Tony Blair sought the council of Pope John Paul II in advance of committing Britain to the war in Iraq, and was famously denied support for his action. He sought the council of his attorney general, and was delivered, at best, an equivocation. He sought the council of his cabinet, and was faced with two resignations, albeit one belatedly. Everywhere he looked for advice on how to act properly, he was refused succour. Except of course when he was advised by the most biased of interests, the White House.
It needs to be understood why Blair chose to go to war. In the greater scheme of things, maintaining good international relations are hugely important for the viability and stability of the domestic economy, and the well-being of the people in that economy. Maintaining an offensive line on terrorism is an important aspect of preserving domestic security. The core principles of the New Republic - democracy and the rule of law - are both strengths in terms of the freedom they deliver to individuals, and weaknesses in the advantage that one's enemies can derive from such principled positions.
Blair went to war to preserve a strong relationship with the United States. To protect the interests of British Big Business and the global oil economy. To send a message to terrorists anywhere that democracy and the rule of law could tolerate excesses in the face of such threats. That democracy and democratic political systems (Plato's mob) could withstand the pressures that international, or supra-national terrorism brought to bear. The results of his actions are undeniable - the domestic economy remains strong, the terrorist threat is no doubt diminished, the Middle East is witnessing rapid change and a compliant fervour in the most unlikely of places, from Saudi Arabia to Syria, and even to an extent in Iran.
He now faces the election on May 5th with a dwindling majority in the polls, and the beginnings this week of a concerted effort by both the Tories and the Lib Dems to paint him as a dishonest and misleading prime minister, a man who chose to make a decision in the face of all opinion counselled, breaking international law in the process and compromising the rule of law itself. Should he be called to account?
The attorney general's advice was quite obviously pushed to breaking point by the political requirement that he was required to support. Any and all international lawyers (including your correpsondant) would have had great difficulty in finding any grounds for support, much less unequivocal support under the current international regime. The damage that this will have done to international law has yet to be seen. Where it will matter most is where the authority of the international criminal court is questioned by a defendant claiming that all he did was followed the example of Messers. Blair and Bush. The law, whatever its system, deplores unpredictability, discrimination, and uncertainty. Notwithstanding the fledgling nature of the Public International Law canon (which in and of itself presents such problems) this setback will be significant. The damage done to the authority of the United Nations is not like that done by Israel, whose blatant ignorance of its directives has frustrated many delegates. While Israel's defiance was secured by US backing, this was an overt action designed and executed by two permanent members of the security council. The members define the Union, and the Union, lamentably, does not remain above the members. This is different to a domestic system where the state clearly has a status above its constituents, a synergistic and timeless entity emboldened by support and mandate, solidified by age, and generally respected by the players. Just as domestic sovereignty is recognised by the international community and internal politics are therefore (often frustratingly) ultra vires the international order, it is respected and deferred to at a domestic level also.
The problem has been addressed in a poor way by the international legal community. Apart from individuals such as Hans Blix who have railed against this heresy from a position of authority albeit outside the system, the system itself prevents, largely, dissenting opinion in this case. International Lawyers have their heads in the sand, hoping that it all goes away. Phillippe Sands recent tome, Lawless World, begins to address it, but Sands and his compatriots are only citizens, advisors, recommendors. Those who have the power, responsibility and obligation to defend philosophical positions of principle must lead. They are only, it seems, led, and that, as they say in Dubya's America, is the ball game.