London ~ Saturday, 30 January 2010
Blair's day in the dock
Date: Friday, 29 January 2010
Subject/Role: Prime Minister, 2001 – June 2007
Witnesses: Rt [dis]-Hon Tony Blair
Morning session: Video
London ~ Monday 1 February 2010
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: How the British empire is striking back
Like Blair, this inquiry is imperialist. Dusky natives have no voice or representation
I did try to sit through the Blair show. An unfortunate combination of Asiatic high emotion and feminine fragility made me feeble. I had to walk away, knocking over a large goblet of dark red wine, the colour of blood. It stained the beautiful wooden floor. From TB, then, the final words. I Did It My Way and Je ne regrette rien. So long folks. The Tory poster of Blair as the devil man now seems prescient.
Acidic revulsion filled the back of the throat. I wanted to be there, to look into the opaque eyes of our ex-Prime Minister, shake his obscene complacency and moral smugness, meet head on his disdain for international law, evidence, citizens of both Britain and Iraq. I discussed these reactions on Sky News and afterwards was driven back by an Algerian driver, who confessed he too had to stop watching from time to time, to calm down the storm building up inside his head. Neither of us is Iraqi. Imagine now what it must have felt like if you were, and like millions of them, against the war.
Judging from the many, many emails I have had since that appearance, countless Britons were just as repulsed. For the families of dead soldiers, Blair's cold, pitiless delivery must have felt like fresh cuts on open wounds. They at least have had public attention. But what of the Iraqis? How can we have had five inquiries into Iraq without a single Iraqi being called and all Muslim voices expunged?
The Chilcot panel could have included a dispassionate Muslim academic or one of the impressive experts on international affairs at Chatham House. But no. They chose instead Baroness Prashar, an Asian of Hindu background, someone I know and admire, but who, in this case, might be seen as an establishment insider and so lack credibility.
Blair has always been an imperialist and one reason he fell in so readily with the neo-cons was that they promised to fly him on winged horses back to those glory days again. In his victory speech to the Labour party conference in 1997 he expressed unseemly pride and undisguised longing for the British empire "that covered the world", an echo of his godmother Margaret Thatcher's intimations of colonial greatness in Bruges in 1992. And from his testimony he is still is profoundly a Western supremacist.
That he says there was "no humanitarian disaster" means it doesn't matter how many dusky natives – men, women and children – have been killed, maimed, reduced to destitution or ended up as refugees. They do not matter any more than did those Bengal famine victims under the Raj when they were denied food for sound economic reasons. When he says the "calculus" changed – he reduces these humans to a number. He and Bush, white masters of the universe, decide who lives and who dies.
The only "humans" in Blair's story are the Americans whose safety and sovereignty was violated on 9/11. We know all that – more clearly than ever before. Blair for sure would not accept China and India using his example to launch an attack on Iraq. That privilege is open only to white power.
His henchmen were of the same mindset. Geoff Hoon and I were on the Question Time panel just before action. He was aloof and arrogant – before, during and after the heated programme. And so he was at the inquiry, as were Campbell, Straw, Goldsmith. They were all absolutely right, and have nothing to explain.
Instead we, who were anti-war, are being made to feel treacherous for questioning their integrity – a shabby trick that only reveals how they have no integrity.
That no tough follow-up questions were asked by the Chilcot elders, that those who were affected by these breezy ideologues were never called, makes this inquiry itself imperialist. The natives don't matter – too excitable and indecorous to be allowed in. No questions need be asked on their behalf either. Wouldn't be cricket to disturb the comfy, between-us-chaps atmosphere we have witnessed in every one of the useless inquiries. They might have summoned, for example, the surviving members of the Hamoodi family hit by two missiles in Basra as they gathered in the family home. They lost Moustapha (13), grandmother Kariah (70), Hassan (9), Zain (19), Zainab (19), Zina (12), Wissam (41) and Ihab (32), a consultant gynaecologist. They are thought to have died of suffocation. Even if one accepts that such things happen in war, we need to know if they who suffered most still support this kind of delivery of democracy, and what kind of help they were offered next. OK, perhaps it's not a good idea to bring victims into such staid procedures.
So invite in Sami Ramadani, an Iraqi commentator in Britain, whose observations have been consistent and facts reliable. He warned back in 2006 that disinformation and deceptions kept the truth hidden of "the divide and rule tactics that have spawned death squads, torture, kidnappings, left people with polluted water, depleted uranium" and of course the uncounted dead.
Or get the testimony of Lailia al-Arian, of Al Jazeera, who in 2007 interviewed US war veterans who admitted using random brutality against innocent civilians, some because they could, others because they were terrified of the place they had ended up in and the people who didn't see them as liberating heroes, not for long anyway. We are only now finding out about some of our soldiers who indulged their sadism in Iraq.
They should also have had in some of those exiled Kurds and Iraqis who backed Blair and Bush (some for personal gain) and questioned them on the backroom advice they were giving and why. We needed to know just who has benefited in material terms from this "freedom" mission. Who wantonly looted historical treasures? Who got oil and reconstruction contracts? What do we know of the Iraqis now in power who thank Blair for his generous intervention? As ever, brown sahibs are always on hand to serve the interests of Empire makers and they too, like their masters, get away with it because they must.
There will be no truth or justice for Iraq. The book is done. Perhaps, as a small gesture of contrition, the Chilcot panel should put this verse from Dante Gabriel Rossetti's "The One Hope", on the front page of their report:
'When vain desire at last and vain regret
Go hand in hand to death, and all is vain,
What shall assuage the unforgotten pain
And teach the unforgetful to forget?'
London ~ Sunday, 31 January 2010
The Evidence of Witness 69: Blair has shown himself more a fool than a liar
The most revealing thing about the former PM's evidence was how little he understood about the situation on the ground
By Patrick Cockburn
A protest poster outside the inquiry in central London on Friday (LONDON MEDIA)
The case against Tony Blair has revolved too much around his good faith and too little around his competence. The placards held up by protesters on Friday as he gave evidence should have read "sucker" and "dope" rather than "Bliar".
