Anyone hoping for Tony Blair to show an ounce of contrition or remorse was in for a sore disappointment. Instead a relaxed and sun-tanned Blair lived up to his ‘Teflon Tony’ sobriquet defiantly repeating his ‘I did what I thought was right‘ mantra whilst the timid Inquiry panel failed to land a punch.
Blairs repeated assertion that it was the September 11th attacks that had changed his "mindset in relation to Iraq" went unchallenged despite the fact that there is no connection between September 11th and Iraq and no links between Saddam Hussein and al-Quaida. Frustratingly the private letters Tony Blair wrote to U.S. President George Bush during the build up to the war in which he allegedly committed Britain to regime change were not disclosed. The panel failed to challenge Blair on his statement that "we could not take the risk of Saddam reconstituting his WMD’s" – an argument not made at the time. More crucially the panel danced around the Weapons of Mass Destruction question failing yet again to address the key issue of ‘imminent threat’. Even if weapons of mass destruction did exist, where was the evidence of intent to use them? Without evidence of imminent attack an invasion of Iraq based on the principle of ‘anticipatory self defense’ or ‘preventive war’ would have been in breach international law.
Like former Lord Goldsmith who himself had appeared before the panel on Wednesday, Blair could not recall any conversations he might have had with his former Attorney General before Goldsmith’s sudden change of opinion with regard to the legality of war. Lord Goldsmith had gone for over two years convinced that there was no legal basis for war against Iraq and yet in the space of seven short days, from March 10th to 17th, he completely changed his mind. Did he remember the reason for this dramatic about face? Could it have been due to the fact that Tony Blair had already committed British troops to the invasion and had asked him to rewrite his advice? "I don’t recall it that way" Goldsmith had told Lord Chilcot.
The Inquiry has faced criticism on various issues, ranging from the composition of its committee, hand picked by Gordon Brown and the fact that its remit was determined by the government rather than by Parliament. Others question how this Inquiry would avoid being seen as a whitewash in the way that previous inquiries have. There have already been four inquiries into aspects of the Iraq conflict: the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee and the joint Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee both looked into the intelligence used to justify war; the Hutton inquiry examined the circumstances surrounding the death of scientist Dr David Kelly and the claim by the government that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes; the Butler inquiry again looked at the intelligence which was used to justify the war.
In terms of the lessons learned from the disastrous and unlawful invasion of Iraq, Blair offered few insights. He had "no regrets" and indeed he made a chilling reference to what many feared had been the next part of the Bush/Blair project for the Middle East, namely an attack on Iran. "Any possibility of WMD should be stopped," he said. "Iran is in a very similar situation [to Iraq], which is why these lessons are so important."
Tony Blair’s appearance at the Chilcot Inquiry was never going be his ‘day of judgment’ as it had been billed by some in the media. Blair has always said that history will be his judge and it is a judgment that looking increasingly harsh. Attempts by Blair to restate his version of history are hollow, no matter how eloquent his language. Meanwhile, outside the hall demonstrators called for Blair to stand trial for war crimes in the International Criminal Court.
Also see this previous Toward Freedom article from Simanowitz: Iraq Inquiry Panel: Britain’s Pride and Shame
Stefan Simanowitz is a journalist, broadcaster and outspoken critic of the invasion of Iraq. In 2003 he coordinated of the Human Shield Movement to Iraq and in 2005 coordinated Reg Key’s campaign to oust Tony Blair during the 2005 General Election. See www.simanowitz.ning.com
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