A six-hour defence of his fateful decision
The Evidence: The former prime minister took a robust approach to the questioning from the Iraq inquiry panel. But not all his answers added up to a completely convincing performance. Michael Savage reports
Saturday 30 January 2010
The "calculus of risk" changed after 9/11 and Saddam had to be "dealt with".
In his evidence, Tony Blair put huge emphasis on the effect the attack on New York had on his thinking, hinting that his mind was made up about Saddam's removal from that point.
The "calculus of risk changed" after 9/11, he said. "We could not take risks with this issue at all. It changed our assessment of where risks for security lay." Above all, he felt the attack was directed against Britain, too. "I did not regard it as an attack on America. I regarded it as an attack on us." Saddam was targeted. "The primary consideration for me was to send an absolutely powerful, clear and unremitting message that, after September 11, if you were a regime engaged in WMD [weapons of Mass Destruction], you had to stop," he said.
VERDICT: While other witnesses have cited 9/11 as a crucial moment, it remained at the forefront of Blair's mind throughout his time as prime minister and immediately led him to target Saddam.
George Bush was told "if it came to military action, we would be with him".
When he answered questions on the crucial meeting at President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, in 2002, Blair made revealing remarks about his belief in regime change. "There was nothing actually decided," he began, reacting to the suggestion of Sir Christopher Meyer, the former British ambassador in Washington, that a deal was "signed in blood" by Blair at the ranch to join an invasion. But he went on to confirm that he had made the pact. "The only commitment was a commitment to deal with Saddam," he said, adding that he shared the means and the end of achieving that. "This was about six months from September 11, and one of the things president Bush said to me was a fear, actually, that if we weren't prepared to act in a really strong way, then we ran the risk of sending a disastrous signal out to the world." He added that he told Bush: "Were going to be with you in confronting and dealing with this threat." He also revealed that British policy became hitched to the US as a result. "Our own strategy was going to have to evolve in the light of that," he said. "I didn't want America to feel that it had no option but to do it on its own."
He added: "The position was not covert, it was an open position." Whatever his intentions during the meeting, he said the message Bush took was clear. "I think what he took from that was exactly what he should have taken, which was if it came to military action because there was no way of dealing with this diplomatically, we would be with him."
VERDICT: Blair's evidence confirmed he had given a clear commitment to Bush about Britain's support.
Regime change was right, even with no WMD threat.
Throughout the hearing, Blair contradicted himself on his reasons for toppling Saddam. He told parliament the key issue was Saddam's access to WMD. Yet in an interview with Fern Britton, he said he "would still have thought it right to remove" Saddam, even if he had known that he did not have WMD. Blair seemed unable to square his remarks, initially claiming that he had simply made a mistake in the interview. "Even with all my experience in dealing with interviews, it still indicates that I have got something to learn about it," he said. "It was in no sense a change of position. The position was that it was the approach of UN resolutions on WMD." He reiterated that "the absolutely key issue was WMD". But later remarks revealed he always believed Saddam would have to be removed. "We should realise that a problem in a different part of the world can come back and hit us," he told the inquiry. "If we tried the UN route and it failed my view was it had to be dealt with." He added that if Saddam had not been disarmed, he feared Britain would be targeted by groups using the weapons. "I was very sure we would be involved in the consequences of that."
VERDICT: While he tried to say regime change and the issue of WMD could not be separated, there are clear differences in what he told parliament and his belief that removing Saddam as a point of principle was right.
Government should have been "taken right out" of September dossier presentation.
Blair was quizzed extensively on the September 2002 dossier, which set out his case for war. In his foreword to the document, he made the assertion that Saddam's ownership of WMD was "beyond doubt", despite intelligence being described as "patchy" and "sporadic". "What I said in the foreword was that I believed it was beyond doubt," he said. "I did believe it, frankly, beyond doubt." He placed any inaccuracies squarely on the intelligence services. Based on their reports, "it was hard to come to any other conclusion than that this person is continuing WMD programmes", he said. "Now, with the benefit of hindsight, you look back on the situation differently." Crucially, he said he would not produce the dossier again, but take the Government "right out of it" by publishing raw intelligence reports. He insisted he "did give weight" to the caveats in the intelligence. But he added that assuming Saddam had WMD "was not a counter-intuitive notion" at the time. "It would've required quite strong evidence the other way to have been doubting the fact that he had these programmes."
