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Iraqi-American War: Tony Blair’s testimony

29 January 2010

It’s one of the biggest puzzles of the 21st century so far — why did Britain and the USA go to war against Iraq in 2003?

The British Iraq inquiry provides some hope of finding some answers, so I spent quite a bit of today watching it, since Tony Blair was testifying. If anyone could give the answers he should, but would he?

There was a group of demonstrators outside the hearing, most of them carrying posters with one word: BLIAR. It’s obvious what they thought the answer was.

There were families of soldiers who had been killed in Iraq, and a spokesman for them said that they understood that soldiers are likely to die in battle, and they would simply have quietly mourned if it were not for their suspicion that they had died fighting an illegal, immoral and unjust war, into which the country had been led by lying politicians.

Mr Blair’s testimony has been reported widely, among other places here Tony Blair Testimony | Iraq War Inquiry:

LONDON, United Kingdom — An assertive and often spirited Tony Blair told an inquiry into the Iraq war today that invading the country was the right decision because he “believed beyond doubt” that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The former British prime minister, testifying for the first time before Britain’s Iraq Inquiry for the first time, also defended his alliance with the United States, saying he “didn’t want America to feel that it had no option but to do it on its own.”

I won’t repeat everything he said, as it is available elsewhere, but I’m not much better informed than I was seven years ago when they went to war. As one commentator put it, “Mr Blair didn’t lie, he just created his own truth.”

I’ll just comment on a few of the things he said, most of which sounded very strange.

First, he said that the events of 11 September 2001 changed everything for him. It changed his perception of the world. Quite frankly, it seems to have been sufficiently traumatic to turn him into a paranoid loony, though his first war was before that event — the Nato attack on Yugoslavia in 1999. This was his third major war.

He wnt on about all the states that he saw as threats. It wasn’t just Iraq. It was Iran, and Libya and North Korea and a whole bunch of others besides. He seemed to see them all as one big threat. When asked why they started with Iraq, he said it was because they had an excuse — there was a UN resolution that Iraq had not complied with. But then he contradicted this by saying that some of the other UN member states, like France, Russia, China and several others, were opposed to the use of military force to deal with the problem. But he and George Bush were determined to have a war anyway, so they went ahead with no excuse, and most of the preceding testimony in the inquiry been from top legal advisers to his government, who told him it was illegal.

Another thing he said was that he thought that Iraq was better off without Saddam Hussein. I’m not sure that the 100000 or more people who died would agree, and I’m not sure that most of the survivors would agree either. For them it was out of the frying pan, into the fire. Saddam Hussein was undoubtedly guilty of two wars of aggression, against Iran and Kuwait. But Tony Blair was responsible for three — Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

But it gets worse.

They started questioning Tony Blair about the preparations for the invasion and the aftermath. It would have taken at least six months to prepare for an invasion, yet he said the final decision was only taken a couple of months beforehand. He dismissed any suggestions that the preparations were inadequate: the military people would have told him if they hadn’t been, and they didn’t. They prepared for every eventuality, it wass all organised, except for one thing that they didn’t foresee. Well, two, actually. Well, perhaps it was three. These were things they couldn’t possibly have foreseen.

The first was the collapse of the Iraqi civil service. They had hoped to use it to rebuild, but it just wasn’t there. They couldn’t have foreseen that, but they’d know better in future, for the next invasion of a semi-fascist or failed state. Then it transpired that though Tony Blair hadn’t foreseen that, the Americans had deliberately planned it. They had planned a purge of the Ba’ath Party elements and the destruction of the Iraqi army. So with no local army or police to maintain a semblance of civil order, no wonder much of Iraq’s cultural heritage was looted and destroyed within a couple of weeks of the invasion. And how could foreign troops who can’t speak the language keep civil order? As soon as Blair learnt of it, he spoke to the American in charge, and eventually they softened the policy, but by then it was too late. A member of the inquiry panel remarked that they didn’t seem to have had a plan B, and no one seemed to have thought of a worst-case scenario.

The second thing that Blair did not foresee was that Iran would try to destabilise Iraq.

How daft can you get?

Iran and Iraq were at war for most of the 1980s. One of Iran’s war aims was to capture Basra (which the British had occupied) and use it to establish a rival government to the one in Baghdad. They came within 10 miles of Basra and held that territory for some time before finally being driven out. Though Iranians and Iraqis speak different languages, most of the people in the Basra area are their co-religionists, Shi’ite Muslims. To think that Iran wouldn’t take advantage of the polticial vacuum created by the war to push theit own political agenda must rank pretty high on the political naivety scale. Yup, it really does seem that 9/11 caused Tony to lose his marbles.

And the other thing that they didn’t foresee was that Al-Qaeda would also move into the political vacuum and try to achieve some of their own political aims. And why on earth didn’t they foresee that?

The Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein was a secular regime. It may have been authoritarian, but it wasn’t based on a religious ideology, and kept those who had ambitions to create a religious state in check. So when the Western infidels invaded, both Arab nationalists and Islamic Jihadists from 0ther countries would rally to the cause. Ideology and ethnicity can both have that effect, and it can be even stronger when they are combined. Anyone could have foreseen that, and most people did. Exceopt Tony Blair, it seems.

And then he said, of this, that people had said they should see Al Qaeda and Saddam Husein as separate issues, but Al Qaeda’s attempts to destabilise Iraq showed that they were actually the same thing, and must be seen together. Is that an outright lie, or was it just another one of Blair’s delusions? Perhaps it too was not a lie, but just another example of how he tried to create his own truth.

So perhaps he wasn’t a liar, just deluded. And because of his delusion over 100000 people died.

But at least he was sincere.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. malcolmguite permalink
    29 January 2010 10:35 pm

    I agree that Blair was sincere, but only because he didn’t hear what he didn’t want to know, i watched the whole thing with growing dismay and was haunted throughout by lines from a poem of George Herbert’s written to address his own slippery political times. The Seventeenth Century poet would have asked far more searching questions then the ones that were put to Tony Blair today. My attempt to bring Herbert’s wisdom to bear on today’s proceedings is in this post:
    http://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2010/01/29/who-is-the-honest-man-george-herbert-on-tony-blair-and-iraq/

  2. 2 February 2010 2:49 pm

    I’m not sure what’s worse, the possibility that he’s still lying or the possibility that he is actually as stupid and naive as he sounds.

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