Amateurs often have a fluency denied to professionals because they see no "ifs" and "buts" that would interrupt the flow of their argument. Books proving that Bacon wrote Shakespeare are often highly articulate and have great narrative pace because their authors see all facts pointing to the same inevitable conclusion.
It is this mixture of amateurism and evangelical conviction which made Mr Blair such a lethally inept leader before and during the war in Iraq. His greatest weakness was not so much that he adjusted facts to support his policies, but that he had so little grasp of the facts in the first place.
When the US and Britain invaded Iraq in 2003, they unwittingly began a series of revolutionary changes which are still reverberating. The inevitable consequence of getting rid of Saddam Hussein's regime was that the Shia Arabs would replace the Sunni as the predominant community in Iraq and Iran would greatly increase its influence in the country with the fall of its old enemy.
Yet Mr Blair said last week that he was wholly surprised by the emergence of Iran and al-Qa'ida as forces destabilising the occupation of Iraq. But al-Qa'ida became a power in Iraq only because the five million Sunni Arabs, stripped of power and jobs by the war, were already rising in rebellion.
Iran, with its 900-mile border with Iraq, was bound to be a serious player post-Saddam because it was traditionally the Shia community's main foreign supporter. Moreover, Mr Blair, by going to war as an ally of President Bush, does not seem to have noticed that senior members of the Bush administration were openly demanding that victory in Iraq be followed by regime change in Tehran and Damascus. Not surprisingly, the Syrians and Iranians were determined to give the US and Britain enough trouble in Iraq to make sure they did not move on to the next stage.
In trying to prove him mendacious, critics of Mr Blair underplay his incompetence. His very fluency as a propagandist militated against long-term military success. He conflates the invasion of Iraq with the long-term occupation of Iraq as if both were seen as acts of liberation by ordinary Iraqis. The US and Britain might just have got away with overthrowing Saddam Hussein, whom most Iraqis wanted to see the back of, but a long-term imperial occupation was never going to succeed because it had too many enemies inside and outside the country.
It was striking in Mr Blair's testimony that so many of his references to Iraq are inaccurate. In trying to prove some connection between the perpetrators of 9/11 and Saddam's regime, he mentioned Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, later head of the Iraqi branch of al-Qa'ida, as being in Iraq before Saddam was overthrown. He failed to mention that he was in a camp in Kurdistan in a part of the country not controlled by Saddam Hussein. He said Iran intervened in Iraq because it feared a Shia democracy on its doorstep. In fact, Iran supported the Shia government in Baghdad after it was elected in 2005, but opposed the presence of American and British forces.
This limited knowledge of Iraq on display last Friday is significant because it reflects the fantasy picture of the war Mr Blair increasingly produced after 2003. By 2006, he was denying that Iraq was convulsed by a sectarian civil war which finally led to 3,000 dead a month and the flight of two million refugees.
Such is the fury of so many people in Britain at Mr Blair's distortions of the truth that an important point is being overlooked. This is scarcely surprising since a YouGov poll earlier this month shows that 23 per cent of the public think he should be tried as a war criminal.
But he is not alone in his responsibility for what went wrong in Iraq. There is too much focus on his staff's manipulations of the "dodgy dossier" and too little on miserable performance of British intelligence. The service which knew the entire German order of battle in 1944 proved incapable of finding out accurate information about the rickety regime in Iraq some 60 years later. The Foreign Office and the British Army often showed a similar ineffectiveness during the Iraq war, possibly because they never approved of it and their hearts were not in it.
In Basra, for instance, the British Army found itself fighting a war that was wholly different from the one portrayed by Mr Blair. He claimed that here were Iraqis yearning to breathe free from Shia militias and Iran. But I remember a former British military intelligence officer saying to me that the great difference between fighting in Basra and guerrilla wars in Malaysia and Northern Ireland "is that here in Basra nobody really supports us".
Perhaps Mr Blair's greatest error was in his view of America. There is nothing surprising about him wanting to be the main ally of the US in the world. This has been British policy since 1940. Nor should there be any doubt about him having committed Britain to war early on. "I have made up my mind that Saddam needs to go," President Bush said at the Crawford ranch meeting as Mr Blair stood compliantly beside him.
But the war which followed showed that the US is more dysfunctional politically and militarily than Mr Blair supposed. For all the pitfalls of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein should not have been quite such hard acts to follow.
One extraordinary revelation did emerge in Mr Blair's evidence. The disasters of the Iraq war largely discredited the neoconservatives in Washington, but his repeated rants in favour of confrontation with Iran last week shows that Mr Blair has himself joined their ranks.
London ~ Saturday, 30 January 2010
Tony Blair and his oh-so-clean conscience
By Robert Fisk
There was – to use a truly vile expression of Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara yesterday – a "binary distinction".
There was the blood that flowed over my shoes in the emergency room of a Baghdad hospital in March of 2003, the humans shrieking with phosphorous burns, the old man with the blood trickling down a handkerchief from his empty eye socket, the piles of decomposing corpses in the Baghdad mortuary, the screams – oh yes, the shrieks and the pleadings and the animal squeals of the wounded and the dying. And then there was Lord Blair yesterday, sitting in the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in his oh-so-clean business suit and his oh-so-clean red tie and his oh-so-clean white shirt and his oh-so-clean conscience. My God, that was a "binary distinction" all right. The difference between the hell of pain and the hell of blissful mendacity.
You needed to be in the Middle East to feel that strongly about it. Lord Blair was physically only 2,000 miles away from me. Psychologically, he was in another galaxy, still composing and recomposing the historical record.
