Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Evidence of Witness 69: Blair has shown himself more a fool than a liar.

Patrick Cockburn, in an article in today's Independent, touches on a similar point which I thought of the other day:

Iran, with its 900-mile border with Iraq, was bound to be a serious player post-Saddam because it was traditionally the Shia community's main foreign supporter. Moreover, Mr Blair, by going to war as an ally of President Bush, does not seem to have noticed that senior members of the Bush administration were openly demanding that victory in Iraq be followed by regime change in Tehran and Damascus. Not surprisingly, the Syrians and Iranians were determined to give the US and Britain enough trouble in Iraq to make sure they did not move on to the next stage.
It seems startling to me that Blair could actually state in public that he was surprised that Iran would not wish to assist, or at least to be more amenable towards the invaders. It was not in Iran's interests to do so, and it says something about the blindness of Blair's belief system and how, having convinced himself that he was engaged in a noble cause, that it simply never occurred to him that the Iranians wouldn't see things that way.

They were next in line for invasion - having been named part of the Axis of Evil - and for most of Bush's presidency Cheney and others were making noises about Iran being next. Yet Blair, because Iran and Iraq had fought a bitter war, simply assumed that the Iranians would be on the side of the coalition.

That's a simply astonishing naivety. But, Cockburn thinks that we are wrong to concentrate on Blair mendacity:
In trying to prove him mendacious, critics of Mr Blair underplay his incompetence.
He then lists the number of facts which Blair got wrong in front of the Chilcot Inquiry:

It was striking in Mr Blair's testimony that so many of his references to Iraq are inaccurate. In trying to prove some connection between the perpetrators of 9/11 and Saddam's regime, he mentioned Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, later head of the Iraqi branch of al-Qa'ida, as being in Iraq before Saddam was overthrown. He failed to mention that he was in a camp in Kurdistan in a part of the country not controlled by Saddam Hussein. He said Iran intervened in Iraq because it feared a Shia democracy on its doorstep. In fact, Iran supported the Shia government in Baghdad after it was elected in 2005, but opposed the presence of American and British forces.

This limited knowledge of Iraq on display last Friday is significant because it reflects the fantasy picture of the war Mr Blair increasingly produced after 2003. By 2006, he was denying that Iraq was convulsed by a sectarian civil war which finally led to 3,000 dead a month and the flight of two million refugees.

It is here that Cockburn and I split. I don't think it is a simple matter of Blair telling lies, as I don't think the truth matters to Blair very much at all. He acts and thinks like a lawyer; facts to Blair are malleable things to be used as ways to make an argument, as he tellingly revealed to Fern Britton:

"If you had known then that there were no WMDs, would you still have gone on?" Blair was asked. He replied: "I would still have thought it right to remove him [Saddam Hussein]".

Significantly, Blair added: "I mean obviously you would have had to use and deploy different arguments about the nature of the threat."
I have long argued that Tony Blair's greatest gift was his ability to convince himself that he "sincerely believed" whatever was most politically expedient to him at any given moment in time. One can see this clearly in how he formulates his arguments.

For instance, Blair has long stated that the French were responsible for the Iraq invasion because they threatened to veto the second resolution. Now, the rest of the planet knows that the second resolution was the tool to start the war, but Blair argues that only with that resolution would Saddam have known that they were serious about invading and backed off, making the war avoidable. Hence, the blame lies with the French.

It is simply fantastical that Blair can have the brass neck to make such an argument in public, but Blair has managed to convince himself that this is true.

He can still make an argument that the war in Iraq was a good thing - as he said the other day, imagine Iraq in 2010 with a nuclear weapon and Saddam in charge - just as his Attorney General could make an argument that the war in Iraq was legal, but what Blair fails to grasp is that they are just that: arguments.

No-one seriously believed Goldsmith's case would actually stand up to the scrutiny of a court of law, not even Goldsmith himself believed that; but Blair seems to think that the argument itself is enough.

It's why he peppers his evidence with phrases like, "I know there are others who disagree, but I sincerely believe...."

Blair wants to inhabit a world where there are no facts, only opinions. Because facts are incontrovertible, and Blair prefers to live in a much more malleable environment. One in which the "sincerity" of one's beliefs justifies any action one takes based upon those beliefs. And as long as one can make an argument in favour of one's actions, even if others vehemently disagree, then one can justify any action.

It was what made him, at times, quite brilliant, but it was also what made him so terribly dangerous.


There also were times when Blair actually was mendacious, although, as I set out above, that was not what I regarded as his most troublesome attribute.

It's picked up here by The Sunday Observer, a newspaper I stopped buying at the time of the Iraq war because of it's support for that conflict, which I note today it describes as "a war that, with hindsight, it (The Observer) should have opposed."

In a most disingenuous passage of testimony, Mr Blair said he ought to have corrected some exaggerated media claims about the WMD threat, but paid them little heed at the time. Nonsense. Downing Street had powerful machinery for influencing public opinion. It was set full throttle to win support for war.

Therein lies a source of anger that Mr Blair cannot grasp. The offence was not believing faulty intelligence, it was the tendentious presentation of information to secure a political objective, as if the act of sending soldiers to invade another country could be managed like some public sector initiative.

Blair, just as Campbell did when he appeared in front of the inquiry, would have us believe that the "45 minute" claim was an unimportant detail which they paid scant attention to.

This is nonsense. One of the things which was most transparent in the build up to the war was that our government had began to engage in the task of selling that war to us. To that end, they removed caveats from the intelligence and told us only things which they knew might scare us into agreeing to the war. The 45 minute claim was, for those purposes, gold.

Blair and Campbell now wish us to believe that these two masters of spin were completely unaware of the PR value of their most precious commodity: the claim that Saddam could launch weapons at British targets within 45 minutes.

That's simply unbelievable.

Click here for Cockburn's article.

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