Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Reflections on Blair,the Iraq War and the Forthcoming Chilcot Report

Steve Richards has some important insights into how Blair's domestic agenda and politics had a role in convincing him support the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq in 2003. The problem with the idea he was either a liar, as his enemies suggest, or a crusader, as his supporters claim, is that it supposes a false dichotomy.

Richards suggests Blair was 'out of his depth' when faced with the 'momentous challenge' of a US ally that had already decided on war without a second UN resolution that would authorise war and before Hans Blix had had enough time to complete his inspections in Iraq with regard to weapons of mass destruction.

Yet it was clear that Blair was less interested in a second resolution from a 'moral' point of view that from the need to get the 'international community' onside from a political point of view. Blair told Bush "We’ve got to make people understand we are not going to war because we want to but because there is no alternative."

Blair clearly had convinced himself, as all good actors do, that his position on Iraq was fundamentally the right one to the point where the difference between fact and fiction was blurred. Blair's role was always about 'delivering' and about spin. This created a context in which 'belief' was more important than facts.

Blair's main characteristic was his utter banality. In this he was a typical product of the tacky age of shallow, vulgar consumerism and 'need to believe' that characterised his period in office and which was shown evidently in the weird and ersatz mass hysteria that greeted the death of Princess Diana in 1997.

The period before 2003 was given to a New Labour obsession with style and presentation and appearance over substance, most obviously in what was proclaimed a 'post-political age' by some, in which the Cold War between liberal democracy and dictatorship had been won and global free market historically inevitable.

When Blair claimed 'there is no alternative' he was using exactly Thatcher's words as regards the use of state power to ideologically recast nations according to market principles. He positioned himself also a political leftist and progressive version of Thatcher who had won popularity by being tough towards dictators.

That was as true of Thatcher's victory over Argentina's Galtieri in the 1982 Falklands War and, as Richards suggests, it is true 'Blair had been brought up politically in the 1980s when Labour lost elections partly because it was seen as “soft” on defence and anti-US.' Leaders should be 'decisive' and prepared 'to act'.

The problem with that interpretation alone is that it ignored the fact that by 2003, Blair had already fought three wars from Kosovo ( 1999), Sierra Leone ( 2000 ) and Afghanistan ( 200 1 ). At the time, Afghanistan had been seen as a success in having driven out the evil Taliban and not the sustained failure it later revealed itself to be.

Blair imbibed all the fashionable ideas of the time about the need for 'humanitarian' or 'liberal interventionism'. Polemics raged between the 'decent left' and those they castigated in the 'anti-war movement' as the 'totalitarian left' at worst or else spineless 'appeasers' or 'naive' or 'not caring' about those living under dictatorships.

The retrospective attempt to portray himself as the leader who was prepared to 'do the right thing', when the occupation and invasion of Iraq clearly went so badly wrong and he became unpopular after the 2005 election, was not due to the failure on Iraq of his attempts to 'triangulate' or find a 'third way'.

This way of doing politics was primarily always about hoisting up both his popularity and messianic sense of destiny as though one, both to himself and to Britain and the World. There is no evidence Blair,a failed lawyer, ever applied his forensic intelligence when it came to making any case for war, let alone Iraq.

On the contrary, Blair was, in foreign policy, an ideological neoconservative fanatic after 2001 and the destruction of the WTC and not a pragmatist whose otherwise good judgement deserted him over Iraq. A war against Saddam and the evil of dictatorship was at once one against 'terror' and so, in a broader sense, on evil itself.

Linking together dictatorship and terrorism, Blair believed that by removing dictators and installing democracies that freedom would reign. In Iraq, the opening up and Western corporate assistance in getting the oil flowing would rebuild the nation while ensuring, at the same time, Western energy security.

The Role of Oil in Blair's Decision for War 

The oil factor was a crucial one in the US decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003. Blair knew it but did not 'believe' that because it did not suit the rationalisations he had made in pleading the case as one about spreading the triumph of the free market and a bright new shiny globalised world in which the past could be overcome.

Tony Blair clearly could not have not ‘caused’ the Iraq War as some unthinking ‘anti-war’ critic suppose; without the US determination to set their sights on Saddam’s regime after 9/11 and to use it as a pretext to overthrow a regime unrelated to Al Qaida style terrorism there would have been no war.

Even so, the Iraq War was one he wanted as ‘war on choice’ for Blair’s Britain in standing ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with its ally as part of the ‘special relationship’ and to shore up Western oil supplies and security through controlling Iraqi oil supposedly for the good of all. It was never a 'war of last resort' at all.

In December 2001 in a top secret and later revealed memo Mark Allen of MI6 wrote, in response to the question “Why Move ?” i.e. invade Iraq, that ‘The removal of Saddam remains a prize because it could give new security to oil supplies’. Allen was involved with Blair’s later deal in 2004 with Gaddafi.

So Blair could not have been unaware of oil as a crucial part of the decision to remove Saddam. At the Crawford Meeting of April 2002 in Texas, Blair and Bush launched the US-UK Energy Dialogue which stressed that greater investment was needed to increase the whole of the Middle East’s oil production.

Throughout the 1990s, a cabal of strident neoconservatives after the First Gulf War of 1990, which was about stopping Saddam’s control over regional oil supplies through his invasion and occupation of Kuwait, had advocated knocking his regime out, boosting oil supplies and breaking the power of OPEC.

At Crawford production was said to have needed to double its capacity within thirty years. Britain’s establishment was party to and in agreement with those designs after 9/11 and as discussed in 2002 when Blair is said to have pledged support for a war in Iraq. The rest then was a case of spinnning the case.

It is uncertain how the Chilcot report will further add to this picture or even more on the ultimate reasons why the war was fought that are not already in the public domain. But surely it would show how Blair did in fact spin the case for war and disregard facts that ran contrary to his fundamental ’beliefs’.

The only real question as regards Blair’s case that needs answering is whether he did or did not , in fact, intentionally and deliberately set out to mislead the public and Parliament in order after clearly deciding at Crawford that he would join in the invasion of Iraq ‘no matter what’ on the issue of WMDs

It is unlikely, however, that the public is going to know for a long time unless the Chilcot Report reveals exactly what Blair said to Bush at Crawford and the evidence could no doubt be redacted as a political matter of convenience in order to retain the confidential nature of the special relationship in future.

In fact, lessons can only be really learnt through understanding the Iraq War as another resource conflict in which fears about access to oil and so economic well-being, called energy security, and messianic geopolitical strategies could blend in a potent brew to create a disastrous momentum towards it.

The ‘third way’ strategy was less important in Blair’s decision to join the war, contrary to what Richards thinks, than with his way to sell it to himself first, then the world. Just blaming Blair alone rather than the entire failings of the political culture and establishment at the time is somewhat pointless.

That does not mean Blair has no legal case to answer should it be proved he knew his case for war was based on deceit. But given that the prevailing culture of spin and deceit is entrenched in Britain, it would mean the entire establishment could fall into disrepute if Blair was pursued as so many other must have been complicit.

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