As for the notorious claim that Saddam had missiles that could be launched within 45 minutes, he admitted he had not realised the assertion overstated the facts – it had only ever been intended to refer to short-range weapons. "I would have been better to have corrected it in the light of the significance it later took on," he said.
VERDICT: While he admitted he would do the dossier differently now, he stood by his claims that he was not alone in believing Saddam had WMD.
Saddam's WMD programme was "not growing, but tolerance was changing".
Blair contradicted himself during his evidence over the changing nature of the threat from Saddam. He told parliament on 24 September that Saddam's WMD programme was "active, detailed and growing". He initially told the committee he had based that view on intelligence received on 12 September, which suggested Iraq had mobile chemical production facilities. "This ... turned out to be wrong," he admitted. He then suggested he had considered what Saddam's regime might do in the future. Yet ultimately, he appeared to conclude that it was Britain's policy that had changed. not Saddam's arsenal. "It wasn't that objectively he had done more, it was that our perception of the risk had shifted."
VERDICT: The committee seem to have found serious grounds to suggest that Blair misled parliament on this point. No documents back Blair's assertion that Saddam's arsenal was growing, which he appeared to concede.
"The law and the politics follow each other."
On the question of legality, Blair said that Lord Goldsmith, his chief legal adviser, eventually concluded the war was legal without the explicit permission of the United Nations. However, he was challenged over the fact that Lord Goldsmith changed his mind on legality in February, and admitted that meetings had been arranged at the behest of No 10 to change his mind. Yet even when he met Bush in January 2003, when his Attorney General was advising military action would be illegal, his conclusion was different. "My view was that if you backed away when he was playing around with the inspectors ... it would send a very bad signal to the world," he said. "If in the end you could not get a second resolution," action should go ahead. He said the law could not be separated from the politics as they "followed each other". However, he said he would not have gone to war if Goldsmith had finally concluded the action was illegal.
VERDICT: Goldsmith's final conclusion may have given him clearance but his evidence taken as a whole suggested that the legality always trailed policy in his thinking.
We "planned well for what we were expecting".
Blair was adamant his government had not failed to plan for the aftermath of the invasion, but admitted it had been planning for the wrong things. The expected humanitarian crisis never came, but deteriorating security took everyone by surprise, for which he blamed the "destabilising influence" of Iran. "The coalition forces weren't the ones doing the killing," he said. "The ones doing the killing were the terrorists, the sectarians, quite deliberately to stop us making the progress we wanted to make. He admitted Clare Short, the International Development Security, had raised concerns over the lack of planning. "We were trying to make sure we redoubled our focus," he said.
VERDICT: Blair was surprisingly defiant on saying planning had taken place, despite numerous witnesses and politicians suggesting that not enough thought went into the post-war phase – including Gordon Brown.
"Even knowing what we do now it was right to remove Saddam."
Summing up, Blair made a defiant statement, explicitly backing the policy of regime change, saying the world would be in grave danger if Saddam was still in power today. "I have little doubt – but it's a judgment, and other people may take a different judgment – that today we would be facing a situation where Iraq was competing with Iran ... both on nuclear weapons capability and more importantly perhaps than anything else, competing as well as the nuclear issue in respect of support of terrorist groups," he said. He was unrepentant, concluding that he took "responsibility, but not regret" for the action taken. "Even if you look back now, it was better to deal with this threat, to remove him from office."
VERDICT: His final words appear to confirm the removal of Saddam was always his plan. His warnings over Iran suggested he wanted today's leaders to copy the example he set in Iraq.
"If Peter (Lord Goldsmith) had said 'This would not be justified lawfully,' we would have been unable to take action."
On the Fern Britton interview
"Even with all my experience in dealing with interviews, it still indicates that I have got something to learn about it."
On Britain being able to withdraw
"I think President Bush at one point said, 'If it's too difficult for Britain, we understand.'"
On the 45-minute claim
"It would have been better to have corrected it in the light of its later significance."
On the high price of democracy in Iraq
"The ones doing the killing were the terrorists, the sectarians, and they were doing it quite deliberately to stop us making progress."
On taking the decision to go to war
"I had to take this decision as prime minister. It was a huge responsibility and not a single day passes when I don't think about that responsibility – and so I should."
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