Blair faced cheek

This morning Mr Blair returns to the centre stage of British politics. It is not a triumphant return. It is the return Mr Brown dreads. It is cross examination day over the Iraq war.

The 2005 election haunted Labour with their Iraq war. Anti war Labour candidates put up. The dislike of the war was one of the main reasons Labour’s vote slumped so low. Mr Blair was lucky, because the Conservatives were still unable to take advantage of Labour’s misery, and some Conservatives were keen supporters of the same war. A sullen electorate stayed at home in large numbers.

Many Labour strategists thought that was an end to it. When Mr Blair left office, they hoped the Iraq war left office with him. It was never going to be that simple. After all, Mr Brown was in the room when the decision was taken, and he had to pay the bills for the hostilities.

I read recently a Labour inspired comment that Mrs Thatcher would never have allowed a similar enquiry into her conduct over the Falklands. That is clutching at a straw that is well broken. The Conservative government did hold an enquiry into the Falklands war. That war was a popular, legal and just war. No-one queried its justice as it was designed to liberate people from an aggressor. It was legal under international law, as a country had been violated by another and sought intervention to free it. The hopes and good will of most of the country sailed with the Task Force.

The Brown/Blair war in Iraq was very different. It was never popular. Many people thought it unjust, intervening in an overseas country because the government did not like its Leader. Some thought it illegal, including we now learn a couple of senior lawyers at the Foreign Office.

So what can we hope to learn from Mr Blair’s appearance? I think the Enquiry should concentrate on three main lines of questioning.

The first would be to tease out the legal position. Parliament was always told the government had clear advice that it was legal. We need to know how many lawyers within government held a different view, how hard fought it was, and why the legal advice changed in the government’s favour at the last minute.

The second would be to find out why Mr Blair was so keen on going to war. Why was Parliament told there was an immediate and worrying threat from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction when it appears there were no such weapons? When did regime change become the purpose? Why did the UK decide to change this particualr unpleasant regime by force, but not other regimes it disliked?

The third would be to ask why there was apparently so little intelligent planning for what was to happen once the war had been won. Why did they make such bllunders in handling Iraq after they had won?

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31 Comments

  1. OurSally
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    >why Mr Blair was so keen on going to war.

    That is the springing point, as the Germans say. It seemed clear to all of us at the time that he really believed it was the right thing to do, in his earnest schoolboy manner.

    But since then we have realised that a great deal of what that man says is, umm, disconnected from the facts. So why?

    >Why did they make such blunders in handling Iraq

    Is it a blunder? If the only target was the sudden acquisition of vast wealth by some of the persons concerned, then it is a screaming success.

    That would be scandalous, an unthinkable act of immoral monstrosity, and I can't imagine a graduate of Fettes and Oxford would be so evil. Not a Labour politician, those gleaming monuments of virtue and erudition, never…

  2. backofanenvelope
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    I would like Chilcot to concentrate on your third point. Just why was there no plan for post-war Iraq? Blair will talk his way out of regime change and WMD questions – but what happened afterwards would be much harder to explain. Why no Military Government? Why didn't they tell the Iraqi army and police to report for duty on pain of being shot?

    The short answer is that Blair and Bush were known for not liking the detailed work required. Onwards and upwards!!!!

  3. Mike Stallard
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    EU please note:
    If you have a system where the Boss walks up and down and invites one or two pals onto his sofa to make decisions without proper discussion in parliament and in the cabinet, then, sooner or later, the Boss will take a wrong decision and nobody will be able to gainsay him. Disaster then happens inevitably.
    Worse, those who should have been asked will sulk and not pull their weight.
    Mr Bush was really charming and open and he needed to hit out. Mr Blair should have stopped him and pointed him in the right direction instead of being flattered into following him into a catastrophe.
    Saddam was perfectly all right where he was under a no fly zone.
    That is why I am a democrat and I hope everyone else is too.

  4. cuffleyburgers
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    The "legality" of the war is really a red herring – lawyers will count the angels on that particular pinhead for decades to come without resolving anything.

    The real issue is to what extent did the administration mislead parliament?

    To what extent did the government falsify evidence and corrupt the due process?

    And after the war was under way, and the British Army was bogged down ineffectively in Basra, to what extent did financial and political constraints lead to the defeat on the ground there, and to what extent have events been misreported and underreported up to our eventual ignominous exit?

