Blair's not mellowed with time. He's got worse.
By far the scariest part of Tony Blair’s appearance at the Iraq War Inquiry was when he implied that it would be right to invade Iran.
Yes, not Iraq - Iran. He kept mentioning Iran and saying what a threat it poses, comparing it to the threat that he still believes Iraq posed in 2003. “Today we are going to be faced with exactly the same decisions,” he said, “My judgment is, we do not take any risks”.
It was a reminder of Blair’s general attitude to the world, as simplistic and belligerent as that of any American neo-con.
So although this was the most frightening part of the day, it was not the most surprising. Having spent the day at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, in the media room next door to the Inquiry, I can confirm that the most surprising thing about the day was the coffee break – or, to put it more accurately, the effect of the coffee break on Tony Blair.
Prior to the break, Blair appeared stressed, flustered and prone to tripping over his words. I wasn’t the only journalist there to think that I’d never seen him look so nervous. After the break, he seemed calm, relaxed and just like the Tony Blair we’re used to – making statements with such confidence that you’d hardly stop to notice the flimsiness of the evidence on which they’re based.
I can’t say what produced this dramatic change. Perhaps the coffee they gave him was considerably stronger than what was served in the press room. Or maybe he was just getting into his stride. Perhaps it was because he moved to a subject on which he’s more confident – he’s used to defending the “dodgy dossier”. It might be that he was relieved to find that he was now being questioned by someone other than Roderick Lyne – the only member of the panel who really challenged him.
From my perspective, I was thankful that Lyne had a different style to the rest, although admittedly some of them became slightly tough occasionally. When we returned after the lunch break – during which I was able to delight several demonstrators by assuring them that their chants could occasionally be heard inside the building – Blair began to get slightly flustered again, as Lyne pressed him on legalities.
Lyne asked about Peter Goldsmith, the Attorney General who said that the war would be illegal - before conveniently changing his mind at the last moment. This seems to have become a habit with Goldsmith. When I worked for the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), we took the government to court when they cut short a criminal investigation into BAE’s Saudi arms deals. Documents released in the case revealed that Goldsmith had expressed legal doubts about the intervention – before falling into line and agreeing with Blair. Given the similarity of these two incidents, I remain unconvinced by Tony Blair’s repeated assertions yesterday about Goldsmith’s “extraordinary integrity”.
Throughout the day, Blair gave the impression of a man certain that he was right, confident that he was entitled to commit the whole country to war as a result of his certainty. Very occasionally, he implied that it might have been better to have done one or two things slightly differently. But he seemed to express no regret for any single aspect of the invasion, let alone the whole thing.
He gave an indication of his approach by beginning the day with comments about the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre. After that incident, he said, everything changed. The problem of course is that in reality very little changed, other than the USA’s attitude to the world and the straightforward promotion of a neo-con agenda in Washington.
Blair admitted under questioning that the threat from Iraq had not changed, only his “perception” of it. His perception? Are we to mount wars on the basis of personal fear?
To put it crudely, Blair seems to have lost the plot. He went far further than he had ever done as Prime Minister, suggesting that Saddam may have been hoping to develop links with Al Qaeda, and linking Iran and other “failed states” with them both. He seemed to combine everyone who could be regarded as an enemy – Iraq, Iran, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, “failed states”, “semi-fascist states”, “religious fanatics” – into one monolithic entity. He appeared to be saying that if one enemy became stronger, then so had each of the others. This argument is illogical nonsense.
In short, Blair was reviving the dangerously crude approach of the “war on terror”. In Blair’s world, there are two sides. There are “us” (he described 9/11 as “an attack on us”). And there are the terrorists, "rogue states" and anyone else who is not part of “us”. It is an analysis no more sophisticated or accurate than that of the fanatics he denounces.
The longer I sat watching Tony Blair yesterday, the more inclined I was to think that he has moved beyond being unrealistic and has become almost delusional. This is not a word I use lightly. I’m no fan of Gordon Brown, but as I watched the entirely unrepentant Blair encouraging military action against Iran, I felt very, very relieved that he is no longer Prime Minister.
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