Leading article: The folly of a gung-ho prime minister

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Two charges were put to Tony Blair in his second appearance before the Iraq inquiry yesterday.

The first was that he was supine in relations with George Bush, recklessly promising British support to remove Saddam Hussein before the case for war was made. The second is that he cavalierly disregarded the legal advice of his Attorney General. Both are serious accusations. And on neither count did the former Prime Minister defend himself convincingly.

The first charge was made on the basis of memos sent by Mr Blair to Mr Bush in the run-up to the 2003 invasion. The publication of those memos was this week blocked by the Cabinet Secretary, but the gist emerged in the hearing. According to Mr Blair, the message he conveyed was "you can count on us".

Mr Blair says he sought to qualify this by urging America to seek a United Nations resolution, ensuring that Britain's support would be based on international law. Yet this is undermined by the failure of the UN route to secure international consensus. Blair was left arguing that UN resolution 1441 was sufficient to justify war when it plainly was not.

In response to the second charge, Mr Blair argued that it was reasonable to disregard Lord Goldsmith's advice that a second resolution would be needed to make the invasion legal because he believed it was "provisional" guidance. What he means is that he felt confident that he could browbeat his Attorney General into changing his mind.

The inquiry also released a note from Mr Blair to his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, dated April 2002, in which the then prime minister argued: "A political philosophy that does care about other nations and is prepared to change regimes on the merits should be gung-ho on Saddam." That sentence encapsulates the folly of Mr Blair's own position on Iraq perfectly. He was gung-ho when he should have been cautious. And the disastrous consequences remain clear for all to see.

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