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Tony Blair at Chilcot- Part 1-development of policy towards Iraq

January 30, 2010

So the following post, might end up being unreadable. It may be long. It will probably meander. This post may not be aimed at you, the reader, I think its more for me. I want to go through the  evidence given by Tony Blair at the Chilcot Inquiry. I am not a lawyer, I don’t have legal training. I am not a political analyst, am not really anything. I just want to know. I want to read what he said, and even if he isn’t ever held accountable, I want to be able to say that I listened, and used my critical faculties to break down what he said. After 7 years of shouting till am hoarse about this war, it feels like screaming in an empty room, but I still want my voice heard.  Regardless of the consequences of Chilcot(and do any of us truly expect anything to come of it?), this is the last time that Mr.Blair will have to justify what he did, in detail, unless a slot becomes free at the Hague.

Area of questioning 1.) How did the policy in Iraq develop?

Sir Rodney Lynes opening question, was to ask about the development of policy toward Iraq. He drew a distinction between policy surrounding Iraq, pre-9/11, and post 9/11, which Mr.Blair congratulated him on.

We need to be absolutely clear here. This is very important. Before we start.

9/11 did not have anything to do with Iraq. Saddam Hussein had no links with Al Qaeda, there is no evidence to suggest that Al Qaeda existed in Iraq, prior to us going to war. Although they do now. THere was absolutely no connection between 9/11 and Iraq.

Tony Blair said ‘I would fairly describe our policy up to September 11 as doing our best, hoping for the best … but with a different calculus of risk assessment … The crucial thing after September 11 was that the calculus of risk changed.”

I am going to ignore that the man who I voted for(twice) has just described his foreign policy pre-9/11, with regard to Iraq as ‘doing our best and hoping for our best”.

The fact that Sir Rodney Lyne asked this question, and validated this assumption, even though he demonstrated clearly in his question, that since 1991, Saddam Hussein had been successfully managed through a combination of sanctions, even though they were expensive and difficult to maintain, troubles me. A lot.

Let me be absolutely clear, when you are assessing risk, the fear you feel does not have an effect on the risk that is posed. The calculus of risk does not change, because someone else ‘attacked’ the person assessing the risk. 9/11 made people afraid. That was nothing to do with Iraq.

A significant amount of TB’s evidence was allowed to hang on this flawed premise, and it went unchecked, and unchallenged.

Tony Blair stated that sanctions had been ‘eroding’- and referred to notes between himself, and the late Robin Cook, to demonstrate this. He stated that the containment and sanctions,  were expensive, and had little support. This is presumably to justify why he later abandoned them, for an divisive and expensive war.

TB goes on to explain, for us the ignorant laypeople, WHY the calculus of risk changed post 9/11.

It is important that he never says that a single concrete factor with regard to Iraq had changed. But he talks about how the ‘view’ of the US, UK governments changed.

He says ‘It changed the perception of risk. It changed attitudes towards perceived threats’. Also ‘Objectively, the threat from Iraq has not worsened as a result of 11 September. What has, however changed, is the tolerance of the international community, especially that of the United States.”

He states ‘after that time, my view was you could not take risks with this issue at all, and one dimension of it, because we were advised, obviously, that these people would use chemical or biological
weapons or a nuclear device, if they could get hold of them
.

So the calculus of risk changed, because Saddam Hussein who had NO chemical, biological weapons, or nuclear devices- might give the weapons he didn’t have, to people he wasn’t connected with, as a result of a terror attack, that he wasn’t part of? Ok. Head round that. Glad I have got my head round that, because Tony Blair, goes onto say that that was not only the official  British position, but the US position.

If this is going to be part of his justification for going to war- surely this would be the point where we ask to see the evidence that a) Saddam Hussein HAD those weapons. b) that he had connections with people who wanted them. But no, apparently that is not necessary.

He then goes onto say something entirely more worrying- we obviously had to deal with Afghanistan, but from that
moment, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Iraq, the machinery,  as you know, of AQ Khan, who was the former Pakistani
nuclear scientist and who had been engaged in illicit 24 activities and in distributing this material, all of
25 this had to be brought to an end.”

Again, I think this is time to go back to a couple of misunderstandings, that Mr.Blair appears to have been labouring under, while PM.

First of all- terrorist attacks, are not carried out by nations. They are carried out by individuals. Which makes them criminal acts. The idea that we should be going to war, with one country, on the basis of a criminal act, is ludicrous.(Especially given our history of harbouring criminals- Pinochet-anyone?). The idea that this would give us the right to wage war on any country in the world- without any need for our enemy to be shown to pose any concrete threat to us- is possibly, one of the most frightening things I have ever heard from a politician. Apparently not to Sir Roderick.

