We learned a lot this past week in the Iraq Inquiry. Jack Straw, for example, told us that he almost thought the war was a bad idea, and was, well, awfully close to being illegal. But then he changed his mind, apparently, maybe. That’s the way it went pretty much the whole week. Geoff Hoon agreeably admitted that he did what he was told to do. I suppose reading between the lines, we learned that everything that was done under Tony Blair was against the will and judgment of those who worked for him–and yet, somehow, they managed to do what he told them to do anyway.
And we have an exciting week coming up. First, we have a bunch of people from the Foreign Office, who will be telling us that in all likelihood the invasion of Iraq was illegal without a second UN resolution, which of course Tony was happy to ignore. The later in the week we’ll have Lord Goldsmith, who will be quizzed on his change of mind about the legality of the war. Finally, on Friday, we get Tony Blair for the whole day, both morning and afternoon. We get Goldsmith for the whole day on Thursday, as well. So these two days will be packed with all sorts of squirming, evasiveness, vagueness, and bad memory, so we’re looking forward to this immensely. All of this raises an interesting question, especially in light of the Dutch report last week that determined that the war was in fact illegal under international law–will this panel, none of whom is a lawyer, be able to come to a similar conclusion, even if it wanted to?
Against all our expectations, we managed to score a ticket to Blair’s performance on Friday, in the afternoon session. So we get to witness history, and maybe to live blog Blair’s testimony as well. Good times. Plus, Gordon Brown announced uninvited (at least by the commission) that he would graciously testify. Probably completely unrelated to the fact that there will be an election sometime in the next four months.
Geoffrey Wheatcroft had some interesting observations the other day in The Independent with regard to the Blair defenders, what few there still are, and the fact that so many of Blair’s former associates have been turning against him:
There is nothing very dignified about the way they have been covering their backs and settling the score, with some of Blair’s erstwhile cabinet ministers now doing the same. With all his “profoundly difficult moral and political dilemma”, Jack Straw almost admitted to Chilcot that the war was a mistake, and suggested that he would have preferred to keep out of it.
But then there’s a score to settle. What MacShane fails to acknowledge is that Blair bullied and browbeat Cabinet, Parliament and the whole civil and military elite into a war almost none of them really wanted – and that what he has said since, not least in his gruesome television interview with Fern Britton before Christmas, has horrified his former colleagues, or well nigh betrayed them.
He really is a very strange creature, with his exalted sense of destiny, his total lack of scruple when he thinks the ends are justified, his readiness to use fair means or foul to get his way, and in particular his quite remarkable capacity for selective amnesia. One consequence is that he often fails to see that he is completely contradicting himself, and in the process humiliating his faithful allies.
To borrow a hallowed phrase from Irish politics, those who trusted Blair have again and again been left with their arses hanging out of the window. He did that with Roy Jenkins over electoral reform, with Paddy Ashdown over an alliance between Labour and Lib Dems, with David Trimble over IRA violence, and with his credulous pro-European supporters over the European constitution.
And he has done it over Iraq, in a manner so flagrant as to raise doubts about his mental stability, or at least suggest that he has no grasp at all of objective truth and falsehood. In the Commons on 13 October 2004, he denounced the Liberal Democrats, saying that if they had their way, “Saddam Hussein and his sons would still be running Iraq. And that is why I took the stand I did. I take it now and I at least will stick by it”. At that, the Labour MP Bob Wareing asked him how he could explain having told Parliament on 25 February 2003, “Even now, today, we are offering Saddam the prospect of voluntarily disarming through the United Nations. I detest his regime but even now he could save it by complying with the United Nations’ demands”.
Then in that interview before Christmas, Blair talked about how his Christian faith sustained him, before he was asked whether “If you had known then that there were no WMD”, he would still have supported the invasion, and replied: “I would still have thought it right to remove him. I mean obviously you would have had to use and deploy different arguments.”
It simply didn’t occur to him that those words must produce howls of agony and rage from those who had served in his government seven years ago. Like Straw, they all thought that regime change as such was an “improper and unlawful” reason for war, but Blair effectively concedes that this was really the purpose, just as some said all along. Washington was going to invade in any case, and so-called WMD were, as Paul Wolfowitz memorably put it, a “bureaucratic” or cosmetic pretext.
Exactly. There is going to be an awful lot of bitterness if Blair comes out of this smelling like a rose, as he usually does. Why is he still “teaching” at Yale?