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« Isabel Hilton on BBC in 20 minutes | Main | FactCheck UK »

No, Blair did not decide to remove Saddam - the Paxman interview

“I tried desperately hard to reach a second UN resolution”. When this failed, “I decided to remove him”. It is preposterous for Tony Blair to claim that he removed Saddam. But he seems to have got away with it. Hypnotising Jeremy Paxman Britain’s foremost interviewer, who knows how to press a question, in their encounter earlier this evening.

Blair did not “decide to remove” Saddam Hussein. That force unmentioned in all the main party manifestos in the UK election (see my earlier blog) took the decision: America. Many openDemocracy readers don’t like the use of swear words. Sorry, understood. But ‘bullshit’ here really does have a clinical meaning. I’m afraid Paxman went along with it.

It was Bush who took that decision. And well before March 2003. Blair had long decided that he would support the President in whatever course he took. What worries many possible voters concerned about the decision on Iraq, and this is why it won’t go away, is that it is not a matter of a moment of decision from which we can move on. It is about the Prime Minister’s embrace of the White House point of view, exhibited then and still continuing.

What Blair’s describes as his “desperate” effort to get a UN resolution, was an effort to manufacture a figleaf. The fact that America had made up its mind anyway then undermined diplomacy in the UN, according to a well placed source there whom I spoke with afterwards.

Blair’s was the “desperation” of wish fulfilment, whose failure alone should have led to resignation. A brief and riveting account is provided in a little read appendix by Charles Grant to his Centre for European Reform pamphlet on The Transatlantic rift. Blair, he believes, if only he had had know what Grant, the director of a modest think-tank, had discovered with a modicum of effort. “would not have pursued the chimera of a follow-up resolution for as long as his did”. Indeed, Grant describes how he wrote and told his contacts why they could get no second UN resolution. But a “senior Whitehall figure” kindly explained to him afterwards that such advice had been discounted because, “We under-estimated the dislike of the US around the world”.

Instead of pressing the Prime Minister on this and on his relations with America Paxman plunged into whether Blair knew he was wrong to tell Parliament that the intelligence on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction was, as he claimed, “extensive, detailed and authoritative”. Didn’t the Butler Report say it was not? A squabble followed. One for which Blair was comfortably prepared.

Because the issue was not about the intelligence he received, but how intelligent he was in going about getting it. For example the British Government’s introduction to its September dossier (the one that floated the idea that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction he could use in 45 minutes) said that Iraq was currently manufacturing chemical weapons.

Most experts at the time did indeed believe that Saddam had kept some back some weapons in a secret reserve, or had tried to. But none thought he was actually making chemical weapons on any significant scale. Ron Manley, the British expert who had destroyed Saddam’s arsenal after 1991 explained to openDemocracy in a detailed assessment why Saddam could not have been making chemical weapons. But Manley, who was still working part time for the Ministry of Defence and who knew Iraq really well, was not asked for his view of the reports the government received.

The key point here is that Blair hid behind intelligence results that he wanted. The intelligence was ‘bogus’. This was the word used in Parliament at the time by Kenneth Clark, the experienced Tory politician. President Chirac knew it was bogus too and told Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector. Chancellor Schroeder knew it, and, of course, the Americans knew it. The US administration settled on making weapons of mass destruction the reason for the war “for bureaucratic reasons… because it was the one reason everyone could agree on”, as Paul Wolfowitz, the leading spokesman for the invasion, told Sam Tanenhaus of Vanity Fair in July 2003.

It was bogus then, it is bogus now. Above all, for the British it is bogus of Blair to say about Saddam Hussein “I decided to remove him”.

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April 21, 2005 in Blair's Bust - UK election | Permalink


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