I guess a Nuremburg trial might have been a better place to sort out the minutiae of the Blair-Bush crimes we committed to go to war in the Middle East. We brought about the deaths of up to half a million people, most of them Muslims who were as innocent as Blair was guilty. A Nuremburg-style court might thus have concentrated more on the mass Arab victims of our criminal expedition than the heinous guilt and “profound regret” – his words, of course – of Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara.
Sure, Blair lied about the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction before going to war, then lied about the Foreign Office warnings of the chaos that would overwhelm Iraq and now – today – pretends that the Chilcot report has proclaimed him innocent when in fact it says he is quite the opposite.
But a prolonged study of the report, rather than the necessarily swift precis we have been fed these past few hours, may produce lines of enquiry far more distressing than the conclusions in the easy-to-regurgitate, simplified and shorter version handed out to the media. Besides, our concentration on the iniquitous Blair and his lies, while itself an understandable response to Chilcot, has provided a worrying diversion from the mendacity that still today afflicts our political class, our prime ministers and party leaders, and their insulting attitude towards those they claim to represent.
Hearing the first news of Sir John Chilcot’s epic work of literature while I was travelling across Syria was a disturbing experience. Not just because the plague of Islamist cruelty spreading outwards from Raqqa was (despite Blair’s nonsense to the contrary) a direct result of the Iraqi inferno; but because our own present, though discredited, Prime Minister used Blairite falsehoods to persuade MPs to bomb Isis targets in Syria last December. Remember the nonsense about the 70,000 “moderate” rebels who needed our help, even though they don’t exist and were manufactured by the very same Joint Intelligence Committee on which Blair relied for his criminal adventure?
And when MPs questioned this claptrap, they were haughtily put down by General Gordon Messenger, deputy chief of the defence staff, who said that for security reasons these various rebel units could not be named – even though we know the identity of these ragtag CIA outfits and of their inability to fight anyone. The appropriately named Messenger went along with David Cameron’s fantasy and was duly promoted, just as John Scarlett, the JIC’s chairman who provided all the duff “intelligence” to Blair, was later knighted.
And so we went to war against Isis in Syria – unless, of course, Isis was attacking Assad’s regime, in which case we did nothing at all, despite all the outrageous huffing and puffing of Hilary Benn about pre-war fascism. Condemn Blair we will, poor chap, but don’t think that anything changed in the six years Sir John spent writing up his Biblical tome.
And that’s the problem. When Blair can say, as he did the moment the Chilcot report was published, that it should “lay to rest allegations [sic] of bad faith, lies and deceit” – without a revolution in the streets against his bad faith, lies and deceit – then you can be sure that his successors will have no hesitation in swindling the public again and again. After all, what’s the difference between Iraqi WMDs that don’t exist, 45-minute warnings that are falsities, 70,000 non-existent Syrian “moderates” and a fictitious NHS windfall of millions if Britain left the European Union?
How the British media covered the Iraq War
There are many versions – and misquotations – of that most cynical of Nazi propagandists, Joseph “the bigger the lie, the better” Goebbels, but it is impossible not to be shocked by some of his observations. “The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence,” he wrote in 1941. “Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, it should be a big lie, and one should stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.”
What is chilling about these words is not that the wartime English Goebbels maligned, nor that Churchill (who was his special target) did actually lie. Given the struggle against Nazism – and despite Churchill’s observation that truth in war should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies – the British had a virtuous ability in the 1939-45 conflict to tell the truth even when a bit of Blairite flummery might have sufficed to cover up Britain’s defeats. No, what is frightening is that Goebbels’s words apply so painfully to English politicians today.
Who do we know after the report, for example, who keeps up their big lies even at the risk of looking ridiculous? I fear, in an awful way, that small men who want to walk in big shoes – who actually think they are Churchill and take their country to war – are committing the very lies of which their political ancestors were largely innocent. Perhaps the key to all this was captured in Sir John’s contention that Blair relied more on his “beliefs” – whatever that dangerous word obscures – and the judgement of others.
Thus he can tell us – and tell me as I drove in from the Syrian desert city of Palmyra whose desecrators brought their vile practices from the Iraqi disaster that Blair helped to create – that “I do not believe [that Saddam Hussein’s removal] is the cause of terrorism we see today whether in the Middle East or elsewhere in the world”. All this duplicity, of course, is to form part of the “full debate” that Blair now threatens in the aftermath of the Chilcot report.
He is going – heaven spare us -- to “set out the lessons I believe future leaders can learn from my experience”. But Blair doesn’t need to bore us with his lies all over again. They’ve already been imbibed by Dave “70,000 moderates” Cameron and the Brexit lads who are now self-destructing amid the very lies they told – and which may achieve all that Goebbels wished for this country: the end of the United Kingdom.
In this context, the Chilcot report is not so much a massive work of investigation into the sins that took us to war in 2003, but just another chapter in the story of our inability to control a world in which Britain’s public relations politicians treat their people with contempt, kill some of their soldiers and slaughter hundreds of thousands of foreigners without any real remorse.