.No regrets. Tony Blair didn’t actually quote Edith Piaf, but the former prime minister was resolute about the wisdom of his own judgement over the Iraq war. Nothing to apologise for. The evidence of WMD was “beyond doubt”. We had to go in and deal with Saddam or else we ‘d all likely have been incinerated by terrorist nukes or chemical weapons. Maybe not in forty five minutes, but sometime. You may disagree, but heck – you weren’t there making these life and death decisions. The second UN resolution was destroyed by the French and the Russians – enough said.
The only thing Tony Blair was prepared to apologise for was that Fern Brittan interview when he said that he would have wanted Saddam removed even if he hadn’t had WMD. It was impressive, though. Tony Blair remains a master communicator, and we all miss him a little, really. He gave a virtuoso display of effortless plausibility to the Chilcot Inquiry – surely the last time we will see him in this role. A little coy and hesitant at first, fumbling with his briefing notes, but once he got into his stride we were transported back to those Iraq debates in parliament in 2002. That old unquestioning self-belief sugared by a dash of self-deprecating charm and a bit of blokish informality.
Tony Blair could make any argument sound plausible. Black may not on the face of it be the same as white. But, with respect, what you have to remember is that white can very easily become black, if the intention is there to turn out the lights. And, in all fairness, wesimply cannot take take the risk of ending up in a black on black situation. So, Saddam didn’t actually HAVE WMD, but he certainly had the will to aquire it and the know-how.
It’s only after Blair’s left the scene that you begin to appreciate the full absurdity of what he has just said. He kept referring to 9/11 and how it had changed the “calculus of risk”. These people weren’t like ordinary terrorists, like the IRA, he insisted. Al Qaeda were beyond reason and prepared to die to kill any number of innocent civilians. They had to be stopped. That’s why we invaded a country, er, which had no connection at all with al Qaeda.
Nevertheless we had to disarm Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction which – okay – weren’t technically there, but which COULD have been. You can’t deny that. The intelligence was “patchy and sporadic” but it might have become less so. Saddam might have allied with al Qaeda (who hated him) and he just might have decided to blow us all into the next world. He didn’t actually have a beef with us, especially since we helped arm his regime in the 1980s for his war against Iran. But heck, he might have found some reason to attack us! And for that reason we launched an illegal war, wrecking Iraq and killing around 100,000 people. Politicians normally say they don’t do hypotheticals – but the Iraq war was based on a whole raft of assumptions about the future which were highly questionable.
Blair also said that we “couldn’t let America do this on its own” as if anything George W. Bush did was by definition the right thing to do. It doesn’t get much madder than that. Even Idi Amin had a better grasp on geo-political reality. How did we all fall for it? How did the UK parliament vote for this war? Why did the cabinet acquiesce? They are the real culprits: if Gordon Brown and John Prescott – or even Robin Cook and Jack Straw – had got together and said: “Tony – enough”, the whole miserable business might never have happened. Remember that Harold Wilson stood firm in 1967 and refused to join America in the Vietnam War. This wasn’t a left or right thing; a new and old Labour thing. It was a not-doing-something-crazy-thing.
It is a dismal reflection on the state of our democracy that no one had the will or the power to hold Tony Blair in check. To save him from himself. Clearly Blair had got in deep with the Americans – deeper than was sensible. A bit like getting involved in the Corleone family, it had consequences – one of which being that you were expected to turn up for a fight. After 9/11 Blair said he would stand by America come what may. And unfortunately, they held him to his word. America was slightly deranged at that moment – for perfectly understandable reasons – and was not behaving rationally. Perhaps Blair thought he could get them to behave; that he could involve them in the United Nations process and prevent them doing something stupid. Unfortunately, they went ahead anyway. Push came to shove, and Blair couldn’t detach himself.
He must realise this now – but there was no sign of remorce before Chilcot. Tony Blair is doesn’t do bluster and he doesn’t do angstor self-doubt. The only time he appeared rattled on Friday was when he was closely examined by Sir Roderic Lyne about that remarkably convenient change of heart on the legality of the war by the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith on the very eve of the invasion in March 2003. A miraculous conversion if ever there was one.
As Lyne took Blair through the sequence of events, summarising the evidence of other witnesses the former PM looked worried. Was it really justifiable to go to war on the basis of a judgement from the Attorney General which said that, while there was a case for war, he wouldn’t have liked to test it in court? It was history speaking, and Blair had a vision of his future. For a moment I thought that the carapace of self-belief was about to crack. But the moment passed, and Blair finished the day, as he had begun, in full command of his cool.
History has already made its judgement. After this inquiry no one can surely believe that the Iraq war was justified. It was a tragedy. A stupid war led by stupid leaders drunk on their own rhetoric. As someone who supported both the Kosovo conflict and the first Gulf War, this is a matter of some concern to me personally. Military intervention is sometimes justified, if there is a pressing humanitarian crisis, like ethnic cleansing. But after Iraq, humanitarian intervention has become an oxymoron. And dictators across the world are sleeping easier in their beds as a result.