Take al-Qa'ida. We all knew about this particular institution. It had, as Lord Blair kept reminding us yesterday, "changed everything" with 9/11. It was one of the reasons why the British and Americans invaded Iraq. Because Saddam had links with al-Qa'ida, so said the Americans,and might give them weapons of mass destruction, so said Lord Blair. But when it turned out that the links were as non-existent as the weapons, Lord Blair was surprised to find al-Qa'ida turning up in post-invasion Iraq. "People did not think that al-Qa'ida and Iran would play the role that they did."
Lord Blair went to war because of al-Qa'ida but thought al-Qa'ida would let him win in Iraq. So it was all al-Qa'ida's fault. WE didn't kill 100,000 Iraqis (I noticed he used the lowest available figure). It was THEM, the terrorists, al-Qa'ida, insurgents, Iranians, "sectarians", the bad guys.
He played the same dishonest little trick over the Israel-Palestinian war. "It's a constant problem for Israel," he informed us. "They use great force in retaliation. Before you've gone two weeks, they're the people that started it all."
But no, they're not, Lord Blair. No one disputed that Hamas rockets preceded Israel's Gaza war a year ago. What Israel was accused of was causing grotesquely disproportionate Palestinian casualties. But of course, that's not what Blair said. Because he works in Jerusalem – where he cannot offend either side – and as Middle East envoy, it was his job to prevent this mass slaughter. Which he failed to do as signally as he failed to stop the slaughter in Iraq.
It's a cold winter in the Middle East now, but yesterday I had to loosen my shirt collar from time to time. It seemed Blair was as successful in Iraq as he was in Gaza a year ago. Everything is getting better. Life in Iraq is better – better than it was in 2007, 2003, 2002 and for that matter, 2001. I got it. Before his invasion, it was all Saddam's fault. After his invasion it was all al-Qa'ida's and Iran's fault. And presumably we are now going to invade Iran?
At one point, the wretched man boasted of Britain's historical legacy in setting up an Iraqi government in the 1920s, deleting any mention of the massive insurgency against the British in Baghdad and Fallujah and Najaf in 1922 which might – just might – have forewarned him of the post-2003 anarchy.
From time to time, there was a slip; or at least, something the inquiry – it is in fact, an inquest – missed. Trying to tell us that no decisions were taken at the infamous meeting with George Bush at Crawford, Lord Blair suddenly blurted out (indeed, appeared to want to blurt out) that he thought there had been "conversations with Israelis". What? Israelis? At the critical Crawford meeting? Israel was the only nation – apart from the US and Britain – that totally supported ther war, indeed encouraged it.
A Jerusalem friend looked up his archives for me and there's an Israeli foreign ministry "source" at the time saying that an Iraq invasion "will certainly take people away from the Israel-Palestine file". The inquiry never picked up this intriguing clue.
But by the end, as Lawrence Freedman read through the casualty lists for each year, and I remember I saw some of them with my own eyes – the tragedy of Iraq seeped into the room.
Adam Price MP got it right. "We'll never get an apology from this man," he said. We can't, of course. Because Lord Blair was talking about judgement, about being "frank", "absolutely and completely" honest and "absolutely clear". We had "to stick in there and see it out". So that's what all the dead and the wounded and the bombs and the shredded bodies and the rape and Abu Ghraib torture was all about.
Yet such a tiny room to hear it all in. No wonder they couldn't cram in all the mourning Brits. Almost 200 dead British soldiers couldn't be catered for. And how, I wondered, would they have crammed the souls of 100,000 dead Iraqis into the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre?
London ~ Saturday, 30 January 2010
To gasps from the gallery, Blair said we should be proud of the war
Shouts of 'murderer' and 'liar' as the man who took us into Iraq states his case
By Nigel Morris, Deputy Political Editor
Tony Blair gives evidence to the Chilcot inquiry yesterday
His voice was hoarse from six hours of questioning. But still he was unrepentant. To gasps of anger from grieving relatives Tony Blair used the final moments of his evidence to the Iraq war inquiry to justify leading Britain in one of the country's most divisive conflicts in its history.
Asked by the inquiry chairman, Sir John Chilcot, whether he had any regrets, he replied: "Responsibility but not a regret for removing Saddam Hussein. I think that he was a monster. I believe he threatened not just the region but the world. And in the circumstances that we faced then, but I think even if you look back now, it was better to deal with this threat, to remove him from office."
Sir John appealed for calm as a heckler shouted: "What, no regrets? Come on!" His voice fading, Mr Blair insisted that Britain – especially its armed forces – should feel an "immense sense of pride" over the Iraq war.
He added: "I had to take this decision as Prime Minister. It was a huge responsibility and there is not a single day that passes by that I don't reflect and think about that responsibility." He insisted that the war, which cost the lives of 179 British soldiers, was justified despite the failure to uncover any weapons of mass destruction.
Mr Blair even predicted that Western leaders might be forced to invade Iran, as it presents as serious a threat today as Iraq did under the rule of the "profoundly wicked, almost psychopathic" Saddam seven years ago.
The former prime minister closed his long-awaited appearance before the Chilcot inquiry by arguing that the world was a safer place following the war. Members of the audience, who included the families of dead servicemen and women, yelled "murderer" and "liar" at him, while several were led out of the hearing in tears.
Mr Blair admitted making mistakes in preparing for the aftermath of the invasion and in presenting the case for war. But he was otherwise unrepentant about joining the US-led military action in March 2003, making plain he was preparing to send British troops into Iraq long before the invasion began. Although weapons of mass destruction were never uncovered in Iraq, Mr Blair argued that Saddam "retained absolutely the intent and the intellectual know-how to restart a nuclear and a chemical weapons programme". He repeatedly singled out Iran as he warned the current generation of world leaders that they face a similar dilemma today, adding that his fears at the time – that failed or highly repressive states with WMD "become porous, they construct all sorts of different alliances with people" – were even stronger now "as a result of what Iran particularly is doing".
