A question of blame

Business - February 22nd, 2011
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by Ian de Stains OBE

Two and a half thousand years ago, the Chinese general, strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu wrote something to the effect that all warfare is based on deception. I thought of this recently when I watched Britain’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair on television making his second appearance (some have suggested it should more properly be termed a Second Coming) before the Chilcot inquiry.

Launched in 2009, the inquiry’s purpose is to investigate the UK’s role in the war in Iraq, including the run up to the conflict, the military action which followed and the aftermath. What has engaged many in the UK is the role Tony Blair (at the time of the conflict, Prime Minister) played in the decision to go to war and more specifically, whether he was less than honest in his dealings not only with the public but in Parliament, too. Not to put too fine a point on it, there are those who believe the Prime Minister lied to his colleagues and to the country at large because he had privately made a commitment to the then US President George W. Bush to support the invasion of Iraq, no matter what.

The British newspaper The Independent recently published a list of 15 charges it felt Blair had yet to answer. They cover significant territory, from deliberately misleading Parliament over the legality of an invasion, as well as the issue of weapons of mass destruction, to marginalizing his senior legal advisor, Lord Goldsmith, who it appears was of the opinion that an invasion would be a breach of international law, especially because it was evident that the real reason for the invasion was regime change. So Blair has been singled out as a potential war criminal, the architect of a cobweb of deceit at the heart of which Downing Street sat like a sort of Dunsinane — MacBeth’s final battle site in Shakespeare — dripping with blood.

What is lacking in all of this, though, is the acknowledgement that Blair alone could not have taken the UK to war. The media appear to have forgotten that all of his then cabinet, with the notable exception of the late Robin Cook, who resigned because of his doubts, stood firmly behind the Prime Minister, with many of them going on record to say they were convinced of Saddam Hussein’s sinister intentions and capabilities. Their hands were no less bloody.

And what of the then-opposition? Without their support,  Blair would never had achieved the majority he needed in Parliament to take the country into war. The leader of the opposition at the time, Ian Duncan Smith, arguably out-Blaired Blair in his contention that Saddam’s cache of ballistic weapons could strike at the heart of Europe.
So the question must be, did Chilcot call all the right people? And if not, does the inquiry that bears his name have any real credibility? And in the end, does it matter?

Ian de Stains OBE is the Executive Director of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan. The views expressed in this column are strictly his own and are not necessarily endorsed by or shared by the Chamber.

External Link:
Tony Blair, Wikipedia