The madness of Tony Blair, the futility of the Chilcot inquiry

30.1.10

Tony Blair at the Chilcot InquirySo will the Chilcot Inquiry into the illegal invasion of Iraq actually do anything when it finally reaches its conclusions? It seems unlikely. Over the last two months, we have had some fascinating moments: on November 26, for example, when Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain’s ambassador to the US, delivered testimony which, as I explained at the time, “demonstrated, without a shadow of a doubt, how ‘regime change’ in Iraq was agreed between George W. Bush and Tony Blair in April 2002, and how the rush to war by the US meant that furious attempts to justify the plan were doomed to fail, ‘because there was no smoking gun.’”

Last week, we had the disturbing testimony of Sir Michael Wood, the Foreign Office’s Legal Adviser, and his deputy, Elizabeth Wilmshurst. Wood was revelatory about how Jack Straw, who has, at times, portrayed himself as the highest profile dissenter in the Cabinet, had, in an unprecedented manner, turned down his legal adviser’s recommendations. On January 24, 2003, Wood wrote to Straw telling him the UK “cannot lawfully use force in Iraq in ensuring compliance” on the basis of existing UN resolutions, including resolution 1441, which, in November 2002, gave Saddam Hussein a “final opportunity” to comply. He added, “To use force without Security Council authority would amount to the crime of aggression.” In his reply, Straw wrote that he “noted” Sir Michael’s advice but did “not accept it.”

In a contemporary statement, dated January 15, 2020, and issued as part of the proceedings (PDF), Wood had not changed his opinions, and wrote unequivocally, “I considered that the use of force against Iraq in March 2003 was contrary to international law. In my opinion, that use of force had not been authorised by the Security Council, and had no other legal basis in international law.”

Wilmshurst, who, unlike Wood, resigned because of her opposition to the illegality of the war, was also devastatingly critical, explaining, in a powerfully understated manner, that the entire process was “lamentable” and lacking in transparency. Also released as part of the proceedings was Wilmshurst’s resignation letter, dated March 18, 2003, which makes for fascinating reading (PDF included with a batch of other correspondence). Wilmshurst wrote:

1. I regret that I cannot agree that it is lawful to use force against Iraq without a second Security Council resolution to revive the authorisation given in SCR 678. I do not need to set out my reasoning; you are aware of it. My views accord with the advice that has been given consistently in this office before and after the adoption of UN security council resolution 1441 and with what the attorney general gave us to understand was his view prior to his letter of 7 March. (The view expressed in that letter has of course changed again into what is now the official line). I cannot in conscience go along with advice — within the Office or to the public or Parliament — which asserts the legitimacy of military action without such a resolution, particularly since an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression; nor can I agree with such action in circumstances which are so detrimental to the international order and the rule of law.

2. I therefore need to leave the Office: my views on the legitimacy of the action in Iraq would not make it possible for me to continue my role as a Deputy Legal Adviser or my work more generally. For example in the context of the International Criminal Court, negotiations on the crime of aggression begin again this year. I am therefore discussing with Alan Charlton whether I may take approved early retirement. In case that is not possible this letter should be taken as constituting notice of my resignation.

3. I joined the Office in 1974. It has been a privilege to work here. I leave with very great sadness.

In contrast, yesterday’s performance by Tony Blair reminded many of us why we were so glad to see the back of him, and why the former PM’s absolute certainties — which always appeared to become more pronounced, the more opposition he encountered — provide absolutely no reason for him to get away with his key role in a criminal invasion that has led to the loss of so many lives. After a nervous start, his one-dimensional Manichean certainty about the world resurfaced, to the extent that he refused to apologize for anything, and, instead, encouraged the Inquiry to imagine how terrible the world would be if Saddam Hussein were still in power, and even began sabre-rattling with regard to Iran.

In an editorial today, the Guardian has captured much of Blair’s madness, even if the editors refused to use that particular term:

There is a planet, some way removed from the real one, on which Tony Blair lives. He invited the Chilcot Inquiry to join him on it yesterday. On this alternative earth, certainties dissolve and falsehoods become truths. Facts are transformed into opinions and judgments turn into evidence. Success and failure are both the same. On this strange planet, the invasion of Iraq was not a disaster, but a necessary and even heroic act. Other witnesses to Chilcot have admitted error. Mr Blair simply said he would invade Iraq all over again.

His appearance yesterday at the Iraq inquiry was fascinating not so much for any facts it revealed as for the disturbing insight it gave into his mentality. This came out most strongly in a potent final few minutes. Invited to express regret, in front of relatives of soldiers who had died in the conflict, Mr Blair admitted only to responsibility. He even suggested the military should feel “a sense of pride and achievement.” This chilling way of thinking, much more than any reading of international law or mistaken intelligence on weapons of mass destruction, is why Britain went to war with America in Iraq. It is a stark Manichean view. To Mr Blair, there are nice guys and bad ones, good values and evil, and it matters very much which side you are on. His target was Iraq, now it is Iran, as he freely and repeatedly said yesterday.