Police mounted a massive security operaton outside the QEII Conference Centre in Westminster as Mr Blair was smuggled in through a rear entrance to give evidence. Before the cross-examination began, Sir John Chilcot, appealed to members of the audience not to heckle Mr Blair – and warned his witness to be truthful.
Once the questioning began, the former prime minister fiercely denied misleading the country in the count-down to war. He said: "This isn't about a lie or a conspiracy or a deceit or a deception. It's [about] a decision."
Mr Blair dismissed claims by Sir Christopher Meyer, the former British ambassador to Washington, that he had secretly committed to join an invasion when he met George Bush at the President's ranch in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002 – almost 11 months before the war began. He insisted that he had said nothing in private that he was not saying in public – adding that Sir Christopher was not at the meeting.
Mr Blair said that during the meeting he was still pressing – despite US scepticism – for a fresh attempt to bring Saddam to heel though the United Nations. But when asked what message he believed Mr Bush took from the talks, he said: "Exactly what he should have taken – if it came to military action because there was no way of dealing with this diplomatically, we would be with him."
Mr Blair told the inquiry he believed the "calculus of risk" posed by rogue states changed completely following the attacks of 11 September 2001. Before then the international community had relied on a "hoping for the best" strategy of containing Saddam Hussein through targeted sanctions and enforcing a no-fly zone over Iraq. But he admitted that it was the "risk calculation" that had altered since 9/11, rather than the intelligence about WMDs.
Apparently contradicting assertions at the time about the "growing" threat from Saddam, Mr Blair said: "It wasn't that objectively [Saddam] had done more ... It was that our perception of the risk had shifted."
Later Mr Blair said he stood by his use of the word "growing" in the September 2002 dossier making the case for war, pointing to claims (that were subsequently disproved) that Saddam had mobile units for unleashing biological weapons. Mr Blair, who said the dossier was regarded as "somewhat dull and cautious at the time", also maintained he was right to assert in the document that it was "beyond doubt" that Saddam had developed WMDs. Mr Blair told the inquiry: "I did believe it. I did believe, frankly, beyond doubt."
Mr Blair did acknowledge that the Government should have made clear that the notorious claim Saddam could launch weapons within 45 minutes referred to battlefield munitions rather than long-range missiles.
He said newspaper reports focusing on the 45-minute claim should have been corrected. But in a reference to the battle between the Government and the BBC over the claim, and the death of weapons scientist David Kelly, he said the issue took on a "far greater significance" in the light of later events.
He admitted that the coalition made two crucial mistakes in planning for the aftermath of the invasion – not catering for "the absence of properly functioning civil service structure" and that "people did not think Iran and al-Qa'ida would play they role [in Iraq] that they did".
He did strike a note of contrition, saying he was wrong to suggest in a recent interview with Fern Britton that he supported regime change regardless of whether Saddam had WMDs.
The protests: ‘Lies, deceit, evasion’
Murderer, liar, war criminal, coward. Few attendees of a public hearing can have been met with such naked fury, but these were the words which greeted Tony Blair as he arrived at the Chilcot Inquiry yesterday.
As the former prime minister slipped quietly through a side entrance of the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster, a crowd of 200 anti-war protesters chanted: "Blair lied, thousands died." Yesterday, their numbers diminished from the two million who marched in protest before the Iraq invasion, but they made their voices heard.
"He does not have the integrity to come and face the people. Sliding in by a back door entrance is typical of his lies, deceit and evasion," said Lindsey German, convener of the Stop The War Coalition.
Campaigners bearing placards calling for the prosecution of "Westminster War Criminals" and sporting "Jail Tony" T-shirts mingled with a fancy-dress parade of wig-clad "judges" carrying the pictures of dead Iraqi children.
But amid the circus, a sombre, dignified note was struck as campaigners solemnly read out the names of soldiers who had died in the conflict, while the families of some listened silently in the drizzle.
Inside the inquiry, families watched uncomfortably as the man they blame for their relatives' deaths spoke. One father walked out, proclaiming it was a "complete waste of time". Theresa Evans, whose 24-year-old son Llywelyn was among the first to die in the invasion in a helicopter crash, said: "I would simply like Tony Blair to look me in the eyes and say he was sorry. Instead he is in there smirking."
Others heckled Mr Blair as he finished his evidence. One of the audience shouted, "You're a liar" to which a second added, "and a murderer".
In the final twist, Grace McCann was held back by police as she attempted to perform a citizen's arrest on Mr Blair on his way out of the building. Inspired by a website, arrestblair.org, she insisted her actions were the only thing worthy of a "war criminal".
London ~ Saturday, 30 January 2010
Leading article: Unrepentant and assured, Mr Blair sees nothing to learn
The former prime minister defended the Iraq war as a judgement call
For all the keen anticipation of Tony Blair's appearance before the Iraq Inquiry, few can realistically have expected that he would express either second thoughts or regret. So there can be little disappointment on that score. This was always likely to be a small print rather than a big picture occasion.
And yet the pictures were telling. This was the first time that the former Prime Minister had been called to explain himself outside Parliament and in public on what has been the most divisive policy issue for at least a generation. He had testified to previous inquiries, but behind closed doors or in writing. The questioning was largely on his terms.
Yesterday Mr Blair was required to explain in detail his overall thinking and motivation as events unfolded, and to do so as the cameras rolled and the proceedings were relayed across the land. As previous witnesses to the inquiry have stressed (for their own reasons), he was the man running the country at the time, the man who took the decisions, the man with whom the buck came to stop. His usual unapologetic self Mr Blair might have been, but there were moments when even he seemed disconcerted.
He was not exactly in the dock. But he was at times on the defensive. The last 15 minutes, in which statistics for casualties, infant mortality and living standards were tetchily traded across the table to support or demolish the most basic argument – was Iraq now a better place? – provided a real echo of the angry debate that has consumed Britain since the shadow of this war first fell across our horizon. The exchange also provoked the only emotional intervention from the public gallery. This is not a national quarrel that is going to be settled soon.