And that, in itself, wouldn’t be so laughable- if it wasn’t for the current situation in Pakistan-where it is difficult to find accurate reports of how much of the land north of Islamabad is under Taliban control, where our troops are fighting, where our secret private militias are operating, and which our money is funding, and where if Islamabad fell- the idea of terrorists obtaining nuclear weapons from countries which didn’t have them, would seem like a lovely fucking idea.

Sir Roderick handily summed and clarified that all this was ok for Mr.Blair-So that was your perception of the way in  general the risks, the global risks, had changed; that one had to think about them differently’.

Blair goes on to say ‘and I think I said this at the time was because it was Iraq that was in breach of the United Nations Resolutions, had ten years of defiance and I felt, we felt, it was important that we make it absolutely clear he has to come back into compliance’.

To me, and I may be reading it wrong- We have now, on record, a clear statement that the reason that the position on Iraq changed, was not something that was within the control of Saddam Hussein, or the Iraqi people. The motivation for a change in policy on Iraq- was the mindset of Blair and Bush, which had been altered, by an unrelated act.

He does gives non-compliance with UN resolutions, as another reason for the ‘change’ in policy. But he cites a decade of ‘non compliance’- but doesn’t state, what it was, that happened within Iraq, what intelligence-led to the decision that somethign had to be done now. By the UK and the US. He gives no information about who was involved in this decision, discussion, and still fails to say what it was, apart from an unrelated terrorist attack, that triggered such a dramatic change in policy.

He goes on to describe conversations with Clare Short, who was at that time the International Development Secretary, about how Iraq were misusing aid. And many points are raised for me here. Given that at in the past 12 months, we have redesignated ‘aid‘ to pakistan, to be used in areas, where we, or our private militia, are engaged in military conflict- and this includes education funding etc- I am unsure as to whether this is the point at which, we should be taking the moral high ground with regard to how ‘aid’ money is spent. But I digress. THere were other points raised in this part of the evidence, which troubled me.

He talks movingly about how the child mortality rate, was comparable to that of the Congo.(Would it be a good idea to check what the mortality rate was SINCE the invasion?). He discussed how the sanctions had become unpopular, and lays the blame for this entirely at the door of Saddam Hussein.

Here is the rub, I remember the problems with Oil For Food Programme, and the problems were slightly more complex than that, as I recall. I also recall a few familiar names, being in the hat, with regard to corruption of the oil for food issues- including Cheney, Halliburton, ELF, UN officials, and a myriad of private companies, many of whom were linked- quelle surprise, to the family Bush. But hey ho, I digress.

It is fair to say that sanctions were unpopular in Iraq- but it would be a gross simplification, verging on distortion of a the truth, to say that the sole reason for this, was Saddams dishonesty. Saying that Saddams own corruption of the Oil for Food programme, was a factor, while Dick Cheny was leading the charge, is a bit like….well, I can’t come up with a metaphor. Pots and Kettles, seem inadequate here.

While I have no doubt that Saddam was a corrupt dictator(a fact we were well aware of, when we propped him up to support our aims in Iran. Were you aware that Douglas Hurd had to take a picture of him shaking hands with Saddam Hussein down from his wall, when he was interviewed regarding the first Iraq conflict- the interview took place in his home)- the question here, is supposed to be why the policy with regard to Iraq, had to be changed, so that we could end up at war so quickly. The fact that Saddam wasn’t a nice man, really doesn’t cut the mustard. What changed? When?

Blair also discussed the sanctions failures, preventing Saddam from getting ‘stuff’ over borders to neighbouring countries, and discusses border patrol. And it struck me- surely if we are talking about someone having the ability to create weapons of mass destruction(which comes later)-then the fact that they are  ‘smuggling’ goods across borders-borders that are patrolled- would indictat  that the ability of Saddam, to er…manufacture weapons so effective that they could be used to cause mass destruction, in countries outside Iraq might be limited… If you are having to smuggle the basics, and are still getting caught- am guessing that sites where the production of WMD are going to be a bit more difficult to hide..

Tony Blair then moves himself on, to asking whether the smart sanctions framework, would have been a valid method of containing Saddam.

