Ollie Smuts writes from Pretoria: Archbishop Desmond Tutu should not have pulled out of the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit in Johannesburg on the grounds that he would have to appear alongside ex-PM Tony Blair who, as he points out, was morally wrong over the invasion of Iraq. And he should have agreed to take part in the BBC debate on leadership alongside TB that was broadcast during the summit that lasted one day. Imagine what fun it could have been if they had had a spat and Archbishop Tutu came out the winner.
Blair’s office clearly did not give a toss whether or not Archbishop Tutu showed up at the summit, as long as the fees were paid on time, thank you very much. Tony’s people said that he and Tutu have never agreed on Iraq and as Blair was so damned right and Tutu wrong, no one cares about it. Archbishop Tutu says: ‘Mr Blair’s decision to support the United States’ military invasion of Iraq, on the basis of unproven allegations of the existence in Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, was morally indefensible.’
You might say that after all this time, who cares? The part of the world – including the Archbishop and his many supporters – who protested over the invasion were then powerless to stop it. So why keep at it?
Blair pretends to be oblivious to the whole thing and seems to be startled when people tell him off over Iraq, the legality of the operation and his close relationship with then US President George Bush who, incidentally, keeps quiet over the whole affair.
Yet, it’s not really a good reason for Archbishop Tutu to have pulled out of the summit and the debate. Should he have argued his case – he would certainly have been allowed to – it would have got even more publicity than the protests by some Muslim groups who were dismissed by most media commentators as fanatics.
Archbishop Tutu is a great guy with loads of personality and a spirit of mankind that gives you hope. Blair, now he’s different. Most commentators seem to think Blair is morally corrupt and thoroughly unlikeable. On Iraq, by the way, almost no one outside his office thinks he was anything but shifty. However, organisers of such jamborees as that summit know that the international crowd puller is the perma-tanned Blair and not the chirpiest chuckling Desmond T.
The problem with continuing moral and political challenges of course is that the public gets bored with them. Moreover, even though they are so in need of alarm bells every time their leaders even think of yet another intervention, they gain little or nothing from a continuing debate over lost causes.
For example, what would we get if Khrushchev and Kennedy were still around to debate who was right and who was wrong over Cuba? What could ever become of a confrontation between Eden and Nasser? No differences would be resolved. How about the Duke of Windsor and British Archbishop Cosmo Lang on the morality and complications of public duty in 1936? Ultimately, of course, the one to really watch would be Pontius Pilate and Jesus of Nazareth.
Nothing, of course, would have shifted the opinions of great people just as little said anywhere would move Blair from his position that he may not have been universally supported but it was what he believed in. And Tutu? Much loved, much respected but although not of that persuasion, no more divisions had he than the Pope.
Still, it’s sad that Archbishop Tutu won’t be there. They probably would not have met formally anyway. But would it not have been a wonderful moment for the two to have been caught in the margins and on camera.
Let’s hope the former Archbishop of Cape Town meets with Blair at some event soon.