On Friday Tony Blair answered questions as to why he led us into war with Iraq in 2003. His argument was that it was a rational decision taken in good conscience and, although that decision taken on the mistaken premise that Saddam had WMDs, it was ultimately the right decision.
The following appeared as a Daily Telegraph opinion on Sunday:
Tony Blair was jeered at the Chilcot Inquiry when he said that he “profoundly” regretted the loss of innocent life in Iraq. This is a man who, more than any retired politician, is used to the sound of jeers – and worse: hysterical cries of “Bliar!”, “war criminal!” and so on. So relentless is the chorus that the public has given up trying to listen to what he has to say, assuming that it is all glib self-justification (which, to be fair, is one of his specialities).
But when he spoke yesterday, Mr Blair did more than discuss events that are now receding into history. He told us that Iran poses a “looming, coming challenge” to world peace. “I’m out in that region the whole time,” he said. “I see the impact and influence of Iran everywhere. It is negative, destabilising. It is supportive of terrorist groups. It is doing everything it can to impede progress in the Middle East peace process.” The West, he said, must get its “head out of the sand” and tackle the Iranian menace, by force if necessary.
How should we respond to his warning? Ignore it because he made mistakes in Iraq and therefore nothing he says can be trusted? His analysis of Iran is based on far more reliable information than was available about Saddam’s Iraq. Like him or not, Mr Blair is a well-briefed ex-prime minister whose views, like those of his predecessors, should command our attention. And, as it happens, he is right about Iran.
The obvious response is of course to ask what is this “far more reliable information”? Or are we simply expected to trust the judgement of one who committed his nation to war on the basis of “far less reliable information”.
This piece in the Telegraph consists of nothing more than ad hominem assertions that Blair is well-briefed and professional whilst his opponents are hysterical.
Blair is clearly lying about his motivation in going to war and about the strength of any case for doing so. He says that the evidence pointed to Saddam having “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMD’s) and that anyone seeing the intelligence would be led to that conclusion whereas that was not the conclusion drawn by weapons inspectors nor was it the conclusion drawn by Blair’s Foreign Secretary Robin Cook who felt compelled to resign from the government:
The evidence available in the prelude to war was overwhelming contrary to the assertion that Iraq has WMDs and Cook makes this clear in his resignation speech. The evidence claimed for the assertion that there were WMDs in Iraq was intelligence service documentation could not be revealed to the general public for “security reasons”.
Although there was a massive demonstration and considerable unease prior to the war the British people went along with Blair’s decision. Perhaps they did so because of the way much of the media focused on the “badness” of Saddam as a subsidiary justification for war. The implicit argument was that because Saddam was such a bad man it would be doing a favour to the world and the people of Iraq if he were removed.
The persistence of the “badness of Saddam argument” continues to allow the peers of Tony Blair and sections of the media to treat him as a flawed but courageous statesman who did what had to be done. This argument depends on the following being true:
1. That the intention of Blair in advocating war was essentially noble.
2. That Blair did not use deception in making the case for war or that it is acceptable for the leader of a democracy to use deception in making the case for war.
3. That the badness of a country’s leadership is sufficient reason to invade that country.
4. That the outcome of the invasion has been, on the whole, beneficial rather than harmful.
I would contend that none of these assertions are true however addressing them would be a more rational basis for discussion than falling for the tactics of distraction that characterise those who condemn the war and Blair as hysterical tree-huggers.