Watching footage of Blair on Australia’s SBS World News the other night, I found myself thinking what an excellent job he was doing as the quintessential English twit.
Sometimes smilingly, sometimes jokingly, but at all times displaying the stubbornness of a weak man, Blair defended the 2003 US-led war against Iraq.
He declared that after the events in the U.S. of September 11, 2001, “if we had left [Iraqi leader] Saddam [Hussein in power] . . . today we would be facing a situation where Iraq was competing with Iran, competing both on nuclear weapons capability and competing, more important perhaps than anything else . . . in respect of support of terrorist groups.”
Of course, what Blair failed to mention was that there was absolutely no connection between the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Saddam Hussein.
Throughout his testimony, Blair was heckled and jeered as, despite the deaths of 700,000 Iraqis and 179 British troops, he said he felt “responsibility but not a regret.”
At times he joked while defending the invasion of Iraq, resulting in one headline declaring: “Blair Jests Through Inquiry as the Bereaved Weep.” A number of families of Britain’s war dead were present at the inquiry, including Theresa Evans, whose son Llywelyn, 24, was killed in Iraq. She later told reporters: “[Blair] smiled, he laughed . . . but he didn’t say anything about our loved ones at all. I shouted that he was a liar because I believe he is. He has my son’s blood on his hands.”
Following is an excerpt from a commentary on Blair’s Chilcot Inquiry appearance by John Kampfner, author of Blair’s Wars and Freedom for Sale: Why the World is Trading Democracy for Security.
Image of Truth Frozen in Time
By John Kampfner
By John Kampfner
For six hours, Tony Blair returned to the public consciousness in his inimitable style. His appearance could have been frozen in time.
It was the perfect microcosm of a man who created his own style of leadership, who created his own truths.
With the confidence of someone who never allows complexities or an excess of argument to get in his way, the former prime minister wafted away questions lobbed tentatively in his direction by Sir John Chilcot and his team.
Time and again, Blair made assertions that were steeped in half-truth. Time and again, the inquiry team was unable to find its way through.
Blair constructed entirely new interpretations of some of the most crucial decisions on the road to war in Iraq.
On the fact that Saddam, in the end, never actually had the weapons, Blair decided this was not the point. Rather, what mattered was his capability to have them at some point.
On the odd occasion, when he was struggling on detail, Blair fell back on his catch-all defence of “judgment.”
Ultimately, he suggested, it all came down to him. This may be a small improvement on that other sweeping statement he has used in the past – “I did what I thought was right”- but is only marginally less flimsy and narcissistic.
The world was a better place, he insisted, thanks to his actions and those of George W. Bush.
Reflecting on the “substantive issues” raised by Blair at the Chilcot Inquiry, Chris Mersdaen notes that such issues were that “there was only a ‘danger’ of Saddam Hussein ‘reconstituting’ a weapons programme, not actually possessing weapons of mass destruction or having used them against Britain or its allies.”
Writes Marsden at the World Socialist Web Site:
Instead Blair declares that the “possibility” of Iraq possessing WMDs justified war, given that he had used WMDs [many of which were supplied by both Russia and the U.S.] in the past against the Kurds and during the Iran War.
When Blair was asked why Britain had not stuck to the “policy of containment” through the use of sanctions, he also echoed the US justification for war that everything had changed after the 9/11 terror attacks. It was no longer possible to “take risks” that other attacks might be mounted. When it was pointed out that Saddam Hussein was not involved in 9/11 or with al-Qaeda, he countered that “rogue states” could not be allowed to develop WMDs and that the link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda was that repressive and failing states become "porous" and therefore easier for terror groups to infiltrate.
Blair essentially asserted that there need not be an actual threat, only a potential threat, whether in respect to WMDs or terror attacks.
Tony Blair may have elicited jeers at the Chilcot Inquiry, but two others who gave testimony received applause. The first was a former top legal adviser, Michael Wood, who said he warned the British government that invading Iraq would violate international law. He said his opinion was ignored: “[Then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw] took the view that I was being very dogmatic and that international law was pretty vague and that he wasn’t used to people taking such a firm position. When he had been at the Home Office, things had often—he’d often been advised things were unlawful, and he’d gone ahead anyway and won in the courts.”
The second person to receive applause from members of the public at the inquiry was former Blair cabinet member and International Development Secretary Clare Short, who at one point said: “There was a lot of misleading parliament by ‘[Mr. Blair] … I’m not saying he was insincere. I think he was willing to be deceitful about [the reasons for the invasion] because he thought it was right.”
Short also referred to the “secretiveness and deception” as Blair and his “mates” closed down normal communications within the cabinet. “I was conned,” she declared, describing Blair’s assurances to her that he would persuade George W. Bush to publish a road map towards a Middle East peace settlement and press for a Palestinian state by 2005.
“I don’t think we influenced anything,” Short said, referring to the US. “We ended up humiliating ourselves [with] unconditional, poodle-like adoration.”
Of course, it wasn’t just Blair who ended up a “poodle.”
Australia’s own Prime Minister John Howard also became a total lap dog of George W. Bush and his regime. (Or puppet of Mr. Bush, as suggested by the Australian mother and son at right, whom I photographed in March 2003.) Thankfully, neither Howard or his government are in power today.
Recommended Off-Site Links:
Clare Short: Blair Mislead Us and Tool UK Into an Illegal War - Richard Norton-Taylor (The Guardian, February 2, 2010).
Tony Blair Chose Certitude Over Humility at Chilcot - Andrew Gilligan (The Telegraph, January 30, 2010).
See also the previous Wild Reed post:
Tariq Ali on the Resignation of Tony Blair