Observations of Tony Blair at the Iraq War Inquiry

I dropped into the live webcast of Tony Blair being questioned by the Iraq Inquiry. Only intending to watch for a few minutes, I was still there two hours later. After a somewhat nervous start, perhaps due to the fact that he no longer engages in the cut and thrust of British parliamentary question time, Blair’s old zealotry was soon on full display.

What quickly became evident here was the effect that 9/11 had on Blair’s thinking and decisions, and this coloured all his future judgements. One got the impression that he was more frightened of being remembered by history as a prime minister who had failed to act and through that failure there had been a catastrophic attack rather than as a leader who made a catastrophically wrong decision to invade and a destroy sovereign country and kill thousands of its inhabitants.

Blair’s quasi-religious zeal was on full display when he stated repeatedly that he believed without any a shadow of a doubt that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and, of course, that this belief was supported by intelligence services all around the world.

But hang on a minute, serious doubt on the value of this intelligence had arisen well before the war when the UN inspectors were in Iraq. Both the CIA and Israeli intelligence claimed at this time to know definitively where WMDs were located. Colin Powell even intimated this with his use of satellite photos and phone intercepts at his infamous UN presentation. This intelligence information was passed on to the inspectors who found … nothing! Hans Blix even expressed his frustration about the time-wasting that this faulty intelligence caused. For the Bush and Blair, however, this merely confirmed that Saddam had become more adept than ever at hiding his weapons. In fact, Iraq was in a catch-22 situation: unable to provide the proof that it had destroyed their weapons, and even if it had, it would not have been believed.

Blair also implied that history had vindicated him through the findings of the Iraq Survey Group which concluded that Saddam retained the intent and capability to reinstitute his WMD progamme. One point on this “vindication”, intent and capability were never part of the road to war; it was about actual quantities of chemical and biological weapons that were unaccounted for. If I remember rightly, Blair only began using the “intent and capability” excuse when the Iraq Survey Group announced after many months of searching post-invasion Iraq that there were no weapons to find:

On 23 January 2004, the head of the ISG, David Kay, resigned his position, stating that he believed WMD stockpiles would not be found in Iraq. “I don’t think they existed,” commented Kay. “What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last Gulf War and I don’t think there was a large-scale production program in the nineties.” Kay criticized the pre-war WMD intelligence and the agencies that produced it, saying “It turns out that we were all wrong, probably in my judgment, and that is most disturbing.” Sometime earlier, CIA director George Tenet had asked David Kay to delay his departure: “If you resign now, it will appear that we don’t know what we’re doing. That the wheels are coming off.”

At least David Kay had the honour to admit he was wrong and to resign rather than cherrypick the report in order to find some salve for his cognitive dissonance. Blair at first refused to concede that no weapons would be found, holding out for several more months, during which time he gradually shifted his justifications for invasion: “We did the right thing”, “I would have done it anyway” and “Saddam retained the ability to….”

There is little new, then, that I learned except for the two following points that Blair came out with.

The first of these was something that we had always suspected but I have never heard enunciated before, namely that Iraq was to be used as an example to other rogue nations that the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction would not be tolerated. Furthermore, Blair believed that Britain should still be acting on this basis and, without naming names, he opined that were other countries that still needed to be dealt to in a similar fashion. Can anyone say warmonger?

Secondly, Saddam was seen as a stumbling block in the Middle East peace process and for that reason too he had to go. Well, news for you Mr Blair, that stumbling block has been gone for seven years and resolution of that problem is no closer.

As I watched and as Blair regained his old confidence, I was reminded of why I came to loathe him and his public demeanour. It was because political thought and action became more like religious fervour for Tony Blair – faith based and emotional rather than empirical and rational.

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One Response

  1. […] and the culture of fear: a video essay Posted on February 13, 2010 by Duffster Last week, we looked at the Iraq War Inquiry and the way in which Tony Blair was motivated more by fear than by rational thought.  This video […]

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