The Evidence of Witness 69: Blair has shown himself more a fool than a liar

The most revealing thing about the former PM's evidence was how little he understood about the situation on the ground

The case against Tony Blair has revolved too much around his good faith and too little around his competence. The placards held up by protesters on Friday as he gave evidence should have read "sucker" and "dope" rather than "Bliar".

Amateurs often have a fluency denied to professionals because they see no "ifs" and "buts" that would interrupt the flow of their argument. Books proving that Bacon wrote Shakespeare are often highly articulate and have great narrative pace because their authors see all facts pointing to the same inevitable conclusion.

It is this mixture of amateurism and evangelical conviction which made Mr Blair such a lethally inept leader before and during the war in Iraq. His greatest weakness was not so much that he adjusted facts to support his policies, but that he had so little grasp of the facts in the first place.

When the US and Britain invaded Iraq in 2003, they unwittingly began a series of revolutionary changes which are still reverberating. The inevitable consequence of getting rid of Saddam Hussein's regime was that the Shia Arabs would replace the Sunni as the predominant community in Iraq and Iran would greatly increase its influence in the country with the fall of its old enemy.

Yet Mr Blair said last week that he was wholly surprised by the emergence of Iran and al-Qa'ida as forces destabilising the occupation of Iraq. But al-Qa'ida became a power in Iraq only because the five million Sunni Arabs, stripped of power and jobs by the war, were already rising in rebellion.

Iran, with its 900-mile border with Iraq, was bound to be a serious player post-Saddam because it was traditionally the Shia community's main foreign supporter. Moreover, Mr Blair, by going to war as an ally of President Bush, does not seem to have noticed that senior members of the Bush administration were openly demanding that victory in Iraq be followed by regime change in Tehran and Damascus. Not surprisingly, the Syrians and Iranians were determined to give the US and Britain enough trouble in Iraq to make sure they did not move on to the next stage.

In trying to prove him mendacious, critics of Mr Blair underplay his incompetence. His very fluency as a propagandist militated against long-term military success. He conflates the invasion of Iraq with the long-term occupation of Iraq as if both were seen as acts of liberation by ordinary Iraqis. The US and Britain might just have got away with overthrowing Saddam Hussein, whom most Iraqis wanted to see the back of, but a long-term imperial occupation was never going to succeed because it had too many enemies inside and outside the country.

It was striking in Mr Blair's testimony that so many of his references to Iraq are inaccurate. In trying to prove some connection between the perpetrators of 9/11 and Saddam's regime, he mentioned Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, later head of the Iraqi branch of al-Qa'ida, as being in Iraq before Saddam was overthrown. He failed to mention that he was in a camp in Kurdistan in a part of the country not controlled by Saddam Hussein. He said Iran intervened in Iraq because it feared a Shia democracy on its doorstep. In fact, Iran supported the Shia government in Baghdad after it was elected in 2005, but opposed the presence of American and British forces.

This limited knowledge of Iraq on display last Friday is significant because it reflects the fantasy picture of the war Mr Blair increasingly produced after 2003. By 2006, he was denying that Iraq was convulsed by a sectarian civil war which finally led to 3,000 dead a month and the flight of two million refugees.

Such is the fury of so many people in Britain at Mr Blair's distortions of the truth that an important point is being overlooked. This is scarcely surprising since a YouGov poll earlier this month shows that 23 per cent of the public think he should be tried as a war criminal.

But he is not alone in his responsibility for what went wrong in Iraq. There is too much focus on his staff's manipulations of the "dodgy dossier" and too little on miserable performance of British intelligence. The service which knew the entire German order of battle in 1944 proved incapable of finding out accurate information about the rickety regime in Iraq some 60 years later. The Foreign Office and the British Army often showed a similar ineffectiveness during the Iraq war, possibly because they never approved of it and their hearts were not in it.

In Basra, for instance, the British Army found itself fighting a war that was wholly different from the one portrayed by Mr Blair. He claimed that here were Iraqis yearning to breathe free from Shia militias and Iran. But I remember a former British military intelligence officer saying to me that the great difference between fighting in Basra and guerrilla wars in Malaysia and Northern Ireland "is that here in Basra nobody really supports us".

Perhaps Mr Blair's greatest error was in his view of America. There is nothing surprising about him wanting to be the main ally of the US in the world. This has been British policy since 1940. Nor should there be any doubt about him having committed Britain to war early on. "I have made up my mind that Saddam needs to go," President Bush said at the Crawford ranch meeting as Mr Blair stood compliantly beside him.

But the war which followed showed that the US is more dysfunctional politically and militarily than Mr Blair supposed. For all the pitfalls of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein should not have been quite such hard acts to follow.

One extraordinary revelation did emerge in Mr Blair's evidence. The disasters of the Iraq war largely discredited the neoconservatives in Washington, but his repeated rants in favour of confrontation with Iran last week shows that Mr Blair has himself joined their ranks.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Sheeran arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year
musicYes, that would be Ed Sheeran, according to the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (HTML5, Ext JS, CSS3, jQuery, AJAX)

£40000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

Dynamics CRM Developer (C#, .NET, Dynamics CRM 2011/2013)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Dynamics CRM D...

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor