He didn’t lie over WMD. Rather, his failings were poor judgement combined with a fatal moral fervourby Richard Sanders / January 27, 2010 / Leave a comment
Those preparing for Tony Blair’s appearance at the Chilcot inquiry must know that, in parts of Britain, there is an overbearing need to see him reduced to stammering incoherence, or even soul-baring confession: to make him pay for his supposed dishonesty. Of course, they also know that this is never going to happen.
During 2007 I spent months preparing for a two-hour interview with Blair for the BBC documentary Blair at War. I heard from nearly everyone who has appeared before Chilcot, many off the record, including former weapons inspector Hans Blix. We even interviewed President Bush. I too was striving for that “gotcha” moment. I didn’t achieve it. Why? Because Blair didn’t lie—not straightforwardly anyway.
The invasion of Iraq was a catastrophe; a study in hubris. Badly conceived and executed, it was the greatest foreign policy disaster since Suez. It will forever stain Blair’s reputation. But he, like the world’s intelligence agencies, believed Saddam had WMD. The charge against him is more complex and subtle—and not one that makes for a cathartic courtroom moment.
People believed Saddam had WMD because he behaved as if he did. In the 1990s he obstructed UN inspectors. He invited nuclear scientists to receive awards, even though his nuclear programme was dormant. He went out of his way to behave like he had something to hide. He was a gangster, a man whose career was built on terror. The UN asked him to spread his arms and say: “Behold, I am disarmed, I am weak, I am powerless.” Yet he was incapable of doing this without winking, both towards his own people and the Iranians. Among world leaders only Jacques Chirac—an “earthy” politician himself, in Hans Blix’s words—saw through him, disregarding the conclusions of his own intelligence services. Blair was merely voicing the consensus, even if he did state it with a conviction that made many uncomfortable.
Blair’s problem came when Saddam agreed to allow the inspectors back, in the autumn of 2002. Paradoxically, this was also Blair’s greatest triumph. He had persuaded Bush—against the advice of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney—to pursue the UN route. But over the next six months they found nothing. By the start of 2003 it was clear to Blix that there were doubts over whether Saddam had biological and chemical weapons. He told Blair this explicitly in a telephone conversation on 20th February, a month before the invasion.…