Wednesday, 26 January 2011

More Terribly Culpable

Rod Liddle writes:

When Tony Blair talks about the invasion of Iraq he tends to preface his comments with the following sentiment: “Look, we can argue about whether or not it was right to invade, and that’s a respectable argument. But what you cannot do is argue that it was undertaken in bad faith, that there was some kind of chicanery at work.” This has been a clever and, to judge by the extent to which some of you lot swallow it, compelling argument these last seven years. It contains a partial truth, an arrant lie that muddies the waters so that those who were in favour of the invasion feel themselves obliged to exonerate the Prime Minister for every action he took in the lead up to it. And yet it is also terribly wrong, and a deceit.

There are two separate issues. One is whether or not it was right to invade, regardless of the manner in which it came about. I can see there were good arguments in favour of invading and removing Saddam, the chief of these being the nature of Saddam himself and his vile regime. He posed a threat to some of his neighbours (although, according to them, rather less than was alleged by the US and UK), he terrorized his own people and it was believed at the time that he may have had WMD. He was an untrustworthy savage and a source of regional instability. I have tried to understand Blair’s own – and before 2003 private – conviction that the UK must go along with the war because it would be dangerous if the US were left to act alone, but I don’t quite get it.

But still. Matched against the reasons for invading are these counter points: a)that more people would be killed as the consequence of war than Saddam could have managed in a decade, and some of these will be our soldiers and b)that far from being a source of Islamic fundamentalism, Saddam’s ghastly regime was bitterly opposed to it and c)therefore that something much worse might manifest itself in Saddam’s absence and d)that invasion would strengthen the hand of Al Qaeda. On balance, b), c) and d) swing it for me, but it’s a close call. I do not for a moment subscribe to the shrieking hysteria of the “blood on your hands!” lobby; any PM who takes his troops to war will end up with blood on his hands, regardless of whether or not the war is just. Nor do I give much of a monkey’s about the illegality of the war per se, although the distaste shown for it by most of the rest of the world should have been indicative. But in any case, although I thought the war was strategically wrong, a mistake which we would pay for, I can see that there were respectable reasons for it.

It is the other issue, a separate issue, upon which Blair is terribly culpable; more terribly culpable than any PM before or since. We know for sure now and had indications at the time that Blair’s reasons for taking our country to war were not those which he deemed to share with the country or with parliament. They were not shared because he was well aware that neither public nor parliamentary opinion would go along with him. And in attempting to convince the public of Saddam’s ownership of WMD he misled parliament, misled the public and pressurised, perverted or twisted every institution which might have acted as a check upon his messianic determination to wage war. This included the select committees, the civil service, the security services, the government scientists and even in the end the BBC. Cabinet was ignored. As John Denham put it at the time, Blair demanded evidence of WMD regardless or not of whether WMD existed. This is incontestable; it is the subtext of all those Blair year diaries produced by the either supine, or in Alastair Campbell’s case, conniving, former members of the administration. I do not think it is stretching it to suggest that this was the closest Britain has come to totalitarianism. Regardless or not of whether we were right to have invaded Iraq, we were lied to, repeatedly and the processes corrupted.

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