Say what you will about Britain�s former prime minister,
Tony Blair, the man�s a masterful manipulator. Who else could have endured a
day�s questioning over his role in the Iraq blunder without changing his script
once or displaying the slightest contrition?
Last Friday, this consummate thespian sat before the
five-member Iraq Inquiry panel with a grave expression and, at times, trembling
hands. Cloaked in his usual sincere hand-on-heart guise he insisted that
toppling Saddam Hussain was the right thing to do and, what�s more, he would do
it again. When he was asked outright whether he had any regrets, he answered, �Responsibility,
but not regret for removing Saddam Hussain. I think he was a monster.�
Many would agree with him; many others believe there�s a
monster lurking behind Blair�s �Mr Nice Guy� fa�ade. He maintains Saddam
murdered a million people, but didn�t his actions and those of his Texan buddy
produce a similar tragic result?
In fact, you could say that Blair was responsible for even
more Iraqi deaths. He partnered with the US in the 1998 bombing of Iraq and
championed 10 years of crippling UN sanctions, believed to have caused the
deaths of over half-a-million Iraqi children.
Blair refused to admit that the coalition was responsible
for post-invasion deaths, for which he blamed insurgents and terrorists.
Incredibly, no one pulled him up on that. There was no insurgency prior to the
invasion, which became a lightning rod for extremists and terrorists. He was
also unrepentant about the fact that no weapons of mass destruction were found
in Iraq because Saddam would still have retained the know-how to make a nuclear
If Saddam was �a monster,� until he invaded Kuwait in 1990,
he was the West�s monster, a bulwark against the ambitions of Iran. Blair
insisted that Iraqis were better off without their former dictator but a Sky
News correspondent, reporting from Baghdad during the inquiry�s lunch break,
disagreed. She maintained that a majority of Iraqis believe that their lives
were better and more secure under Saddam. In fairness, that assessment wouldn�t
be shared by most Kurds and Shiites.
During his interview -- which was less of an interrogation
and more like a cozy chat in an establishment gentlemen�s club -- Blair used
the opportunity to rail against Iran, giving the impression that were he still
prime minister that�s where he would be heading next. Iran, he said, was a
country linked up with terrorist groups. He also blamed Iranian interference
for the coalition�s post-invasion failures.
It must be said that all of the above is cosmetic to the
nitty-gritty of the inquiry�s raison d�etre: to discover whether or not Britain
was dragged into a war of aggression, which the prime minister knew was illegal
under international law.
Blair looked distinctly uncomfortable during this line of
questioning but skillfully wriggled out of a statement made during an earlier
BBC interview to the effect that even if he knew Iraq had no WMD he would have
had to find another pretext. He admitted assuring George W. Bush a year before
the invasion that Britain would help bring down Saddam and confessed that his
decision had divided both the cabinet and his country.
He argued that the 9/11 attack on the US was also an attack
on Britain, saying it changed everything, but was forced to admit that Iraq had
no part in that tragedy. Instead he took the line that threats from countries harbouring
illicit WMD could no longer be tolerated, which didn�t explain why Iraq was
singled out while North Korea, Pakistan, India and Israel, which are not
signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, were treated with kid
gloves. He said he believed absolutely in the intelligence on Saddam�s WMD and,
when pressed on its nature, cited mobile laboratories; quite laughable when one
recalls there were no mobile labs, only caravan-like facilities for weather
The oh-so-polite panel omitted to take him to task for his
insistence that Iraq was in breach of UN Security Council Resolution 1441,
which he referred to as �Saddam�s last chance to comply.� In reality, Saddam
had destroyed his chemical stockpile and abandoned his nuclear weapons programme
in 1991. He had also re-opened the door to weapons inspectors, so he was in
compliance with 1441. The problem was the US and Britain refused to believe it
or to give top UN weapons inspector Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy
Agency chief Mohammad Al Baradei more time.
Blair�s most cowardly act of the day was heaping blame on
his former attorney-general, Lord Goldsmith, who along with a slew of Foreign
Office lawyers had been adamant that a follow-up UN Security Council resolution
under Chapter 7 was needed to authorise the legality of war. With British
troops gearing up for action, Lord Goldsmith was bludgeoned by Number 10 and
White House lawyers into altering his initial opinion. When pressed for a �yes�
or �no� response, he said 1441 was cover enough but may not convince a court of
law. If Goldsmith had said a firm �no,� Blair said Britain could not have
joined the invasion. So it was all Goldsmith�s fault! �This isn�t about a lie
or a conspiracy or a deceit or a deception. It�s a decision,� he said.
Tell it to the Marines, Mr Blair, or better still, to the
families of the dead, maimed, orphaned or displaced. See if they believe you! I
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.