We could have wished for tougher questioning. Sir Roderic Lyne, who has emerged as the canny attack dog of this inquiry, seemed hesitant about skewering the former prime minister, even when the opportunity presented itself. If anything, it was the scholarly Sir Lawrence Freedman who seemed to get under his skin, persisting with the finer points of detail that Mr Blair is in the habit of skirting so adroitly.
Yet this was no waste of a day: not for the panel, nor for the probably global audience, nor, he will probably judge, for Mr Blair. The questioning fell naturally into two parts: before and after the war. He emerged a good deal more convincing from the first part than the second.
On the decision to prepare for war even before the United Nations process was exhausted, Mr Blair defended himself robustly. There was no secret deal with George Bush at the president's Crawford ranch. On the intelligence, there was no effort to mislead either Parliament or the British public. There was rather, Mr Blair said, a reassessment of the risk posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the wake of the attacks of 11 September 2001. His decision to take on Saddam Hussein, he said, reflected his own firm belief, not that there was any direct connection between al-Qa'ida and Iraq, but because of the risks that Iraq, not disarmed, might pose in future. It was a matter of judgement.
This defence, as was doubtless intended, negates many of the objections that have been made, whether on the legality of the war or the flawed intelligence. Judgement trumps all. But it also exposes Mr Blair to a graver charge. If joining the US invasion was simply a matter of judgement, it was a judgement that was catastrophically wrong, as this newspaper has always argued, giving rise to a foreign policy mistake on a par with Suez. Mr Blair might have believed he was protecting Britain's security, but the result has arguably been the reverse.
On the disastrous aftermath of the invasion, Mr Blair was strikingly less willing to take responsibility. It was as if the whole mismanaged occupation was nothing to do with him. There had, he repeated, been detailed preparations, but the reality had turned out differently. Time and again, he parried suggestions that other scenarios could and should have been considered.
Most disturbing, however, was Mr Blair's interpretation of the wider context. In his view, the post-war violence in Iraq was all the fault of outside meddling by Iran and al-Qa'ida – a potential alliance, he warned, without discernible evidence – that vindicated the decision to take on Iraq and now obliged the West to stand up to Iran. It had nothing to do with the destabilisation that is the entirely foreseeable result of invading someone else's land.
The task of the Iraq Inquiry is "to identify lessons that can be learned". The central lesson – that toppling the leader of a sovereign country without a mandate from the UN might have unpredicted and highly damaging consequences – seems to have escaped Tony Blair even now.
London ~ January 30, 2010
Unrepentant, unforgiven, Blair says: ‘I’d do it again’
Philip Webster and David Brown [Includes Video]
Tony Blair was branded a murderer and liar last night after he ended his historic appearance before the Iraq inquiry with a blank refusal to voice regrets over toppling Saddam Hussein.
After six hours in which the Chilcot inquiry team had largely failed to breach his defences, the former Prime Minister brought trouble on himself by failing to show the contrition that his critics wanted.
Mr Blair, who gave a fluent, assured performance, refused to apologise for going to war, said that he would do the same again, and then warned that today’s leaders might have to take similar action to disarm Iran.
He went as far as telling the inquiry that it should pose the “2010 question” and ask what would have happened if America and Britain had lost their nerve and allowed Saddam to go on and build nuclear weapons.
Last night declassified documents released by Downing Street revealed that Mr Blair had already indicated Britain’s support for regime change in Iraq six months before the 9/11 attacks. The memo is from Sir John Sawers, foreign policy adviser to Mr Blair at the time and now head of MI6, to a senior diplomat. Dated March 7, 2001, it said that Britain would support the US in toppling Saddam “when the circumstances were right”.
The Iraq inquiry audience stayed silent through most of yesterday’s testimony but cracked when Sir John Chilcot, the chairman, offered Mr Blair two chances to voice regret. To the first he replied: “Responsibility but not a regret for removing Saddam Hussein. I think he was a monster. I think he threatened not just a region but the world.” There was a cry of “What, no regrets?”; then shouts of “You are a murderer”, “and a liar”.
There were also sobs from relatives of some of the 179 British service personnel killed in the conflict. Mr Blair said: “It was divisive and I’m sorry about that but I tried my level best to bring people back together again.”
Earlier the former Prime Minister said that many of the arguments used to justify overthrowing Saddam’s regime now applied to Iran. He said that Iran was now a greater risk to Britain than Iraq was at the time that he ordered the invasion in March 2003.
His voice apparently beginning to fade, he insisted that Britain and in particular the Armed Forces should feel an “immense sense of pride” for the role that had been played.
“I had to take this decision as Prime Minister. It was a huge responsibility and there is not a single day that passes by that I don’t reflect and think about that responsibility, and so I should,” Mr Blair said. “But I genuinely believe that if we had left Saddam in power, even with what we know now, we would still have had to have dealt with him, possibly in circumstances where the threat was worse.”
London ~ Saturday, 30 January 2010
Persuasive he may be, but devil lurks in the detail he ignored
By Steve Richards
Questioned gently, but lengthily, Tony Blair was as persuasive as ever on every detail of Iraq and wholly unconvincing as to why he felt compelled to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with President Bush in the first place.
Blair got to the crux of the matter within minutes of his appearance: "We had taken the decision that Saddam had to be confronted post-September 11th." Who had taken that decision and why? What had Saddam to do with September 11th? These are key questions and yet the bulk of yesterday's hearing focused on the issues that only became important retrospectively, those relating to whether Blair lied or broke the law. On the whole he handled those questions with ease. He is used to answering them by now.
His original judgement deserved greater probing. There was no connection between September 11th and Iraq. There were no wider links between al-Qa'ida and Saddam. Yet in the immediate aftermath, the thoughts of President Bush, and therefore those of Blair, turned to Iraq.
