Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and waiting for different results. Therefore, perhaps it was madness to hope that Tony Blair, appearing for the second time at the Iraq Inquiry, which has been looking into the Iraq War since 2009, would tell us anything new. But while there were no big revelations over the decisions he made in the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, the former prime minister’s statement before a number of grieving parents who had lost family members in the war, that he “deeply and profoundly regrets the loss of life” caused something of a stir.
As he came to the end of a bravura four-and-a-half hour performance during which Mr. Blair robustly defended all his decisions over Iraq and even used the platform to urge possible military action against Iran, he decided to take the opportunity to express sorrow for deaths resulting from the war. But his statement was met by jeers of derision from members of military families attending the hearing. “Too late!” cried a woman in the public gallery. Two others stood up and left the room. Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon was killed in Basra in 2004, looked Blair in the eye and told him, “Your lies killed my son.”
Looking sun-tanned and relaxed the former Prime Minister had strode into the hearing room that morning, taking his seat before the five-person panel led by an avuncular Lord Chilcot. Mr Blair, who testified last January, had been recalled in order to clarify some discrepancies between his earlier evidence and that of later witnesses. Indeed, before the hearing there was speculation that the inquiry might be able to pin down this most slippery of performers and expose the fact that Mr. Blair had deliberately misled his cabinet, parliament and the British people.
But it was not to be. Mr. Blair dismissed suggestions that he had committed British troops for the American-led invasion long before the issue was properly discussed in cabinet or debated in parliament. Earlier this month Lord Goldsmith, the government’s chief law offer at the time, had told the inquiry that in October 2002 he learned that “the prime minister had indicated to President Bush that he would join the US in acting without a second security council decision if Iraq failed to take the action that was required by the draft resolution .” Mr. Blair explained this away saying that he had not wanted to “start raising legal issues” with President Bush until he was absolutely sure of the British legal position.
Indeed, he did not deny that in January 2003 he had assured George Bush that he was ”solidly” with him despite the fact that it was only two months later, on the eve of the invasion, that Lord Goldsmith had given Mr. Blair the formal legal advice that a ”reasonable case” could be made for launching an attack without further UN backing.
Challenged as to why, in direct contradiction to advice provided by Lord Goldsmith, Mr. Blair had told Parliament on January 15, 2003 that in certain circumstances a second UN resolution would not be necessary, Mr. Blair said that he had been “making a political point” rather than “a legal one.”
Anyone hoping for this to be a judgement day for Mr. Blair was in for a sore disappointment. Instead, ‘Teflon Tony’ rose to the occasion, defiantly repeating his ‘I did what I thought was right’ mantra and once again using the platform to warn of the “destabilizing” and “negative” influence of Iran. At his first appearance before Lord Chilcot, Mr. Blair managed to mention Iran no less than 58 times. On Friday, although his first reference to Iran came within the first three minutes of his testimony, it was only at the end of his session that he went into detail about the “looming, coming challenge” posed by Iran.
When asked what lessons he took from the Iraq War Mr. Blair did not talk of good governance or trust, the need for better intelligence or adherence to international law. Instead, somewhat bizarrely, the first thing he said was that “[o]ne of those political lessons is to do with the link between AQ [Al Qaida] and Iran.” He went on to say that “we must get our heads out the sand” and meet the Iranian threat with “the requisite determination and, if necessary, force.” The Middle East peace envoy has clearly lost none of his thirst for war.
Outside, as the former prime minister prepared to leave the demonstraters chant of “Tony Blair, to the Hague” was clearly audible. While Mr. Blair will never have to face the International Criminal Court, his religious views mean that he does believe that one day he will have to face a higher form of judgement. “In Catholic terms there are three clear steps for forgiveness: confession, firm purpose of amendment and penance” veteran peace campaigner and former Roman Catholic priest Bruce Kent tells me outside the Inquiry. “Mr. Blair has done none of these things.”
Stefan Simanowitz is a writer, journalist and human rights campaigner. He writes for The Guardian, Independent, FT, Washington Times, New Statesman, New Internationalist, Contemporary Review, Huffington Post, In These Times, the Lancet. Visit www.simanowitz.ning.com