My View Then And My View Now

Say What You See.

The Iraq Inquiry is not about personal guilt. The anti-war protesters outside yesterday’s session, with their bloodied Bliar masks and furious placards, were only ever going to be disappointed. Tony Blair, who testified for a full six hours before Sir John Chiclot and his panel, was not about to admit to war crimes or even express regret; we are by now familiar with his self-possession and certainty, with his Bush-like defense that he was ‘the decider’, and that Saddam was a threat – nay, a thorn in the side of Blair’s newly envisioned post-9/11 world order. There were to be no renditions to the Hague yesterday.

But what the Iraq Inquiry is meant to achieve is a clear account of the UK Government’s decision-making process which led to war, where it was weak and where the lessons for future administrations might lie. Blair, in being allowed to state his personal case – and his testimony was far more focused on himself that, for instance, Lord Goldsmith’s or Jack Straw’s – contributed less to this holistic view. His reputation as the quartet’s man in the Middle East was in question, and to some extent it was understandable that, as the Prime Minister of the time, he was questioned less as a cog in the machine than as its fountainhead. But why, for instance, was he not pushed further when simultaneously contending that Saddam was in significant breach of UN resolutions – when, of course, since he had disposed of his WMD, he was not – and that there was no more time for intelligence-gathering? Had more time been allowed, after all, we would have discovered Saddam could not be pursued under the cover of UN resolutions. One might imagine that such precipitate action might represent the greatest lesson for future administrations; as it was, both this muddy thinking and the man responsible for it was let off the hook.

One of Blair’s key phrases of argument was ‘the calculus of risk’. Gordon Brown might be well to apply the equation to his own appearance before the Inquiry. Blair yesterday dismissed as a slip of the tongue his suggestion in an interview last year with Fern Britton that, had WMD been discovered not to exist in Iraq prior to the war, he would have found another reason to go to war. But it was, one feels, also a classic Blair tactic – leaking the headline before the announcement. By softening us up for his unrepentant appearance, and crucially by softening his rhetoric having already confirmed what we all thought, he managed our expectations of his testimony beautifully, and rendered it something of an anti-climax. Brown, by contrast, has made next to no public pronouncements on Iraq; everything he says in his testimony will be new. Given that polls are currently moving in his direction, how to calculate this risk should be a question of utmost importance to him…

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2 thoughts on “My View Then And My View Now

  1. The main point is that Blair lied and on the basis of his lies a war was launched in which many British servicemen and women (and probably over 100,000 Iraqis) died – there can be few, if any, worse sins for a Prime Minister of a democratic state to commit.

    Blair gave a performance at the inquiry – probably partially for the benefit of his own conscience, which must from time to time rear up and accuse him in the depths of night. I hope so anyhow.

    http://shakinguppolitics.wordpress.com/

  2. Thanks for commenting, Mike. I don’t disagree with you, although my thought has always been that Blair’s lies, untruths or general mendaciousness were not alone enough to get us into war. To this end, I wondered whether Andrew Brown wasn’t getting somewhere in The Guardian.

    On the other hand, Hopi Sen’s defense struck me as so much special pleading – so again, it’s not that I think you’re wrong. It’s that I think there’s more to the story than ‘nasty Bliar lied’.

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