Saturday, December 19, 2009

Blair's candour is six years too late

So Tony Blair has finally confirmed what we have all suspected for years - that he was determined to go to war in Iraq irrespective of whether or not there were any weapons of mass destruction there. Would that he had been so disarmingly honest with MPs and the public back in March 2003. Here's today's Journal column.

Over the past week, the world’s politicians have been focused on the future, specifically on how to combat the threat of climate change that promises some very uncertain futures for tens of millions of their people.

As I write, world leaders seem no nearer a deal, although such is the nature of these things that this may well have changed by the time today’s Journal arrives on your doormat.

By all accounts, our own Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been working hard behind the scenes to secure some kind of agreement - in between paying tribute to Sir Terry Wogan, of course.

So often all at sea in the domestic political arena, international politics seem to bring out the best in Mr Brown, as she showed earlier this year in the talks over the global economic recovery plan.

But even if there is a deal or sorts, and the Prime Minister is seen to have played a part in brokering it, the impact of Copenhagen on the political battle back home will be minimal.

So I make no apologies this week for focusing once again on an issue where, far from working to achieve global consensus, a British Prime Minister fairly comprehensively ruptured it.

I refer of course to the Iraq War, and specifically to Tony Blair’s startling admission last weekend that he would have taken us into it come what may.

Asked by interviewer Fern Britton whether he would have still sought to remove Saddam Hussein had he known there were no weapons of mass destruction, he replied: "I would still have thought it right to remove him.”

Now the first thing to say about this is that it was actually the wrong question by Britton, a mistake which an experienced political interviewer like Nick Robinson would surely not have made.

Because thanks to Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry, we now know that the government did indeed have cause to realise there were no WMDs before the conflict even began.

Foreign Office official Sir William Erhman told the inquiry last month that, ten days before the invasion, intelligence was received that Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons has been dismantled.

Yet the government decided to conceal this game-changer from MPs and the public in the full knowledge that it would drive an Exocet through its case for war.

Let us for a moment imagine a counterfactual history based on the premise that Mr Blair was indeed “a pretty straight kind of guy” and as such had been more honest with the public about his reasons for going to war.

Let us suppose that he had come to the House of Commons on the day of that dramatic debate in March 2003 and said: “There are no WMDs, but we’re still going in because I promised George Bush that we would a year ago.”

Would he still have been Prime Minister by the end of that evening? Of course not.

We wouldn’t have just have been talking about Robin Cook and Clare Short resigning. Most of the Cabinet, including, I suspect, Mr Brown himself, would have followed them out of the door.

Mr Cook said that night: “Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of the term - namely a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic city target.”

Well, thanks to Chilcot, we now know there was no “probably” about it.

The idea that Mr Blair could ever have secured a Commons majority for a war based on regime change is utterly fanciful.

And the more of these grubby revelations emerge, the harder it will be for his unfortunate successor to retain his own majority next Spring.

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1 comment:

Sir Watkin said...

"no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of the term - namely a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic city target”

I don't know why you comment "thanks to Chilcott".

None of the dossiers or any official sources ever claimed at the time that Iraq had such WMD. The claim was that it had a small quantity of tactical battle field chemical weapons. (And as anyone with knowledge of the subject can tell you chemical weapons are no more deadly than high explosive.)

Some in the media leaped to erroneous, uninformed conclusions, but that is another matter (as is whether the Government should have sought to dispel their confusion).