Should the Chilcot Inquiry have given Tony Blair a harder time? I certainly think so, but while the protestors who, exhausted by six hours of evasion, finally shouted out that Blair was a liar and a murderer, I remain grimly fascinated by Blair’s certainty. Does he really have no doubts? Is there no corner of his being that shudders at all the death he unleashed? To this extent, my feelings about the Inquiry reflect comments made to Channel 4’s Iraq Inquiry Blogger by an unidentified witness to the Inquiry, who explained:

The run-up to the war was an ancient Greek tragedy where the principal actor was brought down by his strengths as much as his weaknesses. For example, his convictions and interpersonal skills enabled him single-handedly to succeed in persuading Bush away from unilateral action (he would have overthrown Saddam whatever happened), to persuade a sceptical Security Council to issue the UNSCR 1441 ultimatum and to persuade almost all of his Cabinet to stick with him on the venture. Yet, the result destroyed his premiership and his reputation. How then did the fates conspire to produce this result? Each step seemed the right thing in his eyes at the time yet the result was tragedy. That is what I felt the inquiry needed to work through.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

13 Responses

  1. Yamin Zakaria says...

    One of the newspaper commentator on the BBC-2 Newsnight rightly pointed out why Blair made the connection to 9./11! This is still going through my mind. How and why Saddam became a threat after 9/11.

    Economically and militarily he was weaker in 2003 than in 1991. Yet paradoxically the threat level increased!

    I think you should have made some reference to that central point.

    But a great article anyway.

  2. Georges Tremblay says...

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    Georges Tremblay
    Ste-Irène (Québec)
    Canada

  3. Will Shirley says...

    I remain convinced that Mr. Blair was introduced to the use of cocaine as a means to work through the night, perhaps, but he continues to use it now for the same reason George Bush uses it: it is an addiction. If you play back video of their joint press conferences wherein they step out of a room and directly address the press, you note his sweaty brow, his nervous laughs, the twitchiness of his gestures. All look remarkably like a man who just did a few lines of coke and is now speeding through his day. I’m not being snarky, but in the 60’s and 70’s I knew a number of people who liked meth or coke, depending on their budget. Eventually all coke heads become violent. They like to play with guns. Now, we know that Presidents can get the SS to bring in hookers for their playtime, and George was famous for his capacity to consume great quantities of alcohol and cocaine. What could stop him from continuing to imbibe in his favorite pastime, besides banging Condi? Thinking about it now for months I keep going around to the same conclusion: Bush killed Saddam because, in his own words, “He tried to kill my dad!” and then a celebratory couple of grams with his limey buddy, followed by a grab at the oil fields. neither man expects to do prison time. Each believes they are above the Law and may in fact be right. Does America have the balls to admit we have participated in crimes against humanity? Do we have what it takes to turn an ex-President and his crew over to the World Criminal Court to stand for the murders of tens of thousands of innocent Muslims? I doubt it, but I DO SO WISH it were so. I’m tired of being ashamed of my country and disgusted by our Presidents. I would like to be in the country we claim we are, a democracy run by Laws, directed by people chosen by the populace in open, fair elections. Instead I live in pre-war Germany, 1938 and the sound of windows smashing open comes from Baghdad.

  4. The madness of Tony Blair, the futility of the Chilcot inquiry « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] Andy Worthington Featured Writer Dandelion Salad http://www.andyworthington.co.uk 30 January […]

  5. zaknick says...

    The story and the comments are a real treat. I would urge u to review the Cheney Energy Task Force from 2001 (pre-911). Iraq’s oil and how American + British oil firms (Rockefascist and the Queen Bitch) were getting squeezed out!!

    They freaking had the whole thing planned.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the cocaine theory, Will. Superbly disturbing.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Over on Facebook, I also had a few comments:

    Michael Bentley wrote:

    Oh, thanks so much Andy. He really is mad, after all. I hate words like ‘evil’ because they’re so simplistic and don’t explain anything, but in his case…

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    David Gould wrote:

    Tony Blair not only resides in a parallel universe of reversed values he is also clearly delusional to a dangerous degree. He has never been able to express regret…even for 7/7 for which he is personally to blame. The inquiry was far too soft and let him get away with murder yet again.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Boeykens wrote:

    For me, Blair will stay the little friendly dog of G. Bush.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    David Harrold wrote:

    Excellent article, Andy. It is good to note the rage and contempt that Blair inspires in so many areas now. That must give us hope that something like his “madness” will not be allowed to operate in this country again.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Yamin (at 1, above) also posted on Facebook, and this was my reply (to David as well):

    My apologies, Yamin, for not mentioning the 9/11 aspect — where Blair didn’t make a direct connection, as the Bush administration tried to do (and tortured prisoners to try to prove it), but used 9/11 as an excuse it to justify toppling any “rogue” regime that might be threatening.
    I was actually away all weekend, and had very little time to write anything (late on Friday night), but I couldn’t leave without trying to capture some (if not all) of the main points. As David notes, hopefully a leader possessed of this sort of madness will not be allowed to drag Britain into another illegal war again.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Yamin replied:

    He has obviously felt the feedback. You should perhaps write something on his response to the media coverage.

  13. Peace Activist says...

    Hi,
    I certainly believe a very great deal of illegal stuff happened related to this whole issue, generically. A lot of people worked side by side with Tony Blair, both within the UK, US and elsewhere. They all moved in step with each other, we should ask our selves why? What was the common bond between them. I believe that Teflon Tony was the perfect man for this sort of inquiry, wonderful charisma and a true master of bluff.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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