Saturday 18 November 2017

We did what was right and I'd do the same again -- Blair

Former PM gave Iraq 'commitment' to Bush at president's Texas ranch

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair gives evidence to the
Chilcot Inquiry in London yesterday
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair gives evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry in London yesterday

David Brown and Philip Webster in London

Tony Blair never left George W Bush in any doubt that Britain would back the US in military action to topple Saddam Hussein, the former prime minister made plain in a six-hour appearance before the Chilcot inquiry yesterday.

He gave his "commitment" at a private dinner at the president's ranch at Crawford, Texas, in April, 2002, and -- defiantly -- told the inquiry that he would take the same decision again.

It had been right to take action to stop Saddam, even though his supposed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) turned out not to exist, he said. Mr Bush had offered him a way out which he had declined to take.

Throughout the marathon session Mr Blair left the firm impression that he never put any conditions on his support for the US. Although he persuaded a sceptical Mr Bush to follow the United Nations route, even though the Americans were bent on ousting Saddam come what may, he appears never to have told him that British backing depended on that route succeeding.

Mr Blair made clear that it was always his intention to join the Americans if it came to war with Iraq. But in a marked shift he appeared to suggest that he had been backing action against Saddam on the basis of his future rather than current menace.

The comment appeared to run counter to his statement to the House of Commons on September 24, 2002, as he presented an intelligence dossier on Iraq's WMD programme. On that occasion Mr Blair had told British MPs: "His weapons of mass destruction programme is active, detailed and growing. The policy of containment is not working. The weapons of mass destruction programme is not shut down -- it is up and running now."

Mr Blair insisted that it was important to consider what the consequences would have been if Saddam had not been overthrown by the US and Britain in 2003. "Sometimes what is important is not to ask the March 2003 question, but to ask the 2010 question," he said.

Legacy

The former prime minister offered a passionate defence of the decision to wage a war that cost the lives of 179 British servicemen and women. "The decision I took -- and frankly would take again -- was if there was any possibility that he could develop weapons of mass destruction we should stop him," he said. "That was my view then and that is my view now."

In what was probably his last chance to defend his legacy, Mr Blair insisted that there had been no "covert" deal with Mr Bush at Crawford. "Even at that stage I was raising the issue of going to the UN," he said.

But pressed on what he thought Mr Bush took from the meeting, he went further, saying: "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."

Mr Blair defended his assertion in the British government's controversial Iraq dossier, published in September 2002, that intelligence had established "beyond doubt" that Saddam had WMD. "What I said in the foreword was that I believed it was beyond doubt. I did believe it, and I did believe it was beyond doubt," he said.

He accepted it had been a mistake not to make clear that the notorious claim that some WMD could be launched within 45 minutes referred to battlefield weapons rather than long-range missiles. "It would have been better to have corrected it in the light of the significance it later took on," he said.

Mr Blair told the inquiry that he had made the judgment that Britain should not "run the risk" of allowing Saddam to remain in power. "This isn't about a lie or a conspiracy or a deceit or a deception. It's a decision. I had to take the decision. I believed, and in the end the cabinet believed -- so did Parliament, incidentally -- that we were right not to run that risk."

Mr Blair told the inquiry that he wanted to secure a second UN Security Council resolution before going to war. "A second resolution was obviously going to make life a lot easier, politically and in every respect," he said.

Roderic Lyne, a member of the inquiry team, asked Mr Blair if he thought that the US would have been happy to "offer a way out" if Britain decided against going to war.

"I think the Americans would have done that," he said. "I think President Bush at one point said, before the debate, 'Look if it's too difficult for Britain, we understand'.

"I took the view very strongly then -- and do now -- that it was right for us to be with America, since we believed in this too." (©The Times, London)

Irish Independent

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