    That we went to war to satisfy Blair's ego-trip there can be no doubt, but to what extent was our eventual defeat cuased by the current prime minister's handling of the purse strings?

    • Stuart Fairney
      Posted January 30, 2010 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      A very real (if very, very sad) point, we were beaten in Basra. Nobody admits this.

  5. waramess
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    It is said that Blair wanted to go to war in order to buddy up to his new pal Bush.

    Why did Straw want to go to war so much that he was willing to over-rule his most senior legal adviser notwithstanding his stated aversion to the war. Why not just go along with the legal advice?

    At least as intriguing is why the most senior legal adviser having previously given any number of preliminary views that the war would be illegal, suddenly change his view, citing a very tenuous and fragile argument, rather than maintaining his view of illegality based on more reasonable arguments.

    To argue that war was sanctioned because Hussein had failed to honour the terms of a previous resolution rather than to close the circle by going back to the forum which had cast the original resolution to seek sanction seems to me to be very unlke the response we would receive from a lawyer in civvy street

  6. savonarola
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    The second question is the most important because it informs the first(legality).

    Our real motives often lie deep within us. We know Blair is sanctimonious. We know he is a narcissist susceptible to flattery.
    We know he secretly regards himself as a political 'rockstar'. We know he is an opportunist. We know he/Mrs B have a dsire to be rich.

    The slow witted Bush had his number. Bush's motivations for removing Saddam were biblical type rectitude driven by a wish to please his father. Saddam had to go.

    He teed Blair up by inviting him address Joint Houses of Congress. The standing ovations corropted Blair to Bush's will which was disclosed at the subsequent Camp David meeting. Blair said "Yes I will"

    All Blair's subsequent actions were directed to fulfilling his promise to Bush. Figleaves, deceptions, faux anguish, faux cabinet consultations and so on.

  7. Matt
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Well lawyers are like taxis you call one and tell them where you want to go, I attach little importance to the legal argument. In international law it seems the lawyers advising President Bush had no problem advising him that the war was legal.

    When it comes to WMD I just find it incredible, as a lay person that here was a country Iraq that had been a pariah state a “public enemy number one” for so many years.
    – It had no fly zones to the north and south of the country
    – It must have been under the scrutiny of the US intelligence agencies, MI6, the Mossad and other agencies with all that entailed.
    – Presumably the country was subjected to satellite surveillance, espionage and electronics eavesdropping

    So when our PM used terms such as there was irrefutably evidence for WMD, possibilities of biological weapons, nuclear weapons… I believed this.
    (Even during WW2 the allies knew that Hitler had a nuclear strategy and had set up heavy water plants in Norway, no use of satellites or sophisticated eavesdropping here)

    Then when it appears that Saddam had nothing, he had less weaponry than he had in the first Gulf war… I just thought it inconceivable that all of these intelligence agencies had got it so wrong.

    It leads you to think what these intelligence agencies know about anything or the whole issue of WMD was a ruse.

    Add to this that Saddam probable had nothing to do with 9/11

    Add to this that Iraq was not a haven for fundamentalists.

    It just seems to be a disgrace that UK soldiers lost their lives in this venture.

    • backofanenvelope
      Posted January 30, 2010 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      There is, of course, the possibility that the Intelligence agencies told Blair there were no WMD. My experience as an intelligence officer taught me that the recipients of my analytic efforts often had other ideas.

  8. Stewart Knight
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    One of the biggest issues for me, now, is that Blair and Labour are claiming repeatedly in their desperation that it was all about security and justice.

    Well, Blair said clearly and concisely that regime change MUST NOT be a cause for war and also there was an intelligence report that stated, again clearly and concisely, that the terrorist threat would rise if Hussein was removed and Iraq invaded.

    The war, in my opinion, is a side issue that Labour and Blair want to bring to the fore; they want the lying and cheating of Parliament ignored. They want the fact that a press officer controlled a war cabinet ignored; why did Blair give an unelected and inexperienced second rate hack power over those who should run the intelligence and decisions?

