Tony Blair today told the Chilcot inquiry that his detractors were wholly wrong to accuse him of having taken the UK into war with Iraq.
“Of course critics can disagree with my policy and the way I carried it out; I respect that,” the former Prime Minister said. “But I do ask people to accept that that in following the diplomatic route, I did what I thought was right.”
Rejecting the charge that he traded the independence of UK foreign policy for influence abroad, he said that he came to an anti-war view as a matter of principle, “not to cosy up to Vladimir Putin, Jacques Chirac and Hu Jintao”.
He added: “I am a man of peace. This notion of me taking part in some sort of war is just the usual media hype. If you don’t believe me, you can ask President Saddam about our latest round of negotiations.”
Were it not for the heap of Iraqi corpses in the background, I’d think the earnest and ferocious attempts to ‘prove’ Blair a liar were senseless. But not because they’re mistaken.
I pretty much take it for granted that almost any major contentious policy – from any government of any party in any country – is justified with some mix of exaggeration, selective omission, specious interpretation and outright falsehood. Introducing the minimum wage, privatising the railways, last year’s fiscal stimulus, the wars in Afghanistan and the Falklands – does anyone really imagine that these policies, whatever their true merits, were presented and advocated with such honesty that a string of inquiries and a pack of media wolves wouldn’t have something to get their teeth into?
That’s why I’m so unmoved by all the furious arguments that Blair lied (and why I’m so indifferent to the occasional counter-argument). Now, I resent being lied to as much as anyone else, especially by the people I pay to run my country. But what are the ‘Bliar’ brigade trying to achieve? He’s not going to be put on trial for war crimes in Iraq (why not war crimes in Kosovo?), so all they can do is to sully his reputation. But everyone’s opinions were set in stone long ago. Yes, there’s value in saying ‘the truth will out’, and Chilcot has been eking out a few more scraps here and there, but who at this stage is listening with an open mind?
I’m angrier about the needless and massively fatal incompetence of the whole affair than the unremarkable fact that the usual grubby political shenanigans went on behind the scenes.