• Iraq
  • February 2, 2010
  • 11 minutes read

Blair Survives Iraq Inquiry

Blair Survives Iraq Inquiry

 Tony Blair, the poodle of the White House and darling of the Israel lobby, met the pussy-cats of the Iraq Inquiry on Friday 29 January, tickled their tummies and was purred to throughout. It was more like a cosy fireside chat, with the inquisitors falling over backwards to be polite and not probe too much.

And that was in public. If it had been in private, as originally planned, it is easy to imagine them all playing with a ball of wool on the sofa.

Many people hoping for the inquiry to deal firmly with those who had a hand in this disgraceful episode in Britain’s history, provide a degree of “closure” and establish grounds for prosecution, were alarmed to read at the outset that at least two of the four panellists are Jews, and that one of the two, Sir Martin Gilbert, is a self-proclaimed “proud parctising” Zionist. Gilbert and Sir Lawrence Freedman are also reported to have supported the invasion of Iraq. Gilbert, a historian, seems obsessed with the Holocaust and has written at least 10 books on the subject.

Furthermore, Gilbert allowed himself to be interviewed by an Israeli radio station broadcasting from an illegal Jewish settlement in the West Bank, built in defiance of UN resolutions and international law and in blatant violation of Palestinian rights.

TV audiences watching this Blair vs Iraq Inquiry match at home and in pubs and offices throughout the land, raged and fumed like the despairing supporters of a bottom-of-the-league Fourth Division football team missing one open goal after another. There were no action highlights worth replaying despite the fact that the inquiry team was primed with lethal documents and explosive testimony that could have skewered Blair to the back of the net.

“Due diligence” lacking

It was six hours of tedium thanks to the feeble questioning and because Blair without his scriptwriters is chaotic, disjointed and barely able to string a sentence together. Suddenly came an electric moment when Sir Lawrence Freedman uttered the highly charged words "due diligence" and it looked like sparks might fly.

What has been so obvious to the general public all along is that Blair and his co-criminals – the supine cabinet and the main opposition party – failed to exercise due diligence, the thorough investigation and careful regard for information and legal considerations normally expected of a commercial organization before making a large-scale investment. Obviously something similar, at minimum, should apply within government when planning to risk vast sums of taxpayers’ money, innocent lives and national reputation in an armed assault on another country for questionable motives, and for which the leadership might afterwards be held to account.

Blair was asked by Freedman whether, by saying he believed the intelligence established “beyond doubt” that Saddam had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons, he was setting himself an impossibly high standard of proof.

Blair replied: “I did believe it, frankly, beyond doubt.”

Freedman snapped back: “Beyond your doubt. But beyond anybody’s doubt?”

Blair tried to shrug off the challenge by pretending it was the same as the more frequently used phrase “it is clear that…” Then the following exchange:

[Freedman] … Intelligence is often described as joining up the dots, because your information is limited, and there was a very powerful hypothesis that allowed you to join up the dots in a particular way, but there were alternative hypotheses and they were around at the time. So it is partly a question almost of due diligence. Was there a challenge to the intelligence? Are you absolutely sure that there isn’t another way of explaining all this material?

[Blair] When you are prime minister and the JIC [Joint Intelligence Committee] is giving this information, you have got to rely on the people doing it, with experience and with commitment and integrity, as they do. Of course, now, with the benefit of hindsight, we look back on the situation differently. But let me say what was troubling me at the time was supposing we put it the other way round and it was correct and I wasn’t going to act on it, that was the thing that worried me, and when I talked earlier about the calculus of risk changing after September 11th, it is really, really important, I think, to understand this, so far as understanding the decision I took, and, frankly, would take again: if there was any possibility that he could develop weapons of mass destruction, we should stop him. That was my view. That was my view then and it’s my view now.

[Freedman] But this is a different standard to the one that you are going to have to take to the United Nations…

That was as close as it got to exciting. As the get-together drew to a close the chief pussy-cat decently allowed Blair a platform to say if he had any regrets. Instead of seizing the opportunity he sounded off about how he "takes a very hard, tough line on Iran today, and many of the same arguments apply”.

[Chairman, again] … And no regrets?

[Blair] Responsibility but not a regret for removing Saddam Hussein. I think that he was a monster, I believe he threatened, not just the region but the world.

