The hunt is up, and the quarry is former prime minister Tony Blair. Two previous inquiries have been held into the circumstances surrounding the Iraq War of 2003 and they have been innocuous and inconsequential. A new inquiry under a Whitehall mandarin, Sir John Chilcot, is proving very different.
Already other mandarins including Foreign Office advisors, British ambassadors to Washington, and the United Nations, and the head of MI6, the intelligence agency, have given testimony suggesting that Blair went to war as a favor to Mr. Bush, and not in the national interest. The legality of the war depended on Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction, and one and all looked foolish when none were found. Senior military figures have complained that their opposite numbers in the United States were remote or snubbing, and therefore no plans existed after victory in the field. Hence occupation and chaos, al-Qaeda and the Shiite militias, all of it unnecessary and incompetent.
Another mandarin, Sir Ken Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, has made things much worse. A hippy in his youth, he seemed a dubious appointment, but he was a friend of Blair’s and in the same law firm as Mrs. Blair. He has certainly learnt how to prosecute. In an article, he calls Blair a sycophant, a narcissist whose belief in himself does not amount to principle, and who deceived the British people into waging war by concocting a story that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction when this was not the case and he well knew it. President Bush made a mess, and Blair readily jumped into it on account of a misplaced sense of his own importance. British mandarins are not in the habit of speaking about anyone, never mind prime ministers, with such anger and contempt.
Blair has made matters still worse for himself by giving an interview to say that if he had known Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction he would have gone to war for the sake of regime change — Saddam was too dangerous to be allowed a free run. The pack of media critics and human-rights lawyers have immediately begun to label Blair a war criminal, and raise the prospect of tribunals to incriminate him.
In office for ten years, Blair took a series of disastrous decisions that did harm to the internal condition of Britain, casting a dark shadow over its future. Since he resigned, moreover, he has cashed in with a shamelessness that generates great resentment. But it could be said in his favor that he had a hand in helping the Arab world move towards the democracy it needs but cannot introduce by itself. “A pretty straight kind of guy,” in his own words, he has a track record of wriggling Houdini-like out of blame, but in the perspective of the moment he looks like being established in the public mind as someone whose one good deed fixes him as an irredeemable liar and warmonger.