How refreshing! Matthew Parris is 95% right about Blair’s Iraq decision

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    28th November, 2009


    Parris: “But, no, Mr Blair surely didn’t lie about WMDs. He did what we all do: sure in our mind that a conclusion is true, we overstate the evidence for it, and expect to be vindicated.”

    I have had my differences with Matthew Parris. I am most annoyed with him for removing from the internet an excellent article which he wrote a few years ago titled, something like “Why I love Blair’s Britain”. I have no idea why he removed it … well I have some suspicions. It didn’t serve his political party, the Conservatives. But I DO wish he’d send it to me, though of course he won’t.  He knows I would ask him if I could use it.

    The reason I’d wish to use it? It was the truth about Blair’s Britain and the good that came from those ten years.

    Today Mr Blair needs the truth like many people think he needs a hole in the head.

    Today’s article of Parris’s, once you get past the headline, is remarkably empathic to Mr Blair. It doesn’t get full marks from me for a couple of reasons, but something tells me that in time Mr Parris may well come round to getting a score nearer 100%.

    The shortcomings in his analysis?

    One, I do NOT agree that the Iraq invasion was in itself a bad decision. No-one argues that thousands of deaths are good; of course they don’t. We need to remember that the war was over in one month and that the deaths, largely since that date, have been due to insurgent groups working and fighting AGAINST the Iraqi people. The allied forces have been there since April 2003 NOT to attack the local people but to defend them and are under the auspices of the UN, not a colonially-minded west. I predict that in a handful of years this war will have altered the balance of power in the Middle East to something that could NEVER have happened had Saddam been allowed to continue his murderous 30-year reign of terror.

    Two, Parris’s last paragraph is unfortunate. As in my previous point, I do believe Blair will be seen to have calculated correctly. I am not sure what Parris means by saying “he just miscalculated”.  Especially after he had spent 95% of his article showing that Blair had no choice but to make the decisions he did. Surely if the former prime minister believed that WMDs existed as did many (I still believe they did and do exist, somewhere) he did NOT miscalculate.

    The miscalculation that Parris refers to may have been in expecting that the British people and press would accept that he DID believe WMDs existed.

    So, Blair’s alternative? To expect them NOT to believe something he believed would be vindicated, and in that expectation to withdraw his support from America?

    As Mr Parris says – a no-brainer.

    Tony Blair was a leader, not a follower.

    If that thought had entered Blair’s head, which it surely did since he had already seen a million march against the war, he did not succumb to it for reasons of retaining domestic popularity. Instead he put his job and reputation on the line. He did, as he said he did, what he “thought was right for this country.”  And two years later he won a third historical general election.

    Still, under relentless attack, many in the country, encouraged by the press and anti-war groups, have decided he had lied.

    I believe those people are wrong. They have been misled to that conclusion despite the evidence by a politically motivated all-pervasive press.

    To me Mr Blair was and is a hero for all sorts of reasons and not just because he realised that he could be writing his own epitaph in blood. But he was not a prophet, expecting the worse, nor above all was he a villain.

    As for the post-invasion period, I have never heard Mr Blair laying blame at anyone’s feet.  He does not seem to “do” blame, certainly not over the Iraq decisions. This despite the fact that on the ground the post-war situation was completely under the control of the Americans. If anyone miscalculated THEY did.

    Watching the aftermath after Saddam’s statue fell, must have had Blair tearing his hair out. I certainly recalling thinking “What on earth …” as the police and US army stood by and watched as people looted shops and properties for all they were worth after the initial bombing. “No orders to stop them”, said the AMERICAN security forces.

    Still, for most of this article, Mr Parris is to be commended.

    We did not have a warmongering evil bastard as our prime minister for ten years. We did not have a man obsessed with mass murder when he agreed to go into Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.  We did not have a man who lied over the existence or otherwise of WMDs.

    Blair was and is a good man, who like all of us, makes mistakes.

    But for me Iraq was NOT a mistake and it will not be written in the fullness of time on his political tombstone. The aftermath, if it had been different, would have led to a whole different post mortem or perhaps to no post mortem at all.  As it is, right now, the aftermath is regarded as the main challenge to the war’s legitimacy. The many deaths and ongoing issues are laid at the feet of those who tried to put an end to this, and seldom at the feet of the Iraqi dictator. This has led to questioning of the motives of the allies in the first place. This, wrong-headed as it is, has been its downfall, and perhaps even Blair’s.

    Saddam, if he were able, would be enjoying watching the crucifixion of his enemies by his enemies.

    Parris’s Times article follows:

    Going to war wasn’t heroic: it was a no-brainer

    Tony Blair saw only victory when he sided with the biggest boy in the playground, not an ugly wound to his reputation

    It is 160 years since Thomas Carlyle wrote On Heroes, Hero Worship and the Heroic in History, but the treatise was in my mind as I watched Sir Jeremy Greenstock, our former Ambassador to the United Nations, give evidence on Iraq to the Chilcot inquiry yesterday. Another time came flooding back. You could almost hear the drumbeat of war. Could Britain, could Tony Blair, have chosen to march to any other drum?

    The invasion of Iraq at the beginning of our century provides a canvas so richly painted with the clash and convergence of interests, and so crowded with large and lurid personalities, that there is scope here for Carlylians (who believe individuals determine history) to do battle with Marxians (who see leaders as the playthings of larger forces) until the crack of doom. But narrow the focus on to one corner of the canvas: the heroism or otherwise of our own Prime Minister at the time.

    I do think that a man can show heroism in a bad cause. I’ve argued consistently that the Iraq war was a rotten idea, but minds on both sides have more or less closed on that; and there’s a different question about Tony Blair’s role that still remains open. Did he act heroically — in the sense of the moral courage that makes a man grip fate by the lapels and, rather than let the flow carry him, swim against compelling circumstances, knowing that he takes a serious risk for himself or his career? A case, at least, can be made for Mr Blair as a hero in this sense.

