Saturday, January 30, 2010

Blair at Chilcot: The Reactions.

It's fascinating to read how newspapers are reporting Tony Blair's appearance before the Chilcot Inquiry.

Sketchwriter Ann Treneman says he was intense early on but soon began to glow with "something close to righteousness".

Writing in the Guardian, Simon Jenkins says Mr Blair "slowly established dominance" over the inquiry panel.

"Within an hour they were listening mute to a seminar on neoconservatism for slow learners," he notes.

The Independent concludes that Mr Blair's final words appear to confirm that the removal of Saddam Hussein was always his plan.

In its editorial, the paper says Mr Blair defended himself robustly, but laments the lack of tough questions.

The Daily Telegraph reports on the protests outside the inquiry under the headline "Hanging crowd bays for blood as Blair faces his inquisitors".

Inside, the panel raised their game but Mr Blair remained "unfazed", it notes.

The Telegraph's editorial says Mr Blair was at his "most characteristically persuasive" when he talked about the potential "menace" had the war not taken place.

The Sun too touches on his contention that Iraq would have built up a nuclear arsenal had Saddam not been toppled.

Such disappointment is to be expected, as they were expecting the Chilcot Inquiry to behave as if it was a trial, which is actually the very last thing which it is.

There's something terribly English about the way in which this Inquiry is working. Everyone is invited along and given their opportunity to put their case. They are not harangued or cross examined, in any sense which one would expect in a court setting, they are simply asked to put their version of events on to the public record.

However, from the questions which were put to Blair, it was not hard to come to the conclusion that the Inquiry doesn't buy the argument put forward by Blair and Goldsmith regarding the wars legality.

The Inquiry have already revealed that there was not a single lawyer in the Foreign Office who thought the war was legal and Goldsmith is on record stating that he, himself, thought it was illegal until the Americans talked him round. It's going to be hard for them, when summing this whole thing up, not to put some emphasis on the fact that there's almost no-one in the entire British legal system who accepts the argument which Blair and Goldsmith are pushing.

And one got hints of that from the way they questioned Blair.

So those looking for blood on the floor are looking for something which this inquiry was never going to give them.

As I say, it's a terribly British affair, and the only way one will know just how well or badly Blair and Goldsmith fared will be when the Inquiry publishes it's results.

I expect at that point that we will learn, not exactly whether or not the war was illegal, but certainly that the opinion of Blair and Goldsmith was not one which was shared by the wider international legal community.

This Inquiry will not spill any blood until it issues it's summation, and even then it will slide the knife in with perfect politeness.


I thought Blair's performance in front of Chilcot was best summed up by this Guardian editorial.
There is a planet, some way removed from the real one, on which Tony Blair lives. He invited the Chilcot inquiry to join him on it yesterday. On this alternative earth, certainties dissolve and falsehoods become truths. Facts are transformed into opinions and judgments turn into evidence. Success and failure are both the same. On this strange planet, the invasion of Iraq was not a disaster, but a necessary and even heroic act. Other witnesses to Chilcot have admitted error. Mr Blair simply said he would invade Iraq all over again.

The key is not that he knows one truth and tells another, but that he sees things differently to others, in the broadest and most contrasting of ways. This allows no room for subtlety, or detail, or even facts. What matters to him more than anything is decisiveness and self-belief. This was always both the brilliance and danger of his leadership.
I used to say that I thought Blair's greatest quality was his ability to convince himself that he "sincerely believed" whatever was most politically expedient for him at any given moment in time. And that is what was on display yesterday. Of course, he "sincerely believes" that what he did was right. The alternative is simply unthinkable to him.


On reflection, the other thing which I find rather startling is Blair's inability to see that, if Iran is as dangerous as he now claims that it is, his invasion of Iraq has made doing anything about it well nigh impossible.

Even if one takes him at his word, the invasion of Iraq has been disastrous, because there is simply no way any British politician could convince the public to invade Iran to deal with the threat of WMD.

Blair fails to see that this is his real legacy.


Geoffrey Woollard said...

People forget.

This is a note I wrote to an American contact on the 18th of March, 2003:

"Here are my own views, for what they are worth:

I think that it is right to get rid of Saddam Hussein and that the task should have been finished in the former fracas. John Major, our then Prime Minister, and George Bush, senior, your then President, are to blame for that job not being done properly and I understand from a friend of mine who is a close friend of Mr Major that 'it was the Americans (who stopped us)'. Be that the truth or not, it was a major (oh dear!) error of judgement, for which we have all paid dearly ever since.

