hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Chilcott: In Defence of Tony Blair

Alphen, Netherlands. 21 January.  Britain is as usual these days all a cafuffle.  The latest cafuffle concerns the delay in the publication of the Chilcott Inquiry into the Iraq War.  Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman is on Chilcott's team and he is also one of my mentors and a friend.  Any inquiry of which Lawry is a part will be conducted to the highest standards of public ethics and standards. Therefore, I have no doubt that the delay is due to the very great importance that Sir John Chilcott and the team place on fairness and accuracy.  The inquiry into Britain's role in and conduct of the 2003 Iraq War is of such importance that it must be right in tone, analysis and conclusions.

The media is publicly blaming former Prime Minister Tony Blair for the delay, which he has denied.  Coincidentally, I have spent the past year closely examining Blair's role in the Iraq War using both primary and secondary sources and I can find no evidence to suggest Blair acted in any way that was incompatible with what he saw as the national interest at the time.  There is some evidence that the culture of 'spin' which his government employed at the time to cajole a reluctant public into the conflict over-reached itself.This was primarily because Blair was under intense pressure from Washington, Paris and Berlin as well as his own Labour Party. However, Prime Minister Blair clearly believed that committing British forces to the removal of Saddam Hussein was the correct thing to do for Britain, the Middle East and for the security of the wider world.

My analysis will not chime with the fashionable view that Tony Blair is a warmonger and was a puppet of the Bush regime in Washington. So be it.  The purpose of this blog is not to kow-tow to fashion but to confront strategic reality, however uncomfortable that may be.  Nor am I an apologist.  For a time I went through a period of profound estrangement from Blair, partly because I had so believed in him back in 1997 when he came to power and partly because the costs of the Iraq War were so great for the people of the region and for the families of service personnel in Britain.

However, my personal study has revealed to me a man who believed in his country, wanted to do the right thing and found the tide of history against him.  I can only imagine the loneliness of power he must have felt at times for the evidence suggests a deeply moral man who thought long and hard about his decisions, his actions and their consequences.  The simple truth is that leading a great, powerful country means that one must at times have the courage to take decisions in pursuit of what one believes to be the greater good. That is why the rest of us pay leaders to lead so that the rest of us may have the luxury to comment.

Whenever the Chilcott report is released and whatever its findings it will still not answer the seminal question which both British and other European leaders will again at some point be asked to answer.  Do you have the political and moral courage to act in a dangerous strategic environment when for all the intelligence at your disposition the choice to be made can only at best be charged with political and moral ambiguity and people will die.  Welcome to geopolitics!

In defence of Tony Blair.

Julian Lindley-French


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