Having watched the BBC live coverage of Tony Blair’s remarks in the aftermath of the Chilcot report one has to admit that he was indeed a sorry sight. He entered the room where reporters sat waiting and his pale emaciated look stood in stark contrast to the background of plush gold wallpaper behind him.
His mouth was dry, his voice was weak and raspy, and he had the distinct look of a man who was beat, a criminal who was caught and now has to plead for his life. Two words he said in the very beginning I found to be particularly significant: “happy” and “agonizing.” He said he was happy to stay after his remarks were over as long as people wished him to, in order to answer questions and, he said the decision to go to war with Iraq was agonizing. But there was nothing happy about his look. He was clearly not happy to be there nor did he seem like he would be happy to stay. In fact, it was clear he wanted nothing of the kind. He had an agonizing look, the look of a man who had committed a terrible crime and now has to face the consequences.
He started his remarks off well, one could even say it was a promising start: “for that decision today, I accept full responsibility,” pause, “without exception and without excuse.” He was talking about the decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003. My first thought was that here is a man who played a secondary role in the crime committed against Iraq and its people, namely the 2003 attack and total destruction of Iraq, and seems prepared to take full responsibility while the man who played the key role, George W. Bush sits like an innocent fool on his ranch in Texas painting portraits and living without a worry in the world. Blair went on to express his sincere and deeply felt sorrow for those who lost loved ones, Brits, other coalition members an Iraqis. He admitted right away that, “the intelligence assessments made at the time of going to war turned out to be wrong,” and while we have heard this particular statement in the past, Blair made it with a sincerity that gave it weight. But then things began to turn.
“The aftermath turned out to be more hostile, protracted and bloody than ever we imagined.” According to the Chilcot report, there was no need to “imagine” what the aftermath would be like. There was plenty of information available indicating that the vacuum created by the removal of Saddam Hussein, not to mention the destruction of the entire structure of the Iraqi state, would lead to chaos and violence. In his statement, John Chilcot says: “despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were underestimated. The planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam Hussein were wholly inadequate.” Chilcot goes on to detail the threats that were known and should have been carefully considered – but were not.
After another series of apologies Blair says: “Only two things I cannot say.” The one is that the chaos and terror that reigns free in Iraq today is a result of the invasion and removal of Saddam Hussein and the other is that things would have been better had Saddam Hussein not been removed. To those who make these claims Blair says, “I profoundly disagree.” His profound disagreement may be because he never lived in Iraq, not before or after the invasion and destruction and has no point of reference.
But the most common claim made by Iraqis who lived both before and after the invasion is, “we used to have one Saddam Hussein and now we have thousands of Saddam Husseins.” I personally heard this statement from Iraqi refugees, young and old, and of all religions. Blair then defends the decision to attack Iraq by saying that had Saddam Hussein been allowed to remain in power, it would have been necessary to go in and take him out ten years later, when the Arab Spring began, and so it made no difference in the end. Except of course that Iraq would not have been destroyed and countless Iraqis would have been alive today.
Creating the impression that the only two choices were to leave Saddam Hussein in power or destroy Iraq and create chaos is of course disingenuous, as is the concern America and the UK showed all of a sudden for the people of Iraq who suffered under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. They had and still have no problem with the Saudi dictators, the Egyptian dictators, the Jordanian dictators and in general, with dictators they see as useful. In fact, both the UK and the US are guilty of placing and supporting dictators around the world, dictators that they arm and from whom they expect to profit. But somehow Saddam Hussein troubled them – not the Shah of Iran when he was in power or Mobutu of Congo or countless others who were guilty of massacring their own people.
There used to be a sort of coalition of Arab countries that were described as “the refusal front.” This group of countries included Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen and certain segments within the the Palestine Liberation Organization. These were countries (with the exception of the PLO which was a liberation organization) that refused to deal with or recognize Israel in any way shape or form, and were opposed to the US. They pushed for the Arab boycott of Israel and supported the liberation of Palestine. Most of the PLO was brought into the fold and no longer exists as a resistance or a liberation movement, and it’s interesting to see that today every one of these countries has been turned into rubble, and chaos and terror is the daily bread of the people who live in these countries. It is hard to believe that this is a mere coincidence.
And now that the Chilcot report is out and it is made clear once again that there was no good reason to invade and destroy Iraq, it certainly seems that this was part of a plan to show the Arabs who is boss and to warn the “good” Arab dictators. If anyone really thought the West was going to allow Arab democracies to emerge, all it takes is one look at Egypt. The EU and the US have given all of their support to the leader of the Egyptian coup, the dictator General Abdel Fatah Sissi and forgot that the elected President of Egypt, Mohammad Morsi is imprisoned and awaiting execution.
In the meantime, Blair, who began by apologizing but ended up defending his criminal decision to join the invasion is a sorry sight indeed. A far cry from the confident prime minister who in 2003 explained clearly and rationally the need to attack Iraq under conditions that all but guaranteed the results Iraqis face today. There are calls by families of fallen British soldiers and others around the world to prosecute Tony Blair for war crimes. Hopefully this report will strengthen these calls and we will see him even more emaciated and pale on the defendants bench either in London or The Hague.
This article was written by Miko Peled for American Herald Tribune on July 13, 2016. Miko Peled is an Israeli writer and activist living in the US. He was born and raised in Jerusalem. His father was the late Israeli General Matti Peled.