As a British-born resident of the United States with family in both countries, I followed Tony Blair's testimony before the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry in London (January 29, 2010) with a morbid fascination.
I think the former Prime Minister found it a struggle- trying to rehabilitate his case for war minus the fraudulent WMD claim. We invaded a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 on the basis of a lie, causing untold suffering and mayhem, and he says he would do it all over again! Even more outrageous, he had the nerve to suggest we should be prepared to do the same in Iran. The problem with these hearings and with this distinguished panel is that--unlike the people outside in the street and the spectators at the back of the room--they are too courteous. Blair's repeated assertion that the “risk calculus” had changed after 9/11 and that “it was the right thing to do” is just double-talk. Blairspeak. The truth is that he and his American counterparts decided that the WMD claim would be the centerpiece of their case for going to war knowing it to be false and suppressing or discrediting any evidence to the contrary. They believed it was the only way to “sell” the war-'regime change' wouldn't do it-and their intelligence chiefs, against their better judgment, went along with them. The protracted search for such weapons after the invasion was a charade.
The committee should have asked tougher questions but they seemed unwilling to put him on the spot. On the WMD issue: There was no mention of Iraq's destruction of its nuclear and chemical/biological arsenal following the First Gulf War. This was described in detail by Saddam Hussein's weapons minister Hussein Kamel, after his defection to Jordan, in 1995, to an UNSCOM debriefing team which included representatives from MI6 and the CIA. This story- lost in the clamor for war- was borne out by a sheepish Iraq Survey Group within a year of the 2003 Invasion.
Tony Blair still speaks of the risk we faced from Saddam Hussein “reconstituting” his WMD programs, an acknowledgment that such weapons existed at one time and then ceased to exist-before becoming a risk again, as though anything of that magnitude could be reconstituted in a period of draconian UN sanctions. They could not have reconstituted a washing machine!
Why did the committee not call Hans Blix who led the UN inspections team or Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (1997-2009) to testify? Their views at the time, far from being supportive of “military action,” were discussed during the hearings-their testimony would have been valuable. In a recent interview with the French newsmagazine, l'Express, ElBaradei said, “The lies preceding the invasion of Iraq made me ill.”
I wish they had asked more incisive questions about the machinery of propaganda that fooled so many people on both sides of the Atlantic into supporting the war. A sentence that found its way into the famous Downing Street memo of July 23, 2002 described the mindset in Washington: “The intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” Tony Blair should have been asked to explain what he understood that to mean.
Our two countries were a match for each other in the art of deception and in their childish hyperbole: The UK had its “45-minutes-to-deploy” and we had George W. Bush's “mushroom cloud.” Both intelligence chiefs had the highest honors in the land bestowed on them to ease their inevitable humiliation although I have to say that the shaven warrior John Scarlett has a lot more flair than George Tenet and I would not expect him to go quietly into the night.
When you think about it, no country in its right mind would invade another one that has nuclear weapons in the state of readiness that was claimed for Iraq's. There were moments of unintended humor: Tony Blair, in his eagerness to convince the panel, speaking more rapidly at one point--his effusiveness was almost touching-- and Sir Lawrence Freedman asking him “to go more slowly.” There was an air of unreality about these hearings-their civilized hair-splitting over dossiers, UN resolutions, chronologies. What was real was the outburst of grief and anger, at the end of Tony Blair's session, from relatives of soldiers who had been killed or maimed in the war. Sadly, there would have been little in his circuitous, self-justifying testimony to comfort them. Blair himself cuts a sorry figure, looking older, more tense than ever, having lost that youthful charm but still eloquent and clever enough to sow confusion. The lines of Sir Walter Scott come to mind:
“Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive.”
Stuart Dodds was editor/general manager of Chronicle Features, the syndication division of the San Francisco Chronicle, until his retirement in 1998. He is a published poet and lives in Berkeley.