Dr Ghulam Ashraf's Blog


Iraq War Enquiry: Hardline Blair made it worse for himself

Mon Jan 24 10:40AM

Tony Blair’s position on Iraq hardened last week, making it all the easier for the history books to condemn him.

By Alex Stevenson

Blair’s car swept past politics.co.uk’s offices in parliament from the Iraq inquiry, down towards Millbank. The former prime minister will probably never again be subjected to such a lengthy grilling on his motivations in taking Britain to war against Saddam Hussein. We were left with a lingering feeling: this was a man set on war. This was also a man fighting to save his reputation.

He was bolder on Friday than 12 months ago, more forthright, happier to make his sweeping statements without the professional politician’s usual qualifications and nuances. The result was a clearer picture of his motivations. It was closer to the black and white the public understands so easily. Blair always was a master communicator. We’re getting the message, even if the conclusions we draw from it aren’t what Blair might want.

Through the hours of questioning we could establish, more clearly than we ever have before, that Blair’s mind was firmly made up during the final lead-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Nothing was going to put him off an invasion. Nowhere was this the case more than when it came to the question of whether it was worth putting off military action to give weapons inspectors more time, as they had repeatedly demanded. “You were getting progressively more cooperation at the time,” Blair was told. He didn’t care.

“Let’s supposing in March 2003 we’d said ok, he’s doing enough, we’ll stand down the troops, we’ll have new ‘smart’ sanctions… the question is, because at some point those troops would have had to go back home, if he hadn’t changed his mind about the essential importance of these weapons… would he have carried on cooperating when all that military pressure was off him?” The answer, Blair wanted us to conclude, was an emphatic ‘no’. But the logic which stemmed from this was troubling. It suggested he had long before decided that Saddam was untrustworthy – and therefore that it was too late for Saddam to have that “change of heart”. Even if he had, it wouldn’t have been believed. Blair’s patience had snapped. Or rather the Americans’ had, and Blair’s with them.

The same mind-made-up problem cropped up when Blair was asked about last-gasp efforts to win over support for a second resolution. Reports at the time were full of a bid to specifically authorise the international intervention in Iraq which, ultimately, ended up happening without one. When initially asked about this the ex-PM said he was hopeful of a majority on the security council. The problem, he explained, was that mid-ranking members were nervous because of France’s hardening opposition to military action. How strange, then, that in the final weeks before the troops crossed the border the UN remained the focus.

Blair offered an odd explanation: he wanted a “second-best” resolution passed by majority, but vetoed by France. “It would have helped me, in terms of presentation of the case.” Would it? Surely, as Sir Roderic Lyne pointed out, this would have undermined resolution 1441? Blair shrugged that off, but his “idea” seemed paper-thin. The impression that Blair was unwilling to change his views in the final weeks because of an unbending determination to go to war has its roots in conspiracy theory – but Friday’s inquiry session did little to undermine it. Instead, retreating back further in time to the preceding autumn, when debates about the legality of any invasion based on resolution 1441 were at their height, we found further evidence backing the case up.

The first half-hour centred on the extent to which Blair was keeping his Cabinet in touch with developments. Of course they weren’t being kept in the dark, he said, blustering after it was pointed out that they had not been given access to an ‘options paper’. Blair argued that because the issues were being played out in the media, in his press conferences and prime minister’s questions, they were as able to make a judgement as any ordinary man on the street. Blair never was very good at keeping the Cabinet involved. “I don’t think anybody was in doubt about the course they were on.” Being a statesman is tough at the best of times, as Blair showed.

The agonising of Lord Goldsmith was referred to dismissively, in the context of the slow evolution of the attorney-general’s advice. Blair was busy “holding the line” that a second resolution was not needed. “I was having to carry on while this internal legal debate was continuing and hope we could overcome it.” Having put his neck out on the line, the consequences of retreating would have been devastating. “I was aware of the fact I had not just the United States as our key ally, and our military working alongside their military… and obviously the prospect with Saddam confronted by an international consensus.

If I had through that period gone out and said anything that indicated there was a breach in the British position, it would have been a political catastrophe for us.” We’re left, then, with an impression of a prime minister who was on such a determined trajectory to war that questions about whether it was actually legal were far from prominent in his mind. The implication had hung in the air for much of the session, but it was only at the end that Blair finally acknowledged that the need to remain subservient to the United States’ wishes ended up trumping up all else. “We’ve got to be realistic about it,” he said, giving advice to future prime ministers on the special relationship. He was with America all the way; but doing so in this instance came at a price.

“When we’re in a situation like this we’re going to have to accept it’s going to be difficult because there will be situations where America is determined to go its own way.” Blair claimed to have influenced US president George Bush, to have had a voice at the high table of world politics. But achieving this closeness meant making big sacrifices. Blair’s judgement was that being with America was worth it, that it overrode all else. Hundreds of thousands of people – no, millions – are not so sure. After Blair’s final evidence session, all the bitter truths of the lead-up to the 2003 invasion are even clearer than before.

If the former prime minister turned up hoping to have improved his reputation, he should have felt sorely disappointed this weekend.

Source: politics.co.uk


1 Comment»

  Is War With Iran Imminent? | Nuclear War in 2011 wrote @

[…] Does this incidence sound eerily similar to something transpiring today? If it doesn’t it should. Currently there is an international row between the U.K. and Iran regarding Iran’s seizure of 15 British sailors on a ship that Iran claims ventured into Iranian waters. The British government vehemently denies the Iranian state’s official stance regarding this incident, and claims that Iran illegally seized a ship that was still officially in Iraqi waters. In the meantime, the U.S. has intervened, with President Bush stating his unequivocal support for Britain and calling for the unconditional release of the British sailors and Iran’s continuing On the same subject: http://mayasoma.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/our-holy-moment/ A great related post about this: https://ghulamashraf.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/iraq-war-enquiry-hardline-blair-made-it-worse-for-himse… […]

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