair urges the President's case, for all the world as if he couldn't see the ridiculousness of it. When Mr Bush cites Iraq's failure to comply with UN Security Council resolutions as the reason for going to war, Mr Blair backs him up, boldly ignoring the fact that Turkey and Israel have got away with ignoring UN resolutions for years.
It is this refusal to be intimidated by the illogicality of the US position that perhaps displays Mr Blair's courage at its best. He is Mr Bush's faithful echo when the President demands that Saddam Hussein immediately cleanse Iraq of all terrorist organisations, even though he knows the UK never found a way of eradicating the IRA, and that, in any case, the terrorist organisations that perpetrated 9/11 were operating out of the US and Germany.
Mr Blair also refuses to be unnerved by the irony of Saddam's chemical weapons being anathematised by the nation that employed Agent Orange so liberally in Vietnam, where the ravages are still apparent. Mr Blair is unafraid to support a 'War on Terrorism' waged by the nation that has routinely used terrorism as a tool of foreign policy in Chile, Colombia, Nicaragua and Cuba, to name but a few.
But my admiration for Mr Blair's courage reaches new depths when I consider what he has to wrestle with over the matter of the sanctions against Iraq. As a practising Christian, he must need tremendous fortitude to bear the knowledge that his policies are the certain cause of death to so many Iraqi children. In 1996, the World Health Organisation concluded that since the introduction of sanctions, the infant mortality rate for children under five had increased six times. In 1999, the Mortality Survey, supported by Unicef, reported that infant and child mortality in Iraq had doubled since the Gulf War.
In May 2000, a mission to Iraq sponsored by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) found that in South and Central Iraq at least 800,000 children under five were suffering from chronic malnutrition.
Despite the fact that George W. Bush's father claimed that the United States had no quarrel with the Iraqi people, it is the Iraqi people whom he and his successors have determined to punish, and Tony Blair, to do him justice, has not flinched from following their lead.
The Gulf War witnessed one of history's heaviest bombing campaigns, a 43-day bomb-fest, largely by units of the US Air Force, left something in the region of $170 billion-worth of damage. The subsequent enforcement of sanctions has meant that much of that damage has never been repaired, and it is the lack of safe water, housing, food and medicine that is exacting the greatest toll among children and the elderly.
It is therefore very much to Tony Blair's credit that he refuses to be intimidated by these statistics. He has had the grit to stick by those US policies which target the most vulnerable sections of Iraqi society, and he has courageously ignored the logic that sanctions aimed at a civilian population in order to oust a dictator who cares little for his people are pointless.
It is a bold and audacious stance that our leader has taken up and it is clear that nothing will move Mr Blair from that posture - not democracy, common sense, compassion nor shame.