    Many other questions exist that do not actually address the war itself or the legality of it, and I hope they ask them, but suspect they on't as they are all 'mates'

  9. Stronghold Barricade
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    The third will hopefully be the salutary lesson that the country can carry forward to future engagements

    Although it would appear that we are about to carry out the same policy in Afghanistan

    Maybe we should reclassify "Hearts and Minds" to winning over the view from the Foreign Office, rather than the local populace

  10. THE ESSEX BOYS
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Well put sir.

    We believe that many TV commentators have done us an diservice by suggesting that the public has no appetite for 'yet another' enquiry. This is to misjudge both the mood and the limited scope of previous enquiries. Further important information is being revealed all the time and this may NOT be the final chapter once a new government takes stock and possibly adds to the Enquiry's reach and ability to follow-through.

    Your second point – Why was Mr Blair so keen to go to war – is intriguing. 'Sticking with our major ally'…'The right thing to do'…and vague implications that a higher power was guiding him just do not wash. Why THEN, with Blix in situ as a result of the massing of troops. Those troops could have waited longer while Blix continued and further post-conflict planning was undertaken in case necessary.

    It is perfectly clear now – as we have stated continuously since 2003 – that blind support of the USA in general and President Bush in particular has benefited Mr Blair in his personal life and we see no reason why this possibility should not be explored. Human nature is human nature.
    We also believe that the President and close family associates in Saudi Arabia – well explained in the film 'Fahrenheit 911' – have benefited enormously from the much higher price platform for crude oil in the world market since the invasion. These figures and earnings are a matter of fact.

    We believe that this far-reaching Enquiry has the scope to explore these possible motives for decisions that so many of us at the time, and ever since, have found inexplicable. We see no reason why the laws of defamation should impede such natural questions that we believe are in the minds of so many.
    There is a great sense of injustice in this country when we see the material benefits that the main exponent, Mr Blair, and former political colleagues now in his employ have enjoyed while our military and their families have paid such a heavy price for little personal reward.
    It is important for the fabric of society that this injustice is not ignored but is understood and probed in depth.

  11. Peter Mc
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    "Why did they make such bllunders in handling Iraq after they had won?"

    Because these were the same people who won power in 1997 and by their own admission didn't know what to do with it when they got it.

  12. Neil Craig
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    It was noticeable that in defending his change of advice the Attorney general repeatedly raised Kosovo as the "new legal theory" under which it was only necessary " a reasonable case could be made — I'm sorry, there was a reasonable case" for war. Of course that time not only did the W"reasonable case", that Milosevic was engaged in genocide, turn out to be (questionable-ed), since the Foreign Secretary told Parliament before the war that it was the NATO armed KLA, on whose behalf we were bombing, not the Yugoslavs who were engaged in genocide.

    Goldsmith's testimony is thus that getting away with (questionable practises-ed) once meant we could probably do so again. Whatever the merits of the Iraq war the Yugoslav one was (of dubious morality and legality -ed – actual view very forcefully expressed). Those on the "left", or indeed "right" who supported it cannot claim Blair to be uniquely guilty.

  13. Stuart Fairney
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Apologies for O/T and I know you don't do requests, but as the most coherent financial commentator on the web, I would be most interested on your thoughts on the Greek financial position with regard to its ongoing Euro membership and the wider implications for the Euro itself.

    Reply: I do sometimes do requests and will fit this in soon. Broadly my answer is the Euro is a political project and Greece will be made to take some medicine to stay in.

  14. DennisA
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    He will surely have been practising for weeks, no doubt with simulated cross examination on the all the expected questions.

    I think Fern Britton got more out of him than Chilcott.

  15. Martin
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    The whole business struck me as a complete lack of principle in the Blair Brown era.

    For some as yet unknown reason Mr Blair was keen to follow the foreign policy of a very right wing some would say gung-ho American administration. If it was about Oil then what did the UK gain?

    I agree with William Tecumseh Sherman "War is hell".

  16. Frugal Dougal
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    I’m still concerned about the papers being classified for 70 years, which is perhaps why the Prime Minister feels he can attend the enquiry before the election with impunity.

  17. Simon
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    I am surprised by the naive belief that all questions will be answered by Blair's appearance. For what reason should he suddenly start telling the truth?

  18. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Radio 5 live has been broadcasting Blair's testimony this morning so we know a little more about your three recommended lines of questioning.

    Lord Goldsmith has already given the party line on why he changed his legal advice. I expect that Blair will simply pass the buck back. In any case, is there any such thing as international law? Why should we be subservient to the UN any more than we should be subservient to the EU?

