Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair was the most high-profile foreign ally of former U.S. President George W. Bush in supporting the Iraq invasion. Blair is now reviled by most thinking British people and criticism and accusations follow him wherever he goes.
His legacy is clear to see. Iraq is riven by sectarian tensions and is struggling to deal with the threat of ISIS, the Sunni Muslim extremist group that has imposed its brutal rule on significant parts of the north and west of the country.
Now, 12 years after the invasion, he has given an apology – of sorts.
Blair told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that besides the flawed Iraq intelligence, he also apologizes “for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime.”
When stating that intelligence was flawed Blair was referring to the claim that Saddam’s regime possessed weapons of mass destruction, which was used by the U.S. and British governments to justify launching the invasion. This has become commonly known as the ‘dodgy dossier’. Infamously Blair even wrote in a foreword to the September 2002 dossier that Saddam’s military planning “allows for some of the WMD to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them”? These intelligence reports the claim was based on are now known to be false and Blair’s claim to be nonsense. Of course by blaming false intelligence for making mistakes Blair is seeking to divert criticism from his role. By talking of mistakes he is also ruling out the idea that the intelligence was deliberately manufactured to build the case for war. That’s an assumption that the Third Way and others don’t make.
It should be noted that many Labour MPs wanted to see all efforts to find WMD in Iraq exhausted, and UN approval obtained, before any military action. Blair chose to ignore them.
Recently leaked memorandums from Colin Powell and the US embassy in London also confirm Blair’s commitment to backing US military intervention in Iraq come what may, more than a year before it happened. This casts doubts on how far false intelligence led him to support the war rather than other motives.
We at Third Way doubt most of what Blair says. Did Blair know in the run-up to March 19 2003 that his intelligence reports were unreliable or inaccurate? What role did he play in having them embellished by his staff? As yet there are no answers to these questions.
Before the occupation, Blair had assured the British House of Commons that Iraq would take the path of unity, democracy and human rights under the fresh mandate of an enhanced UN. Many warned of sectarian divisions and upheaval but he chose not to listen. He now seems to accept that this was a big mistake.
According to the then home secretary David Blunkett, the prime minister dismissed concerns about possible chaos, preferring to listen to the views of US vice-president Dick Cheney and defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Both were enthusiastic warmongers.
Blair also stopped short of a full apology for the war.
“I find it hard to apologize for removing Saddam. I think, even from today in 2015, it is better that he’s not there than that he is there,” Blair said.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis, more than 4,000 U.S. troops and 179 British service members have been killed in the lengthy conflict. Blair enjoys substantial wealth and some official prestige.
By Pat Harrington
Editorial note: Third Way has consistently advocated armed neutrality for the UK and opposed intervention in the affairs of other nations by UK forces.
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