Tony Blair refers to the March 2002 options for Iraq paper.  Sir Rodney Lyne- points out that this paper has actually been classified, by the government of which TB was part of, even though it is widely available on the net. What kind of govt inquiry doesn’t have access to the same level of information, as a blogger? In case you can’t be bothered to read this, this was a document which clearly stated-

The US administration has lost faith in containment and is now considering regime change. The end states could either be a Sunni strongman or a representative government. Tre [sic] three options for achieving regime change are:
* covert support to opposition groups to mount an uprising/coup; air support for opposition groups to mount an uprising/coup; and * a full-scale ground campaign.”

THe document was dated March 2002, yet, even during evidence where Tony Blair denies outright, over and over agin, that regime change was the point of the action- there is a clear statement that for the US, it is. And Tony Blair has said repeatedly, that the US position, and the UK position, were the same at this point-shoulder to shoulder, and all that. Sir Roderick, is not allowed to ask Mr.Blair about this. In fact, Tony Blair has to tell his examiner, that the paper is probably declassified now.

THe following, is my favourite paragraph from the entire transcript. I sat, incredulous, as he said this-

‘If you read the paper, what they are saying is, it is possible it might work, but, equally, it is possible
it won’t. But here is a point that I think is really, really important on the socalled smart sanctions, that
there was then, following that paper, a whole series of government discussions about these smart sanctions.
Each of them were indicating that they might work but they could give no guarantee of it working. The
previous regime had obviously not yielded the previous sanctions framework had not yielded the benefits that we thought, in terms of sustainability, and the thing that I think is very important about this is the paper which I think has been declassified’

Now, even if the paper had said what Tony Blair thinks it said-which anyone with a reading age, above primary school level, can see it doesn’t. His logic is pretty much astounding. If there is a possibility that something might not work, then logic dictates that the possibility of sanctions working remains.

Am I to understand that Tony Blair was dismissing the idea of sanctions, because there was a possibility that they may not work? Again, am not a political analyst- but surely, if assessing any sort of sanction, in a complex world- there is a strong possibility that they may not work. And then ONLY if they don’t work, you are led to the next logical stage, having given every other possibility a chance.

Perhaps we should just skip to Tony Blair admitting- ‘Therefore, you can still argue, I guess, that this sanctions framework would have been successful’.

Blair talks about the difficulties in negotiating Smart Sanctions, and talks about the difficulty in getting the Russians to agree the new sanctions framework.   ‘‘we now had a new sanctions framework, but this new sanctions framework, to get it through the UN had been watered down in the absolutely vital component of the trade restrictions.’

The important thing to note, is that the problem that Blair was having with these sanctions, was not about Saddam Hussein, but about getting the UN to agree to the sanctions that both he, and Bush, wanted.

Given that our foreign policy at that time, according to Mr.Blair, was being driven by the irrational fear caused by a terrorist attack on another country- am not sure that the fact that other countries didn’t necessarily agree with his approach, was a good reason, to accelerate the path to war. But hey ho, at least it is on record as being the case. And given the criticisms of the sanctions that were in place, it may have been that Russia had a point about the trade sanctions…. Its not like Tony Blair has just spent ten minutes arguing that the fact that sanctions were unpopular, was one of the major factors in them corroding- or that lifting of trade sanctions, as part of the new Smart Sanctions may possibly have remedied this.

And my favourite quote of the day-

‘We had it again and again and again, and the options were very simple. The options were: a sanctions framework that was effective; alternatively, the UN inspectors doing the job; alternatively, you have to remove Saddam.’

The options were a) which might be successful b) which also might be successful or the c) you HAVE to have regime change? Sorry- run that by me again. I get the first bit. New sanctions might be successful, so we need to have a look at those first. And UN weapons inspectors doing the job? Or alternatively to allowing both those options- regime change?

Was that Blair saying that the goal of the invasion of Iraq, was regime change? I initially thought that such a completely illogical sentence was a mistake, but it is repeated word for word, several times, throughout his testimony.

Before I move on, can I just go back the evidence offered by Sir John Sawyers about the sanctions framework- “I think it was working, but the costs of it were quite high and there were risks to the various elements of our policy that we wanted to reduce.”

At this point in the proceedings, another issue needs to be explored.

The ‘Iraq options paper’ that the Chilcot Inquiry didn’t have access to, wasn’t discussed in Cabinet. This document with the clear statement that the US position IS in fact regime change, at a time, when the american media were discussing regime change, as the motivating factor for military action in Iraq- wasn’t discussed once, in cabinet. Now given that we have a democratically elected parliament, with very set rules about who should be involved in decision making-shouldn’t the officials we elected, have had the opportunity to discuss this very important paper-which stated that regime change was now the aim of the US- on record? Sorry, I must be confused about what democracy is.

