Blair’s Denials Are Insulting
July 8, 2016
by Martin Odoni
Tony Blair, in response to the condemnation he got from the Chilcot Report on Wednesday, seems to think that more outright denial of plain reality will cool the atmosphere. The former Prime Minister’s press conference in the hours after Sir John Chilcot made his statement was contradictory and misinterpreted the Report. These fallacies ranged from Blair saying he accepted ‘full responsibility’ in the second sentence having emphasised that the invasion of Iraq was US-led in the first, through insisting that the Report cleared him of misleading behaviour when it stated quite emphatically that he had presented evidence with ‘a certainty that was not justified’, to insisting that the war had been the right decision, in spite of the Report finding there had been no need for it as peaceful options had not been exhausted.
Blair continued this behaviour on Thursday in an interview with the BBC. When John Humphrys argued that Blair had simply ‘wanted’ war, he rejected this, but then admitted that he had come to believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Whether Blair specifically desired a war is therefore neither here nor there; his belief distorted his perceptions, and so he treated intelligence with confirmation bias. He had decided that war was necessary, and so hunted with prejudice for evidence to support that case, rather than assessing evidence first and deciding whether war was necessary on reflection of that. Blair was also found to have made decisions that should have been referred to Cabinet, by-passing scrutiny or potential objections.
His defence, in short, offered no defence, while he admitted his tendency to trust his own blind belief over physical facts.
Sadly, Blair retreated into that same belief talk when maintaining the absurd position that the war in Iraq made the world ‘safer’. Not for the first time, his argument boiled down to, “I genuinely believe it. I may be wrong in that belief, but I believe it.” (Whenever he adopts it, I always find that stance from Blair oxymoronic. By acknowledging that he may be wrong, he is displaying doubt, therefore the word he should be using is “suspect”, not “believe”. In any event, by building his views entirely around belief, not physical reality, he is laying himself open to paranoia and stubbornness – both of which clearly played big roles in his decision to go to war.)
Blair also contested the most crucial piece of evidence against him, one held up by his opponents as a ‘smoking gun’. A memo he wrote, dated 28th July 2002, explicitly told George W Bush, then-US-President,
I will be with you, whatever.
This would mean, in full, “I will support you in Iraq, whatever action you choose to take.”
Blair insisted that this was not an irrevocable commitment to war. He pointed to how the next sentence began with the word But, implying that there were conditions and provisos.
This may look at first like he is objecting to being ‘quote-mined’ i.e. that his position has been misportrayed by a single sentence presented out-of-context. However, I would counter that he is quote-mining himself.
Yes, beginning the next sentence with But would imply a reservation. However, if you put the word into the context of the rest of the sentence, it quickly becomes apparent that he is not placing any conditions on his support at all. The full sentence is,
But this is the moment to assess bluntly the difficulties.
He is asking that an assessment be made forthwith of the difficulties of a military operation, he is not laying out any terms that must be met before he would back it. He is detailing a preference, not a condition.
As for I will be with you, whatever, it may not exactly be an irrevocable commitment to war, but that would only be because the war itself may not have been inevitable at that point. It undoubtedly is a commitment to it in the event a war happens (which, let us be honest, was already looking very likely by that point, especially given how casually bellicose Bush tended to be). Blair committed himself to match American policy in any direction it was taken, including war, and in any circumstances; that is what the word whatever means. The commitment to war could have been revoked, but not by Blair. He handed that power to Bush, a blank cheque.
Nor do protestations that Blair convinced the USA to bid for United Nations support before invading offer much defence. Both he and Bush rejected the UN’s decision when it found against war, establishing the whole move as ‘for-show’.
Blair’s career has always been about spin, and here he tries to spin the Chilcot Report as an exoneration, at least of his intent, when it is almost as scathing of his intent as it is of his judgement. Blair decided to go to war long before Parliament got to vote on the matter, and he focused on framing evidence in a way that would invite support. Chilcot’s conclusions do not clear Blair of that – indeed that is, on balance, the likeliest explanation for what Chilcot has found.
All very reminiscent of the manner in which Blair’s old friend and spin-mentor, Peter Mandelson, responded to the Hammond Inquiry fifteen years ago, painting it as an unhesitating exoneration. In truth, Sir Anthony Hammond’s report into the ‘Hinduja Affair‘ essentially stated more that Mandelson’s incorrect behaviour could not be proven than that it did not happen.
Spin depends on two conditions – public laziness, and public stupidity. Blair is assuming most of the public will be too lazy to bother checking his claims, while the few who do will be too stupid to identify which details prove him wrong.
Blair is insulting us. I suggest we do not let him get away with it.