Thursday, December 24, 2009

Jack Straw faces Iraq inquiry grilling over Tony Blair letter.

Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary at the time of the Iraq invasion, is to face questioning from the Chilcot Inquiry into a letter he sent Tony Blair on the eve of the invasion, urging that British troops desist from taking part in the invasion and, instead, help with the clearing up after the fighting was over.

Straw's attitude to the Iraq war has always been under question, as he was known to be aligned with Colin Powell, one of the more sensible members of the Bush administration who was calling for restraint.

It has been claimed that in the letter Straw suggested the UK should offer the Americans "political and moral support" in their campaign against Saddam Hussein, but not military backing.

He reportedly urged Blair to tell George Bush that British troops would help clear up the mess and keep the peace once the war was over, but could play no part in Saddam's overthrow.

The US president had offered Blair the chance to pull out, and the then chief of the defence staff, Lord Boyce, has told the Chilcot inquiry that the US invasion would not have been delayed by more than a week if British military forces had been held back at the last minute.

Should Straw have actually said what he is claimed to have said in this letter, then an extra onus of responsibility will be placed on the shoulders of Tony Blair, who will be seen to be acting against the advice of both his Foreign Secretary and his Attorney General, the man who famously - and we suspect under extreme pressure from Downing Street - changed his advice on the legality of the war at the very last minute.
Downing Street has never denied the existence of Straw's letter, but claims he did not oppose British involvement in the war, and instead merely set out the options for how the UK could remain involved in Iraq's reconstruction in the event of MPs voting to oppose British military involvement.
Downing Street, as it was run during the time of Blair, is also known to be highly selective in it's reading of things like Straw's letter, so we can take what they say the letter said with a huge pinch of salt.

There have certainly been many indications since the war that Blair was entertaining no doubts at all concerning the war on terror, and speaking in a way which alarmed many seasoned Whitehall veterans:

Tony Blair delivered one of the most fascinating and revealing speeches of his premiership to Rupert Murdoch, a gathering of News Corp executives and assorted celebrities gathered at Pebble Beach in California. His theme was leadership and the inner convictions needed to sustain it. Turning to what he called "the debate about terrorism or security," he said: "I have many opponents on the subject: but complete inner-confidence in the analysis of the struggle we face."

And the implications of this total ring of self-confidence in these days of global anxiety and uncertainty?

"In these times, caution is error; to hesitate is to lose."

For his critics, this was primary-colours thinking verging on the millenarian. As a seasoned Whitehall veteran, who had closely watched Mr Blair in action during most of his wars, put it privately shortly after the Pebble Beach oration: "It's TB and the Holy Grail. He really does see himself as a latter-day crusader. It's dangerous."

Here the old sweat paused for thought and said: "Thank God Bush and Blair weren't in charge during the Cuban missile crisis."

Since leaving office Blair has, if anything, become more convinced that he was right about this conflict and that the rest of us were wrong. It was that attitude which led him to declare that he would have invaded anyway, even if he knew that Saddam did not possess WMD.

He simply can't accept that he got this one badly wrong and his pontifications on the subject have left even his biographer warning that his entire reputation will be ruined unless he accepts that mistakes were made.
Tony Blair's biographer, who once described him as a "political colossus" with achievements as least as great as Margaret Thatcher's, has warned that his reputation will be destroyed if he refuses to apologise for his errors over the Iraq war.

Writing in today's Observer, Anthony Seldon argues that the former prime minister who led Labour to three election victories will "diminish everything else he achieved" if he continues to try to justify his actions and refuses to show "contrition".

He accuses Blair of "perversity" and "insensitivity".

Seldon says Blair possessed a rare gift for understanding the public mood and an ability to speak in a way "that touched the British psyche better than any prime minster since Winston Churchill".
But he argues that he "lost it" when he turned from a populist to a conviction politician, driven by his Christian beliefs and a sense of moral purpose that made him sure he was always right.
Personally, I think that Iraq was a mistake of such magnitude that it dwarfed Blair's other achievements anyway, but the Chilcot Inquiry will tell us to what extent Blair was acting out of his own sense of conviction, and how many people were warning him against what he was proposing to do.

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