There’s been some controversy these past few days over remarks made by Tony Blair to the effect that he would still have taken Britain to war even if he had known that Iraq had no weapons of mass descruction (WMDs) in 2003. Put aside Blair’s continued pretence that there was any clear evidence that Iraq had WMD. Put aside the fiction that the existence of WMD would by itself have constituted a case for war (there was no chance that Saddam would have provoked the US by using them aggressively). A detailed look at what Blair said about the justification for starting the Iraq war reveals more about the nature of the decision that was taken than even many of Blair critics have fully realised. Because Blair has now effectively admitted that the war was, at least in part, an act of political violence taken, not as a last resort, but as a policy choice to advance a strategic agenda.
The remarks were made in an interview with the BBC that focsed largely on Blair’s religious faith and the role it has played in his public and personal life. Unable to find a transcript of the interview, I’ve just subjected myself this morning to watching fully one hour of Blair’s sanctimonious, middle-brow twaddle on the BBC website so I could copy down word-for-word the relevant parts of the interview.
No need to thank me.
Here’s what Blair said on Iraq, in full, followed by my analysis of the implications.
Asked if it was WMD that persuaded him to join the invasion of Iraq, Blair says:
“It was the notion of him as a threat to the region, of which the development of WMD was obviously one. You'd had 12 years of United Nations to-and-fro on this subject, he'd used chemical weapons on his own people. So this was obviously the thing that was uppermost in my mind, the threat to the region. Also the fact of how that region was going to change and how in the end it was going to evolve as a region and whilst he was there I thought and actually still think it would have been very difficult to have changed it in the right way.”
The interviewer then asks: “If you had known then that there were no WMDs would you still have gone on?”
“I would still have thought it right to remove him. I mean obviously you would have had to use and deploy different arguments about the nature of the threat ... but I find it quite hard because I've spent so much time out there now and you know they're about to have an election which will probably be the single most significant thing that's happened in that region for many years because they've managed at long last to break out of actually the religious divide. So you've got groupings for the first time standing there in elections who are going to be broad-based. Now, we hope that it works. But I'm out there a lot of the time now in the work I do in Israel and Palestine. I can't really think we'd be better with him and his two sons still in charge, but its incredibly difficult and I totally understand that's why I sympathise with the people who were against it for perfectly good reasons and are against it now but for me in the end you know I had to take the decision.”
Later on, talking about the decision to invade from a personal point of view, Blair takes the subject back to the broader justifications for the war:
“And you also understand I think with these types of decisions that the judgement about them is a very long run thing I mean you ...it all depends what view you take I mean I happen to think that there is a major major struggle going on all over the world really which is about Islam and what is happening within Islam and I think its got a long way to go. So I think its probably only significantly later that you will look back and work out in a context was this helpful to achieving change or was it not helpful, and that's difficult to judge right now.”
[Source: Fern Britton Meets...Tony Blair, BBC One, 10:00am Sunday 13th December 2009]
So Blair advances two justifications for the war:
1. The security threat to the region and to Iraqis posed by Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction; and
2. The obstacle Saddam posed to “change” in the region.
He then says that minus WMD he would still have thought it right to go to war. He would just “have had to use and deploy different arguments about the nature of the threat”. So what he describes in one breath as “the thing that was uppermost in my mind” turns out a moment later to be a detail, and not fundamental to the decision at all. Therefore we can discount justification 1.
This leaves us with justification 2. Saddam was an obstacle to “change” in the Middle East “and how in the end it was going to evolve as a region” which needed to be “changed in the right way”. Blair was explicitly told by his Attorney General that a war for regime change would be illegal. But put aside the legal question for a moment. One does not unleash a force of nature as catastrophically destructive as war simply because one wishes to effect a form of political change. Violence is only justifiable to avert an ongoing or imminent attack, only as a last resort and only to the extent that is strictly proportionate to the threat. Blair sees it differently. To him, violence can be used as a policy tool if Western political leaders feel that, in their judgement, a certain part of the world needs to “evolve”.
Blair talks about democratic elections in Iraq as proving the worth of his decision, but Blair's was not some principled war for democracy. We know for a fact that Blair has no interest in democracy in the Middle East. When the Palestinians voted for candidates that the West disapproved of in their elections of January 2006 Blair’s government colluded in a US-Israeli led boycott of the occupied Palestinian territories – one of the poorest places in the world - that effectively punished the Palestinian people indiscriminately for how they had chosen to vote. If any election deserves to be described as the “single most significant thing that's happened in that region for many years” it was the Palestinian elections of 2006, because of the overt contempt both for democracy and for the lives of the people of the Middle East that the Western reaction to it demonstrated. This – even more than the ongoing backing for various authoritarian Arab regimes - exposed the narrative of democratisation that Bush and Blair were peddling at the time to justify their approach to the Middle East for the fiction that it always was.
Blair says “in the end you know I had to take the decision”; but this is just the point. He was not in the position of a Winston Churchill, forced by an aggressor into making tough choices. His was not a decision of last resort. His choice to go to war was freely taken, because he thought it might help advance the West’s strategic agenda in the Middle East. There is no such thing as a just war that is freely chosen by the party that instigates it. A war of choice is by definition a war of aggression. Blair, by his own admission, is a war criminal.
Labels: Blair, Iraq