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Tony Blair can’t wriggle out of blame for the war

This article is over 16 years, 11 months old
Alex Callinicos looks at Tony Blair's plans for his 'legacy'
Issue 2043

Tony Blair is spending what is meant to be the twilight of his premiership rushing around in a frenzy of policy initiatives meant to define his famous “legacy”. The decision to update the Trident submarine-launched nuclear missiles is apparently part of this.

What a triumph last week’s vote in the House of Commons was. It provoked a rebellion by nearly 100 Labour backbenchers and forced the government to depend on Tory support to get its policy through.

Clearly 10 Downing Street now more and more resembles Hitler’s bunker at the end, when the Fuhrer would order imaginary armies into battle.

Psychologically Blair’s obsession with his legacy is easy enough to understand as a desperate form of displacement activity designed to conceal attention from what everyone knows. Just as Neville Chamberlain is remembered and reviled for Munich, so Blair will never be able to escape the infamy of his part in the conquest of Iraq.

Last week found him twisting and turning to evade the questions put to him about Iraq by Adam Boulton of Sky News. Yet again he refused to accept any responsibility for the catastrophe that he and George Bush have inflicted on Iraq. Of course, Iraq is a mess, Blair told Boulton, but that’s not his and Bush’s fault, it’s that of “the extremists”.

Blair said, “It has been very tough, very challenging. It is a very difficult situation but my point is, why is it difficult? Because there are people deliberately trying to give us a problem, trying to stop Iraq achieving stability, trying to plunge it into chaos, trying to provoke civil war.”

This is the slightly infantile complaint that Iraqis have failed to do what they were told by their benevolent occupiers. Blair tried to pretend that the resistance is the work of “external extremists” – Al Qaida and “Iranian elements”.


But this is nonsense. Even the US military concedes that every armed group, including the Sunni sectarians of Al Qaida in Mesopotamia, is now predominantly Iraqi.

Even if Blair were right about the resistance, he must, like all the rest of us, take responsibility for the predictable consequences of his actions. If I chucked a brick out of my window and killed a passer-by, I could be prosecuted for manslaughter even if I hadn’t meant to hurt anyone.

Charles Tripp, an Iraq expert at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, has described in the London Review of Books a meeting he attended with five other academics in Downing Street in November 2002:

“Blair seemed wholly uninterested in Iraq as a complex and puzzling political society, wanting confirmation merely that deposing Saddam Hussein would remove ‘evil’ from the country.”

Blair’s refusal to address the facts is typical. His basic philosophy of government is that if a political leader is willing to take decisions, so long as his intentions are pure he cannot be held to account for the consequences.

This raises the uncomfortable question of what Blair’s intentions were back in March 2003. The official pretext for invading Iraq was, of course, Saddam’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, not regime change.

Like Bush, Blair has now shifted ground, justifying the invasion as bringing democracy to the peoples of the Middle East. He said to Boulton, “It’s interesting, isn’t it, that wherever they are given the chance, for example Lebanon, to elect the government, they elect the government.”

This clumsy language is especially unfortunate because the Palestinian people have not been allowed to elect the government they voted for. Instead the US, the European Union, and Israel have punished them with devastating economic sanctions for choosing Hamas.

Reading the transcript of Blair’s interview with Boulton is like being confronted with a shabby conman who still manages to convince himself, but no one else. And, remarkably, he knows it.

Trying to justify the absurd idea that the London bombings had nothing to do with Iraq, Blair admitted, “I know it’s not a universal view across Western opinion.” You can say that again.

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