The evil influence that Tony Blair exerts on British politics has been on display as his creatures in the Parliamentary Labour Party mount their coup against Jeremy Corbyn. Historians will discover what influence the Chilcot report had on the timing of this revolt, led by MPs who voted for the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
But the report itself takes us to the heart of darkness—Blair’s role in engineering an unprovoked war of aggression.
We can see everywhere the disastrous consequences of the invasion. The dreadful suffering of the people of the Iraqi city of Fallujah is an example. The city was victim of two assaults by the US in 2004, taken by Isis two and a half years ago, and now recaptured by Iraqi government forces.
The carnage at Ataturk airport in Istanbul and in Baghdad over the past week are others.
Blair’s pre-emptive response to the Chilcot report was to blame the tragedy of Iraq on “external intervention” by Iran and the Lebanese Shia movement Hizbollah.
But even in capitalist terms this is nonsense. Rational people try to anticipate the probable consequences of their actions. In a famous meeting at 10 Downing St in November 2002, three academic experts tried to warn Blair.
One of them, George Joffe, told the Huffington Post website, “Blair wasn’t interested in listening.” In response to warnings from the Cambridge academic and the two other Iraq experts, Dr Toby Dodgeand Dr Charles Tripp, that the country could descend into civil war and a Sunni-led insurgency, Blair merely responded, in reference to Saddam Hussein, “But the man’s evil, isn’t he?”
Blair shared with US neoconservatives the almost infantile idea that using Western military power to remove “bad people” would make the world a better place. Looking at the man now, it seems astonishing that anyone took him seriously.
But the idea isn’t dead. In his cool clinical way US president Barack Obama has continued it with his programme of presidentially authorised drone assassinations.
But the context has changed hugely—to a significant extent because of the Iraq disaster. The US administration of president George W Bush, eagerly supported by Blair, invaded Iraq less because Saddam was an “evil” dictator than because he wasn’t “their” evil dictator.
Republican strategists such as deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz recognised that US global hegemony was threatened by the economic rise of new powers, above all China. Seizing Iraq and imposing a pro-Western client regime would consolidate US domination of the Middle East. Washington would be even more firmly in control of what the Marxist geographer David Harvey called the “oil spigot”. It would be able to deny potential rivals access to the region’s vast energy reserves.
But instead the occupiers found themselves confronted with a vast nationalist insurgency. The first battle of Fallujah, in April 2004, threatened a general rising of Sunnis in western Iraq and Shias inthe south. Only a strategy of divide and rule prevented the total collapse of the occupation. After first installing a sectarian Shia regime in Baghdad, they played on fear and hatred of the mirror-image jihadi sectarianism of Al Qaida in Iraq to encourage a US-armed and financed “Sunni Awakening”.
When Obama pulled US forces out of Iraq in 2010, they left behind an authoritarian government dominated by sectarian Shiite parties under prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.
His brutal rule created the conditions for the rise of Isis, a coalition of the remnants of Al Qaida and ex-officers in Saddam’s army. No wonder then Joffe said Bush and Blair bear “total responsibility” for the disastrous plight of Iraq today.
But amid the chaos and the horror we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Iraq was the biggest defeat US imperialism has ever suffered. Washington was able to contain the consequences of failure in Vietnam through an alliance with China and through its support for dynamic capitalist economies in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
By contrast, more than 13 years after the invasion of Iraq, we continue to see its destabilising effects. Blair isn’t simply a war criminal—he served US imperialism very badly.