Blair's interrogators did not seem especially interested in this sequence. Yet his decision to agree with Bush, that September 11th meant the policy towards Iraq must change, was the only one of significance that he took. After that the US was in charge.
Blair stressed repeatedly yesterday that after September 11th "the mindset in the United States in relation to Iraq changed dramatically ... and mine did too". How convenient that he made the same irrational leap, enabling him to maintain his close alliance with a Republican President. As he put it when questioned about his private meeting with President Bush at Crawford in the spring of 2002: "It is important for a British Prime Minister to establish a strong and close relationship with the President of the United States." Blair followed orthodoxy with a convenient passion. At a later point yesterday Blair added: "In my view and the view of the US we could not take the risk of Saddam reconstituting his WMD." Once more his view accorded precisely with the world's only superpower. It always did.
After Blair had decided that he shared Bush's worldview the rest followed inevitably. He had a case to make and he made it. He was right to point out yesterday that it was the BBC that made the dossier on WMD seem more significant than it was at the time of publication and that in its inaccurate reporting made integrity rather than judgement the issue. Nonetheless Blair inadvertently confirmed he was not especially bothered by the details, but the arguments they conveyed. He was asked if he understood the difference between long-range weapons and battlefield weapons. His response revealed much about his leadership style.
"I didn't focus on it a great deal."
On Iraq if details got in the way he tended to ignore them. But because the Committee focused on his integrity he was not challenged very much on the key question in relation to the dossier: Why was the intelligence so wrong? Instead Blair shifted his case retrospectively to suggest that the war was instigated to prevent Saddam from "reconstituting" his WMD, not an argument made at the time.
The rest of the micro questioning and answers were irrelevant. Blair persuaded Bush to go to the UN, but only in the hope that they would get international backing for military force, which they both believed was almost inevitable. Blair admitted yesterday that "given the UN's record on these matters" a diplomatic solution was never likely, and I sense the best he had hoped for was UN support for war, which would have given him more protection in domestic politics.
But in siding with Bush from the beginning he knew he would get a majority in the Commons, as the Conservative leadership was more gung-ho than him. He knew the cabinet would back him. He was being hailed in most newspapers for his boldness. Hans Blix could have pleaded for more time to hunt for weapons. It did not matter. By the end of 2002 US and British troops were in position and Bush wanted to invade in March 2003. Bush was willing to act without Britain, but Blair was never going to pull back at that point or any point. The troops were there and were not going to return without a conflict having taken place.
Forming a close alliance with Bush must have seemed the least risky course after September 11th, but as Blair said in the most revealing sentence of yesterday's hearing: "It all depends what happens afterwards how people regard your behaviour at the time."
Blair made a misjudgement and followed the consequences with crusading conviction. Future leaders take note: following the orthodox course can lead to even greater unpopularity if the end result is perceived as a deadly mistake.
London ~ Saturday, 30 January 2010, page 4
Tony Blair on Iraq: view from Baghdad
Iraqis are unimpressed by Tony Blair's attempt to explain to the Chilcot inquiry his case for going to war
Martin Chulov in Baghdad
A member of the Awakening Council, a neighbourhood guard unit, inspects a vehicle at a checkpoint in Baghdad on the day that Tony Blair gave his evidence to the Chilcott inquiry on the Iraq war. Photograph: Reuters
Nine months have passed since Britain left Iraq, but resentment towards the invasion remains strong.
In the shadow of one of four Baghdad hotels attacked by suicide bombers on Monday, members of four families gathered to watch Tony Blair state his case for going to war. They left unimpressed. The distinction Blair drew about his containment policy before 9/11 and military belligerence afterwards drew particular condemnation.
"He [Osama bin Laden] is Saudi, not Iraqi. Why did they come and punish the poor Iraqis, while Bin Laden is still a free man?" said Um Imad, 55, as she watched Blair's opening remarks. "What have we done wrong to them, and look what they have done wrong to us. Look at what happened this past week, with these explosions. There is no safety here, nothing."
The British and US claim to have introduced democracy to Iraq, and further benefits that they say will follow, does not resonate in Baghdad, where bombers still regularly penetrate porous checkpoints and wreak mass carnage. This week's attacks were the fourth in five months, and more devastation is widely expected ahead of a national election scheduled for 7 March.
"Before Britain came here with the Americans, we were making seven thousand dinar (around $5) each month, but we were living in safety," Um Imad continued. "Now we are making $500 a month and living in constant fear for our lives. Saddam was aggressive towards his people, sometimes savage and unpredictable, but at least we could sleep safely. Britain and America planted many of these poison seeds."
Blair's appearance at the Chilcot inquiry was seen in Iraq as a pivotal moment in Britain's claim to maintain a moral authority in the world. There is a widespread understanding that he would not have appeared if there was not a general perception in British society that things had gone wrong. "Tony Blair was a good diplomat and a good lawyer, but that's all he was," said shopkeeper Mazen Mohammed, 44. "It is clear he is lying to himself now and he will never be able to redeem his deeds. Iraq has been humiliated in the eyes of the world and all other countries hate us now."
Two younger Iraqis, Ali al-Mousawi, 18, and Hamzi Hussein, 17, both students, were more forgiving. "I have one foreign friend now and we communicate on the internet," said Ali. "My future is better than it would have been under Saddam."
London ~ Saturday, 30 January 2010
Regrets? Oh come off it
He looked nervous, but not for long. Soon enough the old, masterful Tony Blair was back in charge of proceedings
By Simon Hoggart
Okay, Tony Blair was never going to be left speechless, mouth hanging open, desperate to dredge up a reply. Still less would he say, "All right, you've got me bang to rights. Yes, I was lying. Now are you happy?" But even so it was a bravura performance by the maestro of self-justification, the supremo of sincerity, especially as he looked wobbly at the beginning.