I know that the consequences of the coming conflict could be awful, but what is the realistic alternative? Saddam Hussein has been portrayed as a modern-day Hitler, and that is clearly ridiculous, for the latter was the elected leader of a modern industrial state of enormous strength and was actively threatening his neighbours and others, whereas the former is dictator of a tin-pot 'invented' country with a crashed-out economy who claims not to be threatening others nowadays. But the fact remains that S.H. did attack Kuwait, did murder other Iraqis, and did attack Israel with his missiles. If he is let off the hook now there will be no holding him and, with renewed confidence and re-arming, he will have another 'go' at his people and his neighbours in due time, just as he did before.

The people that I feel most sorry for are the Iraqis and our friends in Israel. I took our Dalmatian doggies to their vet. on Thursday last for their regular 'shots'. Their vet. is Jewish; his folks live in Israel; that place is a democracy; but they are under constant threat from socialist Arabs like Saddam Hussein and religious fanatics like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Despite any doubts about Bush and some of his 'fundamentalist' friends who scare the living daylights out of me, 'our' side is right, in your humble servant's opinion, and just has to prevail."

Kel said...

Thanks for that Geoffrey.

The problem of invading Iraq after the first Gulf war was that Bush (the elder) recognised that he did not have a UN resolution permitting him to invade. The resolution he had allowed him to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait and nothing else.

He also recognised that his coalition, which included some Arab states, would dissolve if he had attempted to invade.

Indeed, in his autobiography he described what he thought would happen should any country invade and occupy Iraq and he describes pretty much the situation we are now in.

Geoffrey Woollard said...

As some politicians answer difficult arguments, 'I hear what you say.'

I still think that Bush (the elder) should have done it.

I also think, incidentally and not wishing to open another argument, that if Eisenhower and Dulles had not stopped Britain, France and Israel pursuing the 1956 Suez business to a sensible conclusion, i.e. ousting Nasser, we would not be in the muddle that we are all in now.

Kel said...

I still think that Bush (the elder) should have done it.

The situation was more precarious than perhaps you are remembering. Saddam launched scud missiles into Israel in the hope of getting Israel to respond for, had she done so, the coalition would have instantly collapsed.

The Americans persuaded the Israelis not to take the bait which they, honourably in my view, agreed to.

Bush was working hard to keep that coalition together and, just as he had promised the Arab nations that Israel would not respond, I am sure he was also being asked to give reassurances that these Arab states were taking part in the liberation of Kuwait and not the invasion of Iraq.

Bush had given his word. He really didn't have a choice, and even Dick Cheney used to concede that point.

Geoffrey Woollard said...

Yes, I 'hear' what you say, but my memory is still quite good. I distinctly recall that on the day that the then invasion of Iraq was halted I was in discussions with a fairly senior Conservative Party official and we both agree that 'On to Baghdad' was the right policy. We could have got rid of Saddam Hussein in no more than a few days as his armies were scattered and their equipment in ruined heaps. But we didn't do it.

Kel said...

I was in discussions with a fairly senior Conservative Party official and we both agree that 'On to Baghdad' was the right policy. We could have got rid of Saddam Hussein in no more than a few days as his armies were scattered and their equipment in ruined heaps.

I remember it well and I don't doubt it could have been done, but it would have been considered illegal under international law and the US would still have had to occupy Iraq. And we can all see how well that has worked out this time around.

I don't think it was a decision that Bush the elder ever regretted.

Geoffrey Woollard said...

I think that we could have quite a protracted debate as to what standing 'international law' has, but I'm happy to leave it at that.

Kel said...

Thanks for that Geoffrey, it did make me laugh. I am aware that those of us on the right and left of the political spectrum view that subject through very different lenses!

Geoffrey Woollard said...

Sorry, Kel, I can't let that go unanswered. I don't know if you are 'right' or 'left' but I can assure you that I am neither. I am independent and am standing for election in South East Cambridgeshire as such. See my own blog at -


Kel said...

I consider myself to be on the left of the spectrum. Good luck with your election, I shall follow it with interest.

Geoffrey Woollard said...

Thanks, Kel!