    He makes it himself all the time. It has become his mantra to close down discussion of the war itself with the remark that “you can argue” (I paraphrase) “about whether my decision to support George W. Bush was right or wrong, but please accept that at the cost of making many enemies I did what I believed to be right”.

    He is asking all of us — pro or anti war — to acknowledge his heroism in the Carlylian sense: to accept that he made a call that took great guts, and that at an important national crossroads he set Britain down a road that we did not have to travel, but which he personally believed was right.

    This is, in a sense, Mr Blair’s last resort: his final appeal to the court of history and potentially a potent one, as I’m sure he senses. Mr Blair is fond of repeating the cliché about Margaret Thatcher — “love her or loathe her, you knew where she stood” — and would like his own story to put us in mind of Martin Luther’s “Here I stand; I can do no other”. This is what that weird conference speech in 2000 about his “irreducible core” was all about.

    And watching Sir Jeremy before the Chilcot committee yesterday, a remarkable paradox struck me. Tony Blair’s claim to heroism can indeed be securely rooted. But only in the belief that he was lying about the weapons of mass destruction.

    Sir Jeremy was (rightly) reminding us that most people did at the time of the invasion think it quite likely that Saddam Hussein might have WMD. I certainly did. Colin Powell, then the US Secretary of State, appeared to have convinced himself too. Yesterday Sir Jeremy revealed that the representatives even of nations opposing the war had privately told him that if or when the “smoking gun” was found, they would reconsider.

    So think yourself back to where Mr Blair was before the war started. He led a country tightly bound to supporting its close, senior and long-standing ally, the United States. He knew privately that George W. Bush was determined to invade Iraq, come what may. He had not a scintilla of doubt that (with or without British involvement) it would be a military success. He was untroubled by worries about the post-invasion running of Iraq: nobody at the top seems to have been troubled. And he believed that during or after the invasion, concealed weapons of terrible destructive power would be uncovered, and the world would see with its own eyes the evil and the danger of Saddam. And then opposition would melt away and all would concede that the invasion had been right.

    The Tories believed this too. Wouldn’t any British prime minister conclude that to support Washington was obvious: the default option, the line of least resistance? There was a cost, of course — to be pecked at in the United Nations and suffer the French pouting for a couple of months; but Sir Jeremy was paid to endure that. As for public opinion, a minority was queasy, but the public are queasy about wars until they are won.

    In these circumstances Britain’s response to Mr Bush’s plans was almost a no-brainer. By siding in the playground with the biggest boy — the US President — Mr Blair expected to emerge as a stalwart ally and war-winning prime minister, quite quickly gaining permanent admiration at the cost of a little immediate embarrassment.

    Mr Blair didn’t dive into this war to swim against the tide. He simply mistook the tide. He didn’t contemplate for a moment the cost to his reputation, when he was exposed as having misled the nation on WMDs and cornered into a bloody and intractable counter-insurgency operation.

    All that flak came later. In inviting us to see Mr Blair as having acted heroically, his supporters are conflating the trouble into which he finally and unexpectedly landed with the downside as it appeared when the decision was made.

    Unless, that is, you think he knew that there were no WMDs, and simply lied, fully expecting Britain and America to find themselves in cruel and long-term international isolation. And that he foresaw the mess the allies would make of the occupation itself, and the years of carnage that would follow. In which case he deserves the name of prophet, and of hero, and of villain too.

    But, no, Mr Blair surely didn’t lie about WMDs. He did what we all do: sure in our mind that a conclusion is true, we overstate the evidence for it, and expect to be vindicated.

    Sadly, Mr Blair wasn’t. It was a sort of Oops. He wasn’t a hero and he wasn’t a villain. He just miscalculated. And that’s the most inglorious epitaph of all.

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    2 Responses to “How refreshing! Matthew Parris is 95% right about Blair’s Iraq decision”

    1. Stan Says:

      I couldn’t let Parris get away with his reference to Blair’s “inglorious epitaph”. Left this comment which, encouragely, has received 11 recommendations.

      “Meanwhile Saddam has been overthrown and polls show that most Iraqis are thankful despite all the “mistakes”.

      I think that’s a pretty glorious epitaph for Mr Blair.”

      • keeptonyblairforpm Says:

        Hi Stan,

        11 recommendations at The Times is a reflection of their being the only British newspaper able to see the wider picture. Having said that the anti comments and recommendations still predominate.

        Blair’s political “epitaph” will likely take much re-touching. Let’s hope Mr Blair reads a good, and fair version before they write the final one.

        Have now sent this comment to them:

        I found Mr Parris’s article more or less rereshing, “less” being mainly his odd conclusion at the end.

        But here are displayed so many opinions, so many suppositions, so many untruths. Perhaps we will never understand completely WHY Mr Blair took us into Iraq. I for one, think it is more complex than just messianic zeal, or siding with America, or oil, or showing his guts to the world, though all of those may have had some input.

        The world, or let’s be frank, many dolts in Britain now want to use his guts to hang him with.

        And perhaps we will never understand why the leaders of dozens of other countries were also persuaded to go into Iraq. But of course we are NOT concerned about other countries, are we? In the same way that we were not concerned about Iraq until we became involved, and insurgents started killing Iraqis. A convenient and wrong-headed peg of blame to hang Blair from.

        So now some of us wring our hands in despair and blame those with the courage to lead us to stop the mass genocide that Saddam visited upon his people for thirty long years.

        What a sad and morally confused country we have now become.

        Let the Iraq inquiry proceed and listen to ALL the evidence, not just that which props up your case.

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