Millions of words will be banged out today following Tony Blair’s appearance before the Iraq Inquisition yesterday, so it is a bit silly to write too much here. I’ll limit it to three observations that have the virtue of being honest, but run the risk of running counter to everyone else.
1. I think the war was wrong on every front: politically, militarily and morally. The premises as presented were false and it still appears that the Brits were too keen to be in Bush’s pocket. Nothing said so far in the Chilcot Inquiry has demanded a change of view on these matters.
2. The Inquiry is not a trial. Hectoring inquisition may satisfy the blood lust of would-be interrogators, but might also illicit less information than otherwise. Let someone talk: the more they say, the more words they use, the more holes they will potentially dig either by saying too much or too little. Shouting at people or questioning every detail is not necessarily the best way of getting to the truth. We must wait until the report is published to see what conclusions are being drawn.
3. Thank God the baying crowds or the foaming commentators don’t run the country. Blair’s appearance before the Inquiry Panel has been built up as a trial when it can be no such thing. The Inquiry is there to discover the truth – and they can only do this by looking at the matter from very different perspectives. This requires patience, attention and a willingness to hold judgement until all the evidence has been heard. Yet, already the Inquiry is being written off as a whitewash and a failure by the establishment to beat up one of its own.
I suspect (and in this I know I am not alone) that many observers will write the Inquiry off anyway, simply because it won’t say what they want to hear. For many people this appears not to be a search for the truth about Iraq, but a blood sacrifice on the altar of self-righteousness. Unless Blair is hanged, drawn and quartered, justice will not have been done. Unless someone pays, satisfaction will not have been engendered. Unless the baying crowds are given the corpse, they will never believe that the ‘truth’ has been identified.
I think the War was wrong and Blair’s government was wrong to pursue it the way it did. The consequences have been grim and a heavy price has been paid by people who aren’t well-protected western politicians. Blair has left a lot of questions unanswered – but the ‘unanswering’ has also given the ‘holes’ in the story a prominence they did not have before. There is time for this to be addressed, but the expectations of Blair yesterday were absurd.
Screaming – the way some are today – costs the comfortable commentators nothing. Some of those shouting the loudest have never had to make a decision of any broad import in their life – but obviously could have done better than Blair. And when the commenters on newspaper blogs (which make utterly depressing reading – self-righteousness and messianic belief in the unassailable infallibility of one’s own assumtions, prejudices, beliefs and opinions are clearly not the monopoly of Blair) resort to sneering about the comfort and affluence of Blair’s Saturday in a warm house (as many do), this just exposes the nasty face of envy.
Blair owes an apology. But I am not so sure that yesterday was the right time, the right context (an Inquiry) or that he was in the right role for that. But it is to be hoped that it will follow in time. In the meantime we will get more out of what happened yesterday from the forensic analysis of the engagement – and the patience to wait other pieces of the jigsaw.