If you are charged with rape, there is not much point in saying that you’re not guilty of murder. Socrates tried that on and took hemlock. But Blair and Howard are doing exactly the same. They say that although they took their nation into a war on a false premise, they were not guilty of lying.
Let us give them the benefit of the doubt on lying. They are on any view guilty of having taken their nation into a war on a false premise. It goes much further than that. As I have sought to show elsewhere, they were guilty of misrepresentation. Leaders cannot reveal the nature of their advice on intelligence. We just have to take them on trust. When they recommend war on the basis of secret intelligence, they are telling us that their intelligence is sufficient to warrant that decision. In the case of Iraq, that representation was false. And Sir John Chilcot offers them no comfort. (Is it not surprising how quickly people can unpick a report of 2.6 million words?)
And do you remember that time under the Westminster system when we made such a fuss about misleading parliament? And when it was not enough for a minister to say the civil service had badly advised him?
Now Howard has made it worse. According to him, our problems with terrorism do not derive from the decision of Blair, Bush, and Howard to start the war on false premises. They derive from the decision of President Obama to end the war – which he was elected to do.
There is a view, which I think has a lot of merit, that if the process or the aftermath of the surge had been reinforced by a greater continuing Western, particularly American, presence, the situation would have been lot more stable.
Howard’s successor as the Australian PM took us out of Iraq, too, but notwithstanding the terms on which President Obama was elected, he should have continued to shed American blood in defiance of the military maxim that you don’t reinforce a losing position. The presumption of Little Johnnie passes belief.
Another problem for Blair was like that of another Boy Napoleon, Boris Johnson. He got all dressed up and then found that he did not know where to go. The target nation fell apart, and it is madness to suggest that the people of Iraq and the rest of the world are not so much worse off as a result. Madness.
But Howard’s mates stay loyal. Mr Greg Sheridan says:
Listening to Tony Blair’s epic press conference and John Howard’s shorter but no less commanding performance, I was struck by just what master politicians these two men were, and how far they tower over all their successors from both sides of politics in either country.
Thirteen years after the events, these two giants are still masters of all the detail, picking their way through the fog of war in real time.
The most important conclusion arising out of Chilcot is that there is nothing of substance that is new……Chilcot establishes yet again that the intelligence agencies didn’t lie and Blair, Howard and George W Bush didn’t lie about the intelligence agencies.
Chilcot rightly concludes that Blair oversold the intelligence, giving the impression that it was much more certain than it was.
What worse fault can a prime minister commit than to mislead his nation about going to war? Then we get this:
Howard yesterday was on his strongest ground in arguing that it is utterly intellectually dishonest to attribute the terrible instability and conflict in the Middle East today to Iraq.
Islamic State emerged out of Syria….
As it happens, of the facing page of The Australian today there is a detailed analysis from The Times headed ‘How Islamic State rose up from the ashes of Iraq conflict.’ The analysis warrants the headline.
The reactions of Blair and Howard, and the bullshit of their supporters, show why people have lost all faith in the political system.
Poet of the month: Keats
Ode to a Nightingale – Part VIII
Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is famed to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintiff anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now ‘tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music – Do I wake or sleep?