Unsurprisingly, the Sunday papers are filled with analysis of Tony Blair’s performance at the Chilcot Inquiry, although I’m not sure how much there is to analyse. The guy spent 10 years in power unspinning a party formerly known as ‘Labour’ and turning it into a free-market wet dream, convincing people they were rich by giving them access to limitless credit and taking them to war off the back of a hunch and a secret handshake.
If Blair couldn’t persuade Europe it needed him as president, the sleight of hand he pulled in this country might well fall into the category of ‘miracles’ and put him in the running for beatification. Perhaps that’s the correct order of things, since he’s made it clear a number of times that the voters might have put him in office, but his first duty is to his gut and his God.
Still, I know I wasn’t alone in relishing the thought of the former PM getting his comeuppance over Iraq. Sure, Blair’s fundamentalism on the decision to go to war verges on the pathological, so he was unlikely to give anything up. But I figured simply seeing him in the hot seat might offer some satisfaction.
Turns out the hot seat was rather lukewarm thanks to the unfocused and untalented inquisitors who make up the panel, and simply gave Blair another opportunity to say that killing hundreds of thousands of people, further destabilising one of the world’s most turbulent regions, and setting up his own personal Al Qaeda recruitment programme was worth it.
As galling as Blair’s position remains, though, I will confess there’s a strong part of me that refuses to blame it all on him. After all, Tony Blair is not the only person who believed what he wanted to believe on Iraq, and then cherry-picked evidence to support it. Whatever deal he made with George Bush and whatever bodily fluid it was signed with, more than 400 UK MPs voted to attack Iraq. People who’d never heard of the Kurds became their instant defenders, decrying their treatment at the hands of Saddam, never mind that the hands of our Turkish allies were also dripping with Kurdish blood. And in today’s leader The Guardian dutifully acknowledged that it had supported the war, admitting ‘in hindsight’ that it was wrong without explaining what was wrong with its sight in the first place.
In fact, the Guardian editorial is no mea culpa and that’s the point. Its apology is dispensed with in just a few words, before it moves on unselfconsciously to the task at hand: putting Blair on the ropes over Iraq. As such, it highlights a troubling issue at the heart of the Chilcot Inquiry – namely, that any new revelations about the Blair government’s shady tactics will give politicians, journalists and their followers who now regret having supported the war cover for their own bad judgment, thoughtless credulousness, and moral cowardice.
During the build-up to the war, I lived in Italy where more than 80% of people consistently polled against participating. I remember walking my dog one evening and counting the rainbow-coloured ‘Peace’ flags hanging from windows and offices in the small northeastern town where I was based, in the country’s most conservative region. I hit 40 within 10 or 15 minutes, and then I stopped counting.
I’m from Canada where close to 80% of people were against the war, and enthusiastically supported our then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s decision to join Mexico in risking US trade sanctions by refusing to join the American adventure.*
In short, we all had access to the same evidence about WMD, yet I don’t know a single person who supported the war. Those of us who wrote letters, made phone calls, and attended rallies were branded hippie idealists, naive apologists and worse, and compared with Chamberlain for ‘enabling’ Saddam. It turns out we were right, of course, but what’s the comfort in that you might well ask? The answer is ‘very little.’ But the one entitlement I’d claim is the refusal to allow anyone whose newly-animated conscience leads them to grip the hand of a grieving soldier’s mother, point a trembling finger at Tony Blair, and insist it was all his fault. If Tony Blair is as devout as he claims, he’ll know he hasn’t escaped judgment day. If anyone else was deceived, they deceived themselves.
*In fact, that event proved to be a last hurrah for both Chretien, who stepped down as Liberal leader, and for Canadian decency. Just as the rest of the world was arriving at consensus that Iraq was a big mistake, Stephen Harper manoeuvred his way into office in a minority government and used his barely perceptible mandate to reverse the Canadian position. More on that another day…