Usually he likes to take his jacket off, as if to say "look, I've got nothing to hide", then shoot his inquisitors a big Colgate smile. Instead he looked nervous; people close to him said his hands were shaking.
Not for long. The first half hour was a fascinating exercise in which, with perfect politeness and formal courtesy, the two sides – panel and witness – fought for dominance. Blair had plenty in his box of tricks. One was to deflect a line of inquiry by implying they should be talking about something else. "The important thing to realise is ..."; "the absolutely key issue was ..."
There was time-wasting. His answers dragged on as if he hoped that by the time he'd finished the committee members would have forgotten what the question was, or wandered off for a cup of tea. He tried to read from his speeches – they put a stop to that – and recommended further reading to them.
His eyes blazed with "you must believe me" integrity. His use of the hands was masterly: chopping motions, sweeping gestures, finger-wagging, arms held apart as if to indicate the one that got away. A deaf person could have followed much of it.
Gradually the panel won back control. They began to interrupt when he rambled. They hauled him back to the point. In the end there were no crushing blows, because they're not cross-questioning; they are both barrister and jury in this case. If they want to emit barks of sarcastic laughter, they can do it in private.
Though there was one vivid moment when he defended the "beyond doubt" phrase in the first dossier. "I believed it, frankly, beyond doubt," he said.
"Beyond your doubt or beyond anyone's doubt?" asked Sir Roderic Lyne, a man whose questioning is as dry as a Egyptian tomb.
It was a rare flash of disdain. The most gripping moments came when he talked about the missing WMD. They might not have been there, but they appeared to have a Platonic non-existence – they should have been there, everyone assumed they had been there, and if the invasion hadn't happened they would be there now.
If there had been no war, with oil at $100 a barrel, Saddam would have "had the intent, the financial means – and we would have lost our nerve".
By the end he was back in charge. Three times Sir John Chilcot asked if he had any regrets. No regrets about what he had done, but regrets that it had been "divisive", meaning regrets that so many people disagreed with him.
If you asked the Iraqis whether they wanted Saddam back, you would get an "overwhelming" answer. Removing him had made the world a safer place. "I take the same tough line on Iran," he said, implying that if he were still prime minister our lads would be marching on Tehran now.
No regrets? asked Sir John again. "Responsibility, but with no regrets at getting rid of Saddam," he said. As Frank Sinatra almost sang, "Responsibilities, I've had a few, but then again too few to mention ..."
London ~ Friday, 29 January 2010
Families of Iraq war dead voice anger at 'smirking' Blair
Former prime minister accused of 'not facing up to facts' as he gives evidence to Chilcot inquiry
Video: Tony Blair gives evidence to Iraq war inquiry
Former PM tells Chilcot panel 'calculus of risk changed' after September 11
The families of British military personnel killed in Iraq condemned Tony Blair's performance before the Chilcot inquiry today, accusing him of being disrespectful.
One, Theresea Evans, asked the former prime minister to look her in the eye and say sorry for the loss of her son.
Evans, from Llandudno, North Wales – whose 24-year-old son, Llywelyn, died in a Chinook helicopter crash in 2003 – said: "I would simply like Tony Blair to look me in the eye and say he was sorry. Instead, he is in there smirking."
Anne Donnachie, from Reading, Berkshire, whose 18-year-old son, Paul, was killed by a sniper in 2006, said she blamed Blair for his death.
"From what I have heard this morning, he is just denying everything," she said. "He will just not face up to the facts. I believe he made a massive mistake when he sent my son to Iraq."
Sarah Chapman, from Cambridge, whose brother, Sergeant Bob O'Connor, died five years ago, said it would be better if Blair was facing the families rather than sitting with his back to them as witnesses are required to do.
"He is being very adamant about his views, as we expected, but it is clear he did not share all the papers before the invasion with the rest of his cabinet," she said.
"I am disgusted by that. It is obvious he acted alone."
Anti-war protesters outside the inquiry were denied a chance to direct their chants at the former prime minister in person when he used a side entrance to make his way into the inquiry.
When he began giving evidence inside the QEII Centre in Westminster, a building fortified with steel barriers and lines of police, campaigners stopped their chants of "war criminal", turned their backs and began listening as the names of civilians and military personnel killed in the conflict were read out.
The crowds dissipated at the end of the morning, but numbers were expected to build again towards the end of the afternoon when the session ends and Blair leaves the inquiry.
For many, today will be the last in a line of protests against the Iraq war which began when up to two million people took to the streets to march against the invasion almost seven years ago.
"He [Blair] does not have the integrity to come and face the people," Lindsey German, the convener of the Stop the War Coalition, said. "Sliding in by a back door entrance is typical of his lies, deceit and evasion."
Andrew Murray, the chairman of the anti-war group, added: "This cowardly and deceitful entrance is typical of how the former prime minister sold the war to the country – behind the backs of the public."
Scotland Yard said there were at least 250 protestors and reported that officers had made no arrests.
By 9am, around 300 mainly older activists had gathered by the building in the cold and rain.
One of the first to arrive, at 7am, was Noel Hamel, the 67-year-old chair of the Kingston Peace Council. He had woken in the early hours in order to get to central London by bus and tube.
A disenfranchised former Labour party member who campaigned for Blair in 1997, he said: "I was out there knocking on doors, proposing motions.
"I just couldn't have imagined a Labour government taking us to a war of this kind while being so deceitful about it."
As word spread that Blair had already entered the centre, chants of "Tony Blair, to the Hague" began.
Ruby Lescott, another ex-Labour supporter in her 60s, said her "deep-rooted, immovable rage" was not only directed at Blair but also at his closest ministers.
"The cabinet – most of them – were reluctant about [the war]," she added. "The Labour government has eroded the virtues of our parliamentary system."
Among the few younger faces in the crowd, Lois Clifton, 19, and Emma Clewer, an 18-year-old fellow LSE university student, admitted their attempts to leaflet for the protest had been disappointing.
