Chastened, haunted, defensive but defiant


The Chilcot Inquiry has delivered on its promise. It has been uncompromising in its criticism of the conduct of Blair’s government and the individuals who comprised it. At a press conference this afternoon Tony Blair appeared chastened, haunted and defensive, but nevertheless defiant. I believe he made a disastrous and arrogant error, taking the country to war ‘in good faith’, without full discussion in cabinet, but it was brave of him to face his critics today. He will go down in history as a man who made a disastrous foreign policy judgement that has caused immense suffering and set back the cause of peace in the Middle East, just as Anthony Eden is remembered for Suez, and David Cameron will be remembered for the referendum.

In an implicit plea for sympathy, Tony Blair talked about how the decision to go to war in Iraq haunts him every single day, and that he goes over it again and again, obsessively, still certain that in the light of what he was told (who was he talking to?!), the decision was the right one. We all know what guilt feels like.

Historical judgement is rarely delivered as rapidly as in this case. Was there as through an investigation of the Falklands, or Suez? Though there has been angry complaint at the seven years it has taken Sir John Chilcot and his colleagues to research the causes, conduct and aftermath of the Iraq War, rigour was absolutely necessary. It took as long as it had to take, and its judgement is final.

The problem with Tony Blair was always ‘faith’, whether good faith or bad faith. So certain was he of his own moral compass that others’ opinions, or the weight of evidence, or the lack of it, held no sway at all. He looked for the evidence that would justify his moral intervention in the world, forgetting for more than a moment that politicians more often choose between evils, and that ‘doing good’ with military force is almost always bound to fail.

But he insists that he would make the same decision today, and to some extent that captures the arrogance of his approach to government. He ran government in a presidential manner, imposing his own will and ‘good faith’ on his colleagues. That’s what happens when you aright too much of the time, and powerful for far too long.

And how wonderful it is to know that Robin Cook, Charles Kennedy, and yes, Jeremy Corbyn, are vindicated, though only one of them lives to enjoy the moment.



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