Tony Blair at the Chilcot inquiry

January 29, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Posted in Turkmens | Leave a comment
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Tony Blair at the Chilcot inquiry

Seumas Milne

Once again, the chance to hold Tony Blair to account is being squandered by questioning that has has ranged from the feeble to the shamefully complicit. Faced with such embarrassing cosiness (Lawrence Freedman plumbed the lowest depths), the former prime minister quickly overcame his initial nervousness. Far from conceding any ground over the aggression against Iraq, he repeatedly argued that the same “calculus of risk” now demanded similar action against Iran. The fact that he remains the Quartet’s man in the Middle East should be cause for the deepest alarm.

It’s been classic Blair: the lawyerly evasions over the wording of the September 2002 dossier, the self-deprecating asides over his Fern Britton interview gaffe, the deliberation conflation of the 9/11 attacks and Iraq’s weapons programmes, real or imagined.

His defence of the claim that the intelligence showed it was “beyond doubt” Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons was rendered risible by the fact that it was prefaced with the words “I believe”, but that was duly allowed to pass by the assembled trusties – as was his entirely false insistence that you’d have been “hard pushed” to find anyone who didn’t believe Iraq had WMD before the invasion demonstrated it hadn’t.

Put Scott Ritter and Robin Cook on one side; both Vladimir Putin and Jacques Chirac said in the run-up to war that they had seen no evidence of a continuing Iraqi WMD programme.

Most outrageous, though, was his repeated and so far barely challenged assertion that Iraq was in “material breach” of repeated UN resolutions. In reality, the fact that Iraq had destroyed its WMD stocks in the 1990s means that it was not in significant breach of the resolutions at all. Even Blair’s repeated claims that Iraq was failling to comply with resolution 1441 over inspectors’ right to interview officials is simply not supported by Hans Blix’s reports of the time.

Watch this afternoon to see whether any inquiry member picks up on one new piece of information Blair did let drop this morning: that there were “conversations” with Israelis during the infamous Crawford meeting with George Bush in April 2002.

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