"We needed more people here," Clewer said. "It's a chance for people to show their anger."
During the start of the invasion, both were in their early teens and recalled the marches.
"There were a lot of walkouts at school," Clifton said. "I wasn't as aware as I am now ... but I knew what was happening was wrong."
A heavy police presence, including officers from the Metropolitan police's specialist Territorial Support Group, watched from behind barricades surrounding the centre.
As is common at protests, Forward Intelligence Team surveillance officers jotted down notes of what speakers were saying.
London ~ January 30, 2010
Blair’s world view: simply goodies v baddies
For him the Axis of Evil was not just a soundbite but a profound philosophical insight. That’s why he has no regrets
By Matthew Parris
Within minutes of the start of yesterday’s proceedings of the Chilcot inquiry, a tanned Tony Blair gave us the key to understanding his motivation. But it took the whole day’s grilling, right through to his final, defiant Je ne regrette rien, for me to solve a bigger puzzle: our own motivation. Why the national and media infatuation with making this man squirm?
First, to what makes Mr Blair tick. How many viewers, watching the inquiry yesterday, noted his answer to a very early question? He rolled together in a single two-word phrase two political groupings in the Middle East who were in fact bitterly opposed to each other: “these people” was his collective term for Baathist nationalism and internationalist Islamic fundamentalism.
Worlds apart, surely? Forgive the italicisation, but this cannot be overemphasised: Tony Blair believes that all bad people are on the same side.
The key to explaining this man, and to understanding his genuine fellow-feeling with the former President George W. Bush and with the mindset of the American Right, is his religious outlook. Until you recognise that Mr Blair really does do God and recognise the way in which he does God you will miss the philosophical mainspring.
I was, to my shock, confronted with this recently when by chance I encountered Mr Blair outside Westminster Cathedral, where he had been queueing to touch a casket containing the touring bones of a Roman Catholic saint. I was reminded of it again yesterday when, for all his slipperiness in avoiding difficult questions from the Chilcot committee, I got the strongest of impressions that Mr Blair was utterly sincere about the decisions he took on Iraq.
He was asked why, in 2002, his attitude changed to the already well-known risk posed by Saddam Hussein, even though the facts remained the same.
“After September 11,” Blair replied, “I realised we could not take risks with these people at all.” These people. Which people? But Tony Blair does not confuse them. He acknowledges (he did later) that Saddam had no links with al-Qaeda.
Mr Blair does distinguish the many and various dangerous forces around the globe. He distinguishes them but he sees no difference between them.
This was evident later when he was asked about other threats, his questioner citing Yemen, North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran. “I’m afraid,” Blair replied “my view is that they’re all part of one picture.”
Tony Blair is a Manichean, or dualist. He believes that the Universe is best understood as an eternal struggle between the forces of good and evil, in contention for dominance. Christians are supposed to believe that the battle is already won, and Mr Blair’s dualism is (paradoxically) closer to Islamic fundamentalism than to the Gospels. For Mr Blair at least “Axis of Evil” was not just a Bushite soundbite: it was a profound philosophical insight into the meaning of world history. Once you understand this, there is no arguing with him.
But as I watched Mr Blair an unfamiliar feeling stole over me. Sympathy. Here was a team of pre-eminently Establishment figures, prodding and needling and raising the occasional eyebrow in discreet incredulity. And all make no mistake for a simple reason. Because the war on Iraq turned out badly.
Imagine (I thought) that those weapons of mass destruction had in fact been found. Would we be quibbling about whether the evidence beforehand had been sexed up? Imagine that after the toppling of Saddam a grateful Iraqi nation has linked arms to establish a happy and united democracy.
Would we now be picking over the legal precedents and finer points of international law? Would we be agonising over whether the Attorney-General was or wasn’t arm-twisted into giving that final green light, if the green light had led, in the end, to success? The dubious legal basis for the Iraq occupation was not the reason it went wrong; nor was the failure to find WMDs. And many’s the capricious and hastily planned adventure that nevertheless yields a happy outcome.
When Mr Blair remarked, rather wistfully, yesterday: “It all depends on what happens afterwards as to how people regard your behaviour at the time,” he was surely right.
What will doom Mr Blair’s personal legacy is the lethal confluence of two very different tendencies in British opinion. The first, of course, is those millions who opposed the invasion from before the start many of us making it clear we would think it a mistake even if it succeeded in its aims. Among us there’s an appetite for rubbing his face in the failures of the mission. We’d be happy to stage one of these inquiries every five years (say) like a traditional morality play, school Nativity play or pantomime, where the plot and the dramatis personae remain familiar and unchanging, and the audience knows when to boo.
But in recent years a second and, for Mr Blair, more ominous grouping has joined the critical chorus: those who supported the invasion and now feel they have been made fools of by events. They include many instinctive neoconservatives who have been bruised by the disrepute into which the adventure has fallen. They include, too, a range of media commentators and democratic politicians (including many senior Tories) who are embarrassed by positions they once took and feel, perhaps unconsciously, that they’ve got some explaining to do.
They include, most ominously of all, a number who have not really repented of their doctrine of muscular interventionism, are now eyeing up Iran, and badly need to distinguish between what happened last time and what might happen if we try it again.
This brigade of hindsight-doubters share an interest in blaming Mr Blair and Mr Bush personally for their conduct of the mission. The brigade’s unspoken refrain is that there was nothing wrong with the idea (that’s why they supported it) but everything wrong with the bungled execution.
That they have now turned on Tony Blair dooms his legacy in a way that the bleatings of peaceniks like me never could.
And so, as former friends desert, our former leader heads off into the wilderness, a scapegoat burdened down with the consequences of what was, in truth, a bad idea not a good idea badly executed. Mr Blair will spend the rest of his life (as someone once said of Edward VIII) growing more and more tanned, and more and more tired. Yesterday, and for the first time, I almost pitied him.