The inquiry currently chaired by one Sir John Chilcot into how Britain came to participate in the 2003 Iraqi war is producing high-class political theatre. Friday was a climax. It was Tony Blair’s turn to give evidence, and much of the country was hoping that the occasion would be a preliminary trial that would establish him as a war criminal, therefore due to face a real trial. A hostile crowd gathered outside the building where the inquiry is being held. They had banners expressing a view that is now passing into general perception (note the agitprop spelling of the name): “Blair Lied Thousands Died.” While it was still dark, Blair slipped in via some back entrance.
Blair told the inquiry that 9/11 had changed things, making regime change in Iraq virtually inevitable. It would have been an unpardonable risk, he said, to leave a man like Saddam Hussein in a position to develop weapons of mass destruction that could be passed on to terror groups. It was brave of him to add that today he feels a similar but even stronger fear of Iran. A trained lawyer, he dealt pretty easily with objections, for instance that Saddam was found to have no weapons of mass destruction, that the invasion of Iraq was illegal under international law, and that lack of planning for post-war Iraq caused the confusion and fighting that has given liberation a bad name.
Blair was a disastrous prime minister of Britain, leaving a trail of damage that it will be difficult to repair. A strange mixture of arrogance and naivety, he has evidently convinced himself that whatever he thinks must be right just because he’s thinking it. But he did understand that the West cannot live in peace while the Arab world is in the hands of dictators and tyrants. If we do not manage to meet on equal terms, the Arab world will pull everyone else down. The removal of Saddam opens the Arab world to a future that allows for a meeting on equal terms. If that happens, Blair and Britain will be able to claim a share of the credit. But when Blair said he was indeed responsible for the decision to attack Iraq, that he had no regrets and would do it all over again, he was met with boos and shouts.
Prime ministers have often been condemned, of course, but Blair’s predicament is unique: He gets away with wrong and harmful decisions about the United Kingdom, devolution, the abolition of the House of Lord, Europe and much else while being written off in the popular mind for the only thing he got right. He cannot recover, he will be some sort of pariah, jet-setting because unable to show his face at home. The next act of the political drama will be the appearance before the Chilcot inquiry of Blair’s successor Gordon Brown. The curtain will then fall when the general election takes place, in May or June at the latest.