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19th February 2011
- This post – “Blair at the Iraq Inquiry. A Chilcot nod, a Freedman smile. Why?”
- Previous on Blair at the Chilcot Inquiry: Iraq Inquiry catch-up service: the wringing of Blair and the mangling of “THE TRUTH”
THE TONY BLAIR
INQUISITION, TRIAL, EVIDENCE SESSION, 21st January 2011
Watching the proceedings as I did from the overspill room I noticed a shared glance, a nod and the exchange of a quick smile between Sir John Chilcot and Sir Lawrence Freedman. I even scrawled a ‘reminder to self’ note about it. It seemed to me of some significance. But none of the usual mainstream journos mentioned it. Was it significant? Did it tell us anything about the backroom chats, plans or modus operandi of the Gentlemanly and Ladylike Inquisitors? Watch it first – scroll through to just before 171:08 minutes into the video
“THE CRUX OF THE ISSUE”? Er, that depends, Sir Lawrence
[See more on what piqued my interest on this Libertarian Interventionist below, click here]
Sir Lawrence’s questioning had been around what he called the “crux of the issue”. That Blair had “stopped the process at a time when it was getting more results, where the Iraqis had agreed to aerial surveillance, where they had agreed to interviews, and UNMOVIC was already starting to destroy ballistic missiles, and when the IEA had been able to say there was no nuclear programme.”
To this, Mr Blair responded, “Yes, but what we have to do is make a judgement here, Sir Lawrence. Was the reason why — first of all, 1441 didn’t say, “Over the coming period of time you should increase your levels of cooperation”. It said there had to be full, immediate and unconditional cooperation, and there plainly wasn’t. Now the judgment you have to make about this is: does that pattern of behaviour, very reminiscent of his previous behaviour, does that indicate that actually if once you withdrew — because you were going to have to get rid of the troops at some point. You couldn’t keep them there forever. Right? So does that pattern of behaviour indicate that this is someone who, once the threat of military action was withdrawn, was then going to be carrying on with this, you know, eking out of bits of cooperation, or is your judgment that in the end, once the threat of military action was withdrawn, he’d be back to his old games?”
It didn’t take long for Freedman’s “crux” (p 113) to become Blair’s “nub” (p 115). You really do have to admire Blair’s facility with language AND with turning thoughts from one crux to another nub.
THE CRUX or THE NUB? Well, that depends too…
SIR LAWRENCE FREEDMAN: “The basic problem was you had to make that determination at that time, because that’s when the Americans wished to go to war, and whilst not talking about eking it out indefinitely, a few more weeks might in the end have made a lot of difference.
THE RT. HON. TONY BLAIR: You see, the question is — this is the whole nub of this, which is — the question is: would it have made a difference? Yes, it is absolutely true that he may have carried on giving more concessions. That wouldn’t have removed the problem of Saddam unless those concessions were made in good faith, in good heart, because he decided to change.
After finishing this lengthy questioning period Sir Lawrence still seemed to discount all of Blair’s arguments on the politics impinging. He certainly seemed to think he had made his crucial points. He rested his gaze on Sir John for a few seconds after a slightly tetchy ending to the interchange between himself (Freedman) and Blair on the continuance of the “process” –
SIR LAWRENCE FREEDMAN: “That assumes that the process had to end at that point, but –“
THE RT. HON. TONY BLAIR: “It doesn’t just assume that actually. It assumes he had a change of heart, but anyway I think we’ve …”
SIR JOHN CHILCOT: “In just a few minutes we will take a very short break, but before we do I will ask Sir Martin to open up a new question. Martin. (p 116 in text).
This is where I noted the visual exchanges between Freedman and Chilcot. Sir John Chilcot handed over to Sir Martin Gilbert. For a few seconds Freedman gazed at the Chairman. As Gilbert started a new line of questioning on Blair, Freedman was returned a nod from the chairman, to which Sir Lawrence gave an almost imperceptible curling of his lips.
Almost like a “Got him!”