It wasn’t even sent to some cabinet ministers. And when it was discussed, it was discussed at a secret meeting at Chequers, a meeting to prepare for the now infamous meeting with Bush at Crawford. Simon Carr, makes the point in todays Independent that as Chilcot doesn’t even have access to the now infamous memo, from David Manning, UK foreign policy advisor,  to Tony Blair, ahead of the visit to Crawford

‘I said that you would not budge in your support for regime change but you had to manage a press, a Parliament and a public opinion that was very different than anything in the States’

Perhaps next time Mr.Blair is called to Chilcot, he will be asked about this. I doubt it. That email sounds very much to me, like someone defending the ability to deliver what has been promised, with a bit of elbowing to push it on a bit. But that might just be me.

When asked to detail his consideration of the arguments against military action, Blair says-

– I was reading telegrams coming in from ambassadors abroad and so on.

He acknowledges that ‘military action always something that you should consider only as a last resort’ but dismisses this, as easily as he dismissed the telegrams, that he recalls recieving, but not the content of.

He acknowledged that ‘there were issues to do with relationships in the Muslim world, there were issues to do with what the effect would be in the Arab world and so on’ but again- he dismisses them because apparently-‘what you find in these situations is that you will get a range of different views. …So it is not as if we weren’t getting the full range of views. We got the full range of views from the very beginning- apparently, you had them, you just couldn’t be arsed listening to them.

He says he had to make a decision. Again, I am wondering what it was, apart from the rhetoric of a changed perception of the risk posed by unrelated terrorism- that prompted this, and meant that a ‘decision’ was necessary. Especially given the resolutions being breached were UN resolutions. What was it, that meant that Britain and the US were compelled to act?

He fails to mention at this point, the genuine concerns that were already being raised about the lack of consideratoin of a post-war strategy. I distinctly remembering including this concern, in one of the several letters I sent to my MP- but apparently concern over post war planning, was not even on his radar, as a possible downside of military action. He does briefly mention recieving advice ‘ about a humanitarian catastrophe if Saddam was removed.’ Apparently he called for papers on this, but more about ‘what the Sunni Shia relationship would be’.

Ultimately it came down to this- ‘So all of these things were factors that we had to take into account, but the primary consideration for me was to send an absolutely powerful, clear and unremitting message that, after September 11, if you were a regime engaged in WMD, you had to stop’

You notice how important the potential for a humanitarian crisis was, the concerns about how this would divide the world, the effect on relations with Islam- how important when contrasted with his need to make a point. (Did you notice me not mentioning the fact that there was absolutely no evidence at this point, that Saddam had, or even had the capability to make- WMD- and that absolutely nothing had changed, apart from Sept 11? Yeah- am getting repetitive. This is a long post for gods sake…)

Sir Rodney finishes his part, by asking Blair whether the goal of military intervention, was regime change- to which TB replies-

”No, the absolutely key issue was the WMD issue”

The discussion moves onto a speech Blair made, in April 2002, the day after he met George Bush at Crawford, at the George Bush Presidential Library at College Station, where Blair made a great deal of the challenges of an interdependant world, and the need to show solidarity with the US, but where he spoke at length, passionately, in fact, about the need to act on the issue of Iraq- again, not feeling the need to draw any distinction between 9/11, and the issues affecting Iraq. Feeling free to imply connections that aren’t there, or to imply that Saddam is in fact, developing weapons of mass destruction, even though we know absolutely, that there was no evidence that he was doing so that Tony Blair could have seen. The important thing, in this speech, is the concentration on the regime itself.

”Secondly, we must be prepared to act where terrorism or weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threaten us. The fight against international terrorism is right. We should pursue it vigorously. Not just in Afghanistan but elsewhere….If necessary the action should be military and again, if necessary and justified, it should involve regime change. I have been involved as British prime minister in three conflicts involving regime change. Milosevic. The Taliban. … leaving Iraq to develop WMD, in flagrant breach of no less than nine separate UN security council resolutions, refusing still to allow weapons inspectors back to do their work properly, is not an option. The regime of Saddam is detestable. Brutal, repressive, political opponents routinely tortured and executed: it is a regime without a qualm in sacrificing the lives of its citizens to preserve itself, or starting wars with neighbouring states and it has used chemical weapons against its own people.As I say, the moment for decision on how to act is not yet with us. But to allow WMD to be developed by a state like Iraq without let or hindrance would be grossly to ignore the lessons of September 11 and we will not do it.