    Mr Blair came good on the second line of questioning. He was and is convinced that Sadaam always intended to resume WMD manufacture and to refuse effective inspection, even if he had no available WMD at the time.

    [The current position with Iran is not that different. If we are going to intervene in Iran, we should do it via the Israelis (the thing that went wrong at Suez was American opposition). However, best is not to attack Iran at all; it could generate a major regional war and is too dangerous.]

    There was no planning for the post war period in Iraq because Bush and Rumsfeld had no intention of governing Iraq. Right to the end, Rumsfeld believed that the US presence should be a reasonably small, highly mobile and highly armed counter insurgency force. Government of Iraq would be for Iraqis.

  19. rose
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    Once he had got away with bombing Kosovo he was bound to try the trick again, forgetting that with a Republican partner he wouldn't have the backing the broadcasters gave Clinton. Why is so little made of that first unjust war? Besides blatant anti-Republican bias, is it because the Serbs don't threaten us at home and all over the world?

    • Citizen Responsible
      Posted January 30, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      Good point. NATO’s bombing campaign of Serbia in 1999 was a disgrace. We were first told it would last for a few days and the targets would be air defense and military. The bombing actually went on for 10 weeks and also hit factories, bridges, the state television broadcasting tower and other civilian targets. The Serbs retaliated and in a matter of days hundreds of thousands of Kosovo Albanians fled their homes. Tony Blair then used the huge refugee crisis as justification for bombing when in fact it was the cause of the crisis. An unjust war indeed.

  20. Ex Liverpool rioter
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    John http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinanc

    So it begins?
    Higher rates?
    IMF?
    Mike

  21. Kevin Peat
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    A fourth issue would be why Blair bypassed the usual checks and balances. In fact this is the only one he can't refute and must surely provide a prima facie case for prosecution.

    In answer to your third question:

    " … why there was apparently so little intelligent planning for what was to happen once the war had been won."

    Well that just proves it wasn't done for the benefit of the oppressed Iraqi people.

  22. JohnRS
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    Your three questions, if asked and pursued, would really get to the core issues.

    Unfortunately the members of the committee are all "good solid chaps" who know what they're there for. It's all very friendly so as not to upset anyone or let the light shine too brightly into any dark corners. I suspect your questions will remain unanswered.

  23. John Broughton
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    My first question as soon as it was evident we would take action was what happens after the victory.

    How is it that we could launch a war with no coherent plan as to how the country subsequently?

    • Citizen Responsible
      Posted January 30, 2010 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      I remember in the build up to the invasion, John Major and Paddy Ashdown in separate interviews on the box calling for some planning and detail about how the allies were going to govern Iraq in the aftermath of the war. Looking back it’s clear they could see both there was no planning.

  24. ikh
    Posted January 30, 2010 at 2:25 am | Permalink

    >why Mr Blair was so keen on going to war.

    I always thought this was obvious, the motivation clear, but as I have never seen anyone else say it, I'm no longer so sure. Anyway, here goes.

    Mrs T had a 'Good' war with the Falklands and it gave her a huge electoral boost. John Major had a 'Good' Gulf war 1 in 1991 and won the following election. I think Tony Blair wanted a good war. The Balkan war was just seen as a police action and so did not count. So when the possibility of Gulf war two came up he jumped at it with both feet.

    This may not have been his sole motivation but I suspect it was his primary motivation. He dreamed of having a victory parade like after the Falklands War.

    This is why the F.O. legal opinion was overridden and why the AG had his arms twisted behind his back to give the go ahead. I suspect that a small cabal of senior Cabinet Ministers were in on the idea that this would give Labour a huge electoral advantage and that was enough to carry most of the rest of the Cabinet ( with notable exceptions )

    After Mrs T was deposed, commentators eulogised Mrs T and placed her ( rightly IMHO ) on a pedestal next to Winston Churchill, as one of the great Prime Ministers of this country. Tony Blair wanted to be ranked along side them. This is why when Gordon tried to depose him he clung on for grim death to get his 10 years.

    Sadly, I think we went to war for one man's ego.

    /ikh

  25. Kevin Peat
    Posted January 30, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    "We made Britain safer by deposing Saddam."

    Of course making Britain safer was at the bottom of giving up control of our borders.

  26. George
    Posted January 31, 2010 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    I believe its inquiry – not enquiry.

  27. download by megauplo
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 5:37 am | Permalink

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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