Blair in his testimony referred to Iran at least 50 times. "I would say that a large part of the de-stabilization in the Middle East at the present time comes from Iran," he said. "The link between Iran, having nuclear weapons capability, and those types of terrorist organizations, it is the combination of that that makes them particularly dangerous."

He might have been reading from a script prepared by the propaganda team in Tel Aviv.

Blair to Iranians: “Let’s have new relationship”

Blair told the inquiry that he sent Jack Straw to talk to the Iranians. He said:

A very big lesson from this for me was that we tried with the Iranians, tried very hard to reach out, to in a sense make an agreement with them… One of the most disappointing, but also, I think, most telling aspects of this is that the Iranians, whatever they said, from the beginning, were a major destabilizing factor in this situation and quite deliberately…

I had actually spoken myself to the president of Iran prior to September 11th when we were trying to get the new resolution on sanctions. I had actually had a telephone conversation with President Khatami at the time. I had gone out of my way to say, “Let’s have a new relationship”, and so on. So in respect of Iran that was the advice, but we did go into this in some detail.

The truth is that there had been little or no effort by Britain to reach out to the Iranians. We had stupidly neglected them. In 2001 Jack Straw was the first British foreign secretary to visit Iran in 22 years. He was hardly likely to be welcomed with hugs and kisses given Britain’s part in overthrowing Dr Mossadeq’s fledgling democratic government back in 1953 and reinstating the cruel dictatorship of the Shah, which led eventually to the revolution of 1979.

Moreover in 1987, at the height of the Iran-Iraq war, the British government left the Iranians in the lurch by closing down their procurement office in London, which was responsible for 70 per cent of Iranian purchases of arms abroad. Thanks to our generally poor behaviour towards Iran, in cahoots with America, Britain is branded “Little Satan” and the US “Big Satan”.

I’m reminded of an illuminating piece by Nick Cohen in The New Statesman on 29 October 2001, in the early days of the march to war, just after 9/11. It is worth quoting here:

Jack Straw had his authority demolished when, visiting Iran in September, he dared to mention Palestine. Ariel Sharon exploded. To raise the subject proved that Straw was a definite appeaser and probable anti-Semite. Straw was to fly on to Israel to meet Prime Minister Sharon, the hero of Sabra and Shatila. Sharon cancelled the meeting and Blair, the statesman, came to the rescue. He calmed Sharon, Downing Street told the press, and persuaded him to see Straw after all. The coverage could not have been more pleasing to Blair. Here was the PM, surrounded by pygmies. Just like Robin Cook before him, Straw wasn’t up to the job. No one but Blair could be trusted to guide policy and run the war.

When Straw arrived back for his first cabinet meeting, a cheery Blair told him that, by the time he called Israel, Sharon had already changed his mind and decided to see Straw in any event. We tried to persuade the media to abandon the “Blair saves the day” stories, he continued, but they wouldn’t buy it. I think I can say with confidence that no one in the cabinet believed the spinners had tried anything of the sort.

So there you have it. A prime minister who discards parliamentary democracy and cabinet government, then spins against his colleagues so that his indiscriminate love for the United States can override national interests. Britain reduced to being the American poodle my comrades on the left always said it was.

Robin Cook was booked to visit Iran three times between 1999 and 2001. On each occasion, the tour was cancelled because of pressure from Israel and America… I was a bit stunned to hear that a British foreign secretary can be instructed by Washington and Jerusalem [for the sake of political correctness he surely meant Tel Aviv] on who he can and can’t see,

I can’t imagine Blair standing up to the US under any circumstances.

Which is why, even as “peace envoy”, he still hasn’t dared to drop in on Gaza’s prime minister, Mr Ismail Haniyeh, for coffee.

Blair today is seen for what he really is and much as Cohen described eight years ago. Aping the Israelis, he has little respect for international law or human decency if it gets in the way of political ambition. And instead of showing contrition and apologizing for the countless dead, maimed and homeless resulting from his reckless beliefs and lack of “due diligence”, he continues on the war path and seems desperate to whip up another bloody conflict – this time against Iran – for… well, for whom? Who is he working for now?

Certainly not Britain’s best interests.

Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation.