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30 January , 2010

Afternoon session Live from Chilcot

29th January 2010

At the end of the morning session,notwithstanding the lack of forensic cross-examination, Blair was nervous, twitchy, a shadow of the statesman who had tried to smooth talk his way out of everything.

By the afternoon, the old Blair was Back. Proud, haughty, almost biblical. The hand rested over his heart, affirming the sincerity of his belief, a last ditch line of defence on which he always falls back. And somehow, the master of slippery disguise – keen to remind us all that he was, after all, a lawyer by training – knew he had got away with it.

A concern about legality, maybe?

The hardest questioning was always going to be about the legality of the war. Ten hours of evidence from lawyers this week, and there can be no doubt about the advice Blair was getting, and rejecting. But, here, the lack of skilled cross examination really showed and the Inquiry simply lost its footing. More than questions, it offered statements. More than probing, it allowed Blair a chance to slide. Blair was never able to answer adequately why he failed to take legal advice all along the path when he clearly had set the tank wheels in motion for war. But noone pushed him. The height of his arrogance and audacity was captured when he was asked why he had not “particularly welcomed” the Attorney General’s advice in July 2002. Blair replied that it was just another thing in a whole long list of which he had to take account. Legality, then, was clearly not his concern.

And when asked whether he had had any specific discussions with the Attorney General in that week in March 2003 when the legal advice from Goldsmith “evolved”, Blair slithered his response out. He couldn’t recall any discussions, but others..and there his speech slurred and faltered. Nobody picked him up on it. Is there a person left who might believe that no pressure was put on Goldsmith to change  his mind, whilst the most experienced international lawyers in the FCO were firmly disputing the validity of war ? Blair, evangelical in his own self-belief to the end, and keen in this context to remind the Inquiry that he too was a lawyer, rode roughshod over the requirements for the war to be legal. He simply could not answer why it was that he had been advised a second resolution was necessary, and why he then dispensed with that requirement.

The oldest trick in the book

Goldsmith laid the blame at his “client’s” door, saying Blair had given him the green light by saying there had been a material further breach, sufficient to declare war. Blair laid the responsibility firmly at the lawyer’s door, saying he could not have gone ahead if he had been told the war was unlawful. The problem with that response is that for an entire year before then, Blair had barely acknowledged the lawyers. No explanation at all was provided for why the Attorney General was shut out of discussing, negotiating and drafting Resolution 1441, which Blair now describes as  being “pretty obvious you can make a pretty decent case for it”, meaning no second resolution was ever required. Blair, the lawyer, needed no one else. No “phone a friend”, no “50/50” here.

The return of the Blair

And that, as they say, was that. He had got away with it, and the old Blair returned. His head higher, his back to the families of servicemen and women whom he refused to meet, his messianic status as Middle East Ambassador being touted like popcorn for the Inquirers who, by now, seemed to have given up the ghost in their questioning.

By the afternoon session, Blair seemed to be propaogating a case for war against Iran, talking up where lessons could be learned from Iraq. Baroness Prashar tried to probe on the post-war planning, but Blair defiantly asserted that they had merely planned for the wrong things. Next time round, he explained, they would know better. There was not an ounce of humility or sorrow expressed for the deaths in Iraq. They were not our doing, he said. We didn’t plan things that way. Nobody, he claims, could have anticipated that AQ (as he fondly refers to Al Qaeeda) would go into Iraq? Really, I asked myself? Was it not obvious to everyone that a state torn apart by war would be easy fodder for a terrorist group forged in the Middle East? Blair “preferred to put the question a different way”.

Blair went as far as to claim that there had been “no humanitarian disaster in Iraq”. When asked about Abu Ghraib, he tore into Al Jazeera, blaming them effectively for the subsequent British failure to win hearts and minds, as if the news channel itself had been responsible for the atrocities. In Blair’s eyes, neither Britain nor America can be held responsible for a single thing that has gone wrong in Iraq. That privilege, he slyly brought out at every opportunity, belonged mostly to our old foe, Iran.

Of Ye Olde Empire

The most chilling aspect to the afternoon was the glint that emerged in his eyes as he talked about nation-building, with the zeal of the founders of the British empire. He talked about what “us” in the “western world” needed to do better when dealing with “those sorts of countries”. The legacy of Empire had clearly been top of his famed bedside reading list, though he had conveniently forgotten about Britain role in destroying Iranian democracy in the 1950s, or their drawing of lines in the Iraqi and Palestinian sands in the first half of the twentieth century. For Blair, Empire still exists, and he is right at the top of that world order.  He talked about how Britain had got those “Sunni, Shia and Kurds” together, that we were responsible for their harmony, as if only the British knew how to govern and rule fairly. He simply avoided any question that asked him to explain why Iraqis in the South had been attacking British troops. He simply forgot to answer why Iraqis resented and attacked the coalition. They should have been grateful, he seemed to be saying. “We brought them together”, he explained. “Today, Iraqi people are certainly better off”, he said entirely deadpan.

The show is off the road

Yes, Blair thought he had got away with it. Perhaps he has. Unless  there is a late night knock at the door of his Connaught Square mansion and an arrest warrant from a judge as courageous as those who signed them for Chile’s Pinochet and Israel’s Livni, this afternoon may just be the last set of (inadequate and flailing) questions Blair ever has to face on Iraq. For that reason alone, it is a terrible waste that no lawyer was offered up by the Inquiry to test his evidence. This morning, he may have crumbled. By the afternoon, knowing he could outsmart the non-lawyers with his wordgames, the old Blair had returned.

No reverse gear, no regrets.

He would take the same decision again, he declared, resting his hand on his heart. There were no regrets, despite the gasps and lonely heckler in the audience.

Blair, in his final nod to the camera, offered “no regrets”.

From → Iraq War Inquiry

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