A chink in Blair’s formidable armour?

By Chris McCarthy

Whatever one might think of former Prime Minister Tony Blair – and you wouldn’t need to probe far to find a litany of unflattering descriptions – there is broad consensus that the ex-leader of the Labour Party is a cerebral, intelligent, politically astute individual. This makes his recent choice of words when discussing with Fern Britton the decision to invade Iraq all the more puzzling.

On being asked whether knowing what he did now, namely that there were no WMDs in Iraq, would he still have joined the US-led invasion, Blair replied that he still would have thought it “right to remove [Saddam Hussein],” but he would have “deployed different arguments about the nature of the threat.” A tactician of Blair’s pedigree would surely have been aware of the backlash these comments would provoke, and Conservative MP Richard Ottoway is right to suggest that this was a “cynical ploy to soften up public opinion” before Blair’s appearance at the Chilcot Enquiry. But has Blair failed to recognise the deep significance of his remarks?

By conceding that regime change was the foremost reason for the decision to go to war, Blair has undermined the sincerity of his argument, presented to the House of Commons and to the country in September 2002, that Iraq posed a real and imminent threat to our security. One might legitimately argue that any conviction behind this argument had already been compromised by subsequent reports and enquiries that questioned the factual validity of the ‘Iraq Dossier’.

In one regard the issue of whether Blair & co. deliberately manipulated, misrepresented, or inaccurately inflated the intelligence to suggest that Saddam’s weapons’ capability was a more immediate threat than it was, is a moot point. The end-game had been decided, most likely during closed discussions at George W. Bush’s Crawford Ranch, and all that was needed was a politically palatable argument to go with it.

Regime change is more often than not a controversial argument to deploy as justification for military action, flawed as it is by the counter-argument that such a principle is too often applied selectively. Nonetheless, it is a perfectly valid position to take and there is a body of previous case studies to reference to lend support to both sides of the debate.

Contrast this argument, however, with the fragility of the justification offered to the British public and the international community. If regime change was the intention then Blair and Bush should not have been so cowardly and deceitful as to attempt to build an international consensus based on a misleading justification grown from inconclusive evidence.

Perhaps Blair’s choice of words was more calculated than I first gave him credit for. He will have been carefully briefed on the proceedings of the Chilcot Enquiry and will have seen his reputation tumble further. Blair is engaged in a ‘preservation of self’ exercise, to the detriment of trust in our democracy.

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