Watch it here: at 171:08 minutes into the video just as Sir Lawrence Freedman ends. The discussion had been largely around the issues of a material breach of 1441; the timing on going into Iraq; whether Britain had been led/pushed by the USA’s timetable; whether Blix could have achieved more if given more time and whether a few more weeks would have made any difference to Saddam’s behaviour.
Perhaps I am reading too much into this. But these glances seemed unusual to me. Was it significant – a kind of “well done”, or just a “thanks for completing your line of questioning”. Was I imagining something that wasn’t there? What do you think?
But if Sir Lawrence Freedman thought he had got one over on Blair, I fear he is very much mistaken.
What we saw from Tony Blair was an insight into the complexities of the political decision-making, including the timetable. What we saw from Freedman’s line of questioning was a hindsight view of how we should/could have done things [in parentheses, perhaps? – (if we hadn’t already made up our minds).] My parentheses suggestion is not actually stated by Freedman, but is left hanging, understood, if not spelt out.
Freedman is not a man who DID have to take these important decisions.
This whole segment’s transcript starts on page 109 of the evidence (see text here)
SIR LAWRENCE FREEDMAN: Jack Straw told Parliament on 25th November 2002 and I quote: “Material breach means something significant, some behaviour or pattern of behaviour that is serious. Among such breaches could be action by the government of Iraq seriously to obstruct or to impede the inspectors, to intimidate witnesses or a pattern of behaviour where any single action appears relatively mild but the actions as a whole add up to something deliberately and more significant, something that shows Iraq’s intention not to comply.” Would you agree with that as a definition of material breach?
THE RT. HON. TONY BLAIR: Yes, absolutely.
SIR LAWRENCE FREEDMAN: That’s not a low bar, the point that Jack Straw would make?
LIBERTARIAN INTERVENTIONIST SEEKS TO DISCREDIT A LIBERTARIAN INTERVENTIONIST?
Whatever else Freedman was up to he can hardly disown the principle of LIBERTARIAN INTERVENTIONISM. It seems HE invented the phrase, and even wrote the paper.
Sir Lawrence Freedman is a renowned war historian. He wrote to Sir John Chilcot on January 18th 2010, shortly before Tony Blair’s first appearance at the Inquiry on 29th January, with an interesting revelation. (Read the letter here)
A member of the Iraq Inquiry panel disclosed today that he had written significant portions of a major speech on military intervention made by Tony Blair.
Sir Lawrence Freedman, a military historian, wrote to Sir John Chilcot, the chairman of the inquiry, explaining that he had drafted sections of a key address, given in Chicago in April 1999, that has been referred to frequently during the hearings. In it, he set out the case for military action in dealing with dictators including Saddam Hussein.
Changes in Mr Blair’s approach to Iraq have been one of the main issues of contention during Sir John’s hearings.
The bulk of the Chicago speech concerned military intervention in Kosovo but the section written by Sir Lawrence compared Slobodan Milosevic to Saddam Hussein saying the “two dangerous and ruthless men” had caused “many of our problems”.
The historian argued that intervention in Kosovo without a United Nations mandate must succeed in order to safeguard the effectiveness of the UN, which was often constrained by the Security Council’s unwillingness to support military action.
“There are differences among the permanent members on the use of force,” he wrote. “These differences, however, have also been evident on Iraq and so go beyond this particular conflict to a worrying breakdown of trust on a number of questions.
Why mention it to Chilcot ten days before Blair appeared at the Inquiry, you might well ask. Considering the Chilcot Inquiry had already been running for six months by that stage with both Chilcot and Freedman meeting regularly, you’d think he might have thought this worth mentioning before.
Oddly enough I do not recall too many anti-war commenters commenting on this a year or so ago, though we can be sure they have it on the back-burner in case Sir Lawrence is seen as going too easy on the man who shared his views on libertarian interventionism.
THE QUANDARY FOR CHILCOT & CO
For some time I have had my suspicions as to how exactly the Chilcot Inquiry is going to get itself out of its quandary. The quandary being that they do not believe on a personal level that Blair is a lying, evil man, a dictatorial, America-loving war criminal, out to destroy Iraq, while pretending he was saving it. But that is exactly what most of those who are against Blair’s decisions DO think.
