A CASE FOR WAR: TONY BLAIR AT CHILCOTT
Live From the Chilcot Inquiry, London
29th January 2010
Rumpole would have had a field day with Tony Blair today. Then again, so would any skilled barrister in the land, had Chilcot been blessed with proper teeth. Cross examination, at its finest, is an art form designed to draw untruths, inconsistencies and question avoidance into sharp view. Blair, as the 69th witness to this non-Court, is a witness receding further into his box by the hour, without so much as an advocate breathing onto him and with a gentle, respectful questioning that at times allows Blair to sit back: “We’re all friends here”, he suggests, as he politely questions the integrity of “those sorts of countries” whom we all know to really be terrorist states.
No, Tony Blair would have made a QC salivate today. Ask a lawyer the hallmarks of a failing witness? Inability to answer the question put to him? Tick. Justifying a decision or act ex post facto? Double tick. Tetchy, nervous, defensive body language? Tick. Gesticulating – hand on heart – to add weight to a flaky response? Tick, several times.
If someone from George Monbiot’s “Arrest Blair” campaign manages to get close to our former Prime Minister – and it won’t happen today amidst watertight security – Blair’s evidence won’t stand a chance of protecting him. Because there is a limit to how far you can creatively invent history. He cannot foster a link between 9/11 and Saddam, no matter how many times he keeps asserting it, by chance. No matter how many times he gives examples of Iran and Yemen in 2010, it won’t help him explain why he took action against Iraq in 2002-3. It won’t answer the “Why Iraq? Why Now” question, as the Inquirers have termed it. He can try to avoid questions about why he never corrected the national media’s “scaremongering” over the “45 minute” claims on battlefield munitions by saying that it later took on a significance of its own, but if he is pushed by a lawyer on why he plainly allowed that misunderstanding to persist in the national imagination, the evidence shows that he relied on it, used it to his advantage in garnering support from his cabinet, the Opposition and Parliament, bodies whom he now prays in his aid, despite having told Fern Britten in a cosy chat that he had “no friends to turn to” on a question as big as that. He keeps talking anonymously about “people” who were telling him he needed to act more quickly. So far, he has not been asked who those people were. He has barely referred to Hans Blix and his team of inspectors, who were the only people at the time who could truly have informed him how quickly the world may have needed to act.
He can shout as loud as he wants to a jury that there was “ no lie, no conceit, no conspiracy, no deceit” (nice rhyming touch, Tony) but we all agree with his plea that it was a judgment call. His judgment call, supported by a Cabinet who largely did not dare to disagree for fear of their own political careers (and yes, Jack Straw, that is aimed firmly at you). Blair took a judgment call, yes. Judgment that remains entirely unexplained by any convincing rationale that there was a clear and pressing case for war. The best Blair has been able to say this morning is that on the basis of his past history, in using weapons against the Kurds and in defying UN resolutions, and on the flimsy evidence presented in the September dossier, there is no doubt Saddam wanted to reconstitute his past programme of nuclear weapons. Did that present a clear and present danger to the UK? Blair refuses to answer that question substantively, beyond an assertion that he believed so “beyond reasonable doubt”. Even this gentlemanly Inquiry was moved to ask “Beyond your doubt or beyond anybody’s doubt?”. Again, Blair failed to come up with a convincing response.
On that standard of proof, and that quality of star witness, Britain’s role in the Iraq War lies in greater tatters than ever before. Chilcot may not have had teeth in the way many have hoped for, but in it slow, steady assessment of whether Blair made the case for war, Blair has spent the morning faltering, tetchy and rehearsed. If the “Arrest Blair” group ever gains grounds, Blair better hope for a skilful defence advocate in the International Criminal Court. He has been his own worst witness so far this morning.