Again, there are many additional phrases, which Blair was desperate for us to see= he especially wanted us to note that he had said ‘calm and measured response’ was necessary. Unfortunately, the need for calm and measured response, came as a line, in the midst of several paragraphs glorifying military action, and some rather vivid language, when describing Saddams regime.

Still, it was mentioned in the speech right= but given the need identified in Mannings memo- to ‘ to manage a press, a Parliament and a public opinion that was very different than anything in the States’- I suppose an occasional line about being calm and measured was necessary. Besides, he was describing the aftermath of 9/11, and if that is what you define as ‘calm and measured’-then in comparison, I suppose you could describe invading Iraq in similar terms.

And Sir Rodericks final questions, relate to the Fern Britton interview. You know, the one where Tony Blair was clear, that he was going in, no matter what. But apparently, he didn’t mean it, he was having an off day.

THere is some clarification, where Sir Rodney does actually challenge TB about the fact that nothing had actually changed, with regard to Iraq, TB responds thus-

”Now, my assessment of risk prior to September 11 was that Saddam was a menace, that he was a threat, he was a monster, but we would have to try and make best. If you had asked me prior to September 11, did I have any real belief in his good faith. No, I didn’t. Did I really think that a new sanctions framework was going to do the trick?

Prior to September 11th, he was a menace, and a threat- and you didn’t have any faith in the sanctions, and then what? Post September 11th, what changed? You thought Sept 11th gave you the mandate to get rid of a guy you didn’t like? The leader of a sovereign state?

On the other hand, precisely because the consequence of military action is so great, for me the calculus of risk was, “Look, we are just going to have to do the best we can. After September 11, that changed, and that change, incidentally….but in my view, we cannot afford the possibility that nations, particularly nations that are brutal, rogue states, states that take an attitude that is wholly contrary to our way of life, you cannot afford such states to be
allowed to develop or proliferate WMD.’

Seriously- go back and read that second part of the paragraph. Because the consequences of war were so great(ie the humanitarian disaster, the deaths of our own armed forces, the effect on the country and the wider islamic world?), he didn’t go to war, and then because a terrorist attacked a building, in another country-those consequences reduced? Or is this where we go back to how perceptions have changed. The way someone feels, something irrational and emotional, should not be enough to all of a sudden give a mandate, for the awareness of how great the consequences of war are, to be thrown out of the window. SO we have the mandate to get rid of anyone who what? Thinks about creating WMD? Dislikes us enough to aim them at us? Do they have to have them? Do we have to have evidence that they have them? Or is just enough that we ‘believe’ they exist?

And finally, we have Blairs finest moment at Chilcot, in that first session. He describes the difference between going to war for regime change, and the issue of WMD- as a ‘binary distinction’. To those of you who don’t know what a binary distinction is, it is for example- like the difference between dark green, and light green. The distinction is there, but they are both green at the end of the day.

Tony Blair had within his power to protect the United Kingdom, not to change the government of any country in the world, he liked. And if the Prime Minister of the UK believes that the distinction between  regime change in a sovereign state, and protecting the UK from an increased material threat is a binary distinction, he is a fool. And of all the things I think Tony Blair is, a fool, is not one of them.

End of questioning by Sir Roderick Lyne. Think will do this in a series of blog posts. I appreciate its not to everyones taste-and am sure normal service will be resumed when have finished.


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3 comments

  1. Blair gave a performance at the inquiry – probably partially for the benefit of his own conscience, which must from time to time rear up and accuse him in the depths of night. I hope so anyhow.

    http://shakinguppolitics.wordpress.com/


    • I think he has convinced himself that as long as he ‘believed’ he was right, it doesn’t matter. He does not appear to understand that it doesn’t matter a fuck what he ‘believed’ because we are a democracy. Thats like saying the terrorist attacks were ok, because the terrorists ‘believed’ they were right.
      Logically speaking, if they used his logic, the attacks on the trade towers, were more justified than the wars that were the response.

      Elected democratic leaders, are not supposed to go to war, because of conviction that it is right- they are supposed to do so, because it is the only available option to protect ourselves, and it should be based on evidence, evidence that is discussed openly, even if just within parliament.


  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lisa, Lisa. Lisa said: Blog post-Chilcott/Blair- part one. https://deeplyflawedbuttrying.wordpress.com/2010/01/30/tony-blair-at-chilcot/ […]



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