The man possesses what my late mother used to call bare-faced cheek.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has finally issued apologies for the Iraq War, but only on behalf of someone else – mainly those hapless whipping boys, the intelligence services.
“I can say that I apologise for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong,” Mr. Blair says with that patented mock-sincere face of his (one that, I might add gratuitously, seems to have been surgically enhanced and exposed to aggressive sun-lamp treatments, or Levantine sunshine, since I last saw it). “I also apologise for some of the mistakes in planning and our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime.”
There are ‘elements of truth’, he admits, in the proposition that the invasion of Iraq led to the rise of Islamic State, “but I find it hard to apologise for removing Saddam. The world is a better place now the tyrant is dead”.
These are not apologies, they are excuses.
Prime Minister Blair knew exactly what he was doing at the time, and why. He of all people – ostensibly a man of the left and a committed Christian – ought to have recognised or at least questioned the gaping holes in intelligence reports about weapons of mass destruction. I, for one, am convinced that he did. What happened next, I and millions of others are convinced, was that the lacunae were simply filled in with impenetrable mumbo-jumbo concocted by shady operators in dark rooms in Whitehall. The resulting confections were used to justify British intervention that the intelligence agencies had inconveniently failed to provide.
And that intervention was about nothing more than a public show of ardent support for the United States administration of his ‘friend’ President George Bush, who, prodded by hawkish elements in his cabinet and the Republican Party at large, was intent, whatever the consequences, on an act of vengeance for the attacks on the World Trade Center.
The world, least of all Iraq itself, is palpably not a better place for the removal of Saddam. Nor is it safer for the removal of that other regional despot, Colonel Qaddafi, in Libya. Nor, I venture, will any less be said for the ousting of Assad in Syria. As President Putin has recognised, if not for honourable reasons, but not the western powers, for reasons that remain obscure.
The two late despots were despicable people, and the survivor is no better. But they held their countries together in the face of fierce tribal and religious rivalries, most of which few of us in the West come close to comprehending. All three countries are now in chaos, torn apart by those same factions, with Islamic State exploiting the absence of a uniting regime to stir the rancid pot.
Putin – Vlad the Impaler of western leaders – may or not be helping the cause of a peaceful settlement by military intervention, but that cause is beyond the wit or wisdom of any other statesman or organisation anyway. At least he recognises, in unleashing his rockets on ‘rebel groups’, that Public Enemy No.1 is ISIL. In which case the matter of who is in charge of the government is, for now, neither here nor there. Better an Assad under Moscow’s control, than anarchy. Better still under western control, but that failed to happen.
Assad is awful on various levels, but once brought into line he can be removed later. The same thinking ought to have been applied to the regimes of Saddam and Qadaffi. It was not applied because America, with scant knowledge of the dynamics and history of the region, had fingers itching to pull triggers as an act of righteous vengeance.
Prime Minister David Cameron and other European leaders are irrelevant in all this, and consequently powerless. Where President Obama stands is unknown. He is probably content to leave grappling with such thorny issues to his successor. What he should be doing, of course, is talking to Putin – as Kennedy was obliged to talk to Khrushchev – but that is unlikely to happen any time soon, especially with a new diplomatic Cold War re-emerging.
Meanwhile, the migrants – Syrian or otherwise, war refugees or economic aspirants – keep entering Europe, in a new surge obviously motivated by the desire to get to safety before the Balkan winter closes in on them.
What a mess. Who is to lead us out of it?
Sadly, no one comes immediately to mind.