Law

Why Apologies and Penance Will Not Help Tony Blair

The former British prime minister’s apology fails to deal with the core issue – that he and Bush tailored intelligence to wage a war of aggression for regime change in Iraq that was illegal under international law

A devotee crawling to the shrine, India, ca. 1906

A devotee crawling to the shrine, India, ca. 1906

Tony Blair’s recent ‘apology’ for ‘errors’ in making war on Iraq in 2003 has been declared a non-apology by most commentators and media, including those who supported the war drive and peddled with enthusiasm the myth of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. This is because Blair has only re-stated what he’s been saying for over a decade – that the war on Iraq resulted from a failure of the intelligence services to deliver accurate information on WMD.

Unfortunately, hardly anyone appears to have made the more significant point – that both President George W. Bush and Tony Blair knew full well Iraq had no WMD arsenal and that they tailored evidence to support a predetermined strategy of knocking out a regime that threatened broader western interests in the Middle East. The threat was mainly political – Saddam refused to kowtow to the US, West or their Arab allies.

Blair’s apology is rightly seen as a political agenda-setting move to deal with a likely damning verdict from the long-awaited (Sir John) Chilcott Report on the Iraq war, which Blair has by all accounts already seen. In the longer term, it is rumoured that Blair harbours a desire to return to the House of Commons. Both moves suggest a level of delusion rare even among the most ambitious leaders in world history.

It is only a few days ago that damning correspondence between the then US Secretary of State, Colin Powell and the White House revealed that Blair had committed Britain to a US war on Iraq at least a year before March 2003. Previously leaked documents, such as the infamous Downing Street memo, had already shown that British intelligence services knew and reported directly to 10 Downing Street and Blair, in a face-to-face meeting, that there was little evidence of Iraq possessing WMD.

The Downing Street Memo (July 2002) states:

“C [Sir Richard Dearlove, head of MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence service] reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.”

In other words, Bush had decided on military action to remove Saddam, the US administration had also determined a way to justify that action—the ‘conjunction’ of terrorism and WMD. – and the intelligence to back up the terrorism-WMD link was being arranged (“fixed around”) to support the already-determined policy of invasion.  Not only did the National Security Council – headed by Condoleeza Rice – have “no patience” with going to the UN, there was no or “little discussion” in Washington about what would happen after Baghdad fell.

A protest against Tony Blair at the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry, Westminster, London. Credit:  hCris Beckett/Flickr

A protest against Tony Blair at the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry, Westminster, London. Credit: hCris Beckett/Flickr

That meeting also made clear that any war on Iraq for regime change would be illegal under international law. It was also revealed that only a war of self-defence could be classified as lawful, and that would be limited to restoring the previous status quo, not regime change. The only other reasons for war would be humanitarian intervention or a United Nations resolution.

At that meeting, Blair developed the argument linking WMD to regime change – that it was the regime had produced WMDs and threatened peace. But the intelligence was clear – no Iraqi WMD existed – the UN weapons inspectors, led by Hans Blix, had demonstrated that through painstaking searches. Blair was informed at that meeting that as the US war plan required the use of British military and air bases in Cyprus and Diego Garcia, and because Britain was a signatory to the International Criminal Court, its actions would be illegal insofar as the war was waged for regime change.

According to Colin Powell’s letter to Bush, Blair had agreed to present the “strategic, tactical and public affairs line” both to President Bush and the general public to aid the war drive. Both believed that success in Iraq would lead to even greater success in the Gulf region.

It was due to the weak case made by the intelligence services that the Blair government produced what has become known as “the dodgy dossier” – the document that declared Saddam Hussein’s intention to use WMD against the west and the capability of delivering such attacks in a space of just 45 minutes.

Tony Blair is relying on short memories by eliding the real issue – the tailoring of intelligence in Britain and the US – in order to illegally overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime which led to many hundreds of thousands of deaths, a refugee crisis, and the rise of the Islamic State – the Khmer Rouge of our age.

Inderjeet Parmar is a professor of political science at City University, London.

  • ashok759

    The legacies, to use an overly pretentious word, of Bush and Blair have been shredded for all time to come by the Iraq war. Jeb Bush should have been smart enough to figure that brother George sealed his fate as well.