So, the panel members know that the anti-Blair/anti-Iraq war press and certain groups are expecting real, personal and political condemnation of Tony Blair. Otherwise Chilcot’s Inquiry will be dubbed a whitewash as were the Butler & Hutton Inquiries by many. It will be deemed as having done its job – to protect Tony Blair and the establishment.
Let’s be clear here – there is no compromise with the extremist hardliners who think Blair is a war criminal. There can be no halfway house meeting of minds, regardless that the Chilcot Inquiry has no remit to determine “legality” or otherwise. They have looked at “legal issues” frequently throughout, so will have aired enough for some to get their teeth into after the Inquiry has reached its formal conclusions. Especially if those “some” feel they have been given enough other “powerful material” from Chilcot to strengthen their hand.
So, is the Chilcot Inquiry preparing to hang Blair out to dry on certain issues, such as kowtowing to the Americans, by-passing cabinet debate, using faulty intelligence, making a bad fist of the aftermath? Perhaps, given the frailty of human nature, and the differences between writing about and actually BEING a libertarian interventionist, that is the best we supporters of Blair’s libertarian interventionism can hope for.
I DO hope the members of Chilcot’s Inquiry team weigh up their conclusions with due care.
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1. This dreadful excuse for a political commentator, the Guardian’s Henry Porter also mentions Sir Lawrence Freedman’s position on “liberal interventionism”:
“We don’t need a show trial, just a sense that penitence of a genuine sort or an admission of guilt has been wrung out of some of the Chilcot’s witnesses, especially Tony Blair.
But maybe this is not our way. There are already important lessons to be learned about our recent history and the dictatorial way Blair ran the government at the height of his power – how easily checks on him were bypassed, opposition thwarted, intelligence skewed, lawyers and obstructive colleagues sidelined, all in the mortifying attempt to earn the favour of the US and pursue a policy of “liberal intervention” that was, by the way, in part developed by Chilcot committee member Sir Lawrence Freedman.
The thing is that we don’t have to wait for the report to understand what happened; it has been plain for the last six or seven years. But imagine how things would be if we had known then what we know now. Real-time disclosure makes deception very hard.”
Intriguing how Porter points to such as Wikileaks (and the ‘dictatorial’ Blair’s own Freedom of Information legislation?) as a source for “truth”. Intriguing too that thus far we have seen nothing from Wikileaks showing that the Iraq invasion was, for instance – “all about oil”.
Hmmm, Mr Know-all Porter?
2. Just to prove that all is not lost from within the ranks of the presently lost historically liberally caring Left read this from Daniel Furr. Mr Furr is, wait for it, a Liberal Democrat –“Egypt: A vindication for liberal interventionism?”
“We are, finally, starting to advocate liberal democracy and encouraging support towards those who oppose overt totalitarian and hostile regimes. What Mr Blair always envisaged.
Mr Blair himself believed the removal of Saddam would become a catalyst, a beacon, to encourage the spread of democracy across the Middle East. Once the main reactionary in the region was removed, then other authoritarian regimes would either fall or resort to democratic reforms. Even though we are heading for the seventh anniversary of the Iraq war, I believe we are being vindicated by the revolution in Egypt and the lesson from Iraq helped us to advocate intervention on a more pragmatic and realistic option – people power was the main ingredient. Not foreign military.
Democracy is the greatest form of government man has truly devised and a unique gift that all of humanity should experience. The neoconservative hawks of the previous Bush administration did, grotesquely, hijack the merits of Mr Blair’s Chicago speech but the former prime minister’s vision has been taken up by the people of Egypt.”
For most of what you say, Mr Furr, thank you. Now when are you going to sign the Ban Blair-Baiting petition?
Sign the Ban Blair-Baiting petition here
I am staggered by all the hate directed towards our former Prime Minister. I believe that Tony Blair made the Iraq decision in good faith and is most certainly NOT a war criminal. If anyone should be tried at the Hague it should be those in the media for totally misrepresenting the information and facts. The media are to blame for fuelling this hatred as it is purely driven by them. (UK)