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The Ghost of Tony Blair

John Rentoul

david cameron heir tony b 007 300x180 The Ghost of Tony BlairThe ghost of Blair haunted a lot of the contributions to the House of Commons debate on Syria on Thursday, and a lot of the commentary on that debate.

Much of the commentary was to the effect that, as Ken Livingstone and David Mellor put it on LBC this morning, the vote might have gone the other way if it had not been for common – and, as I said, mistaken – view that Blair manipulated the case for military action in Iraq 10 years ago.

This is related to the common observation that Blair’s article for The Times on Tuesday greatly helped those, such as the Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen on Newsnight on Wednesday night, who are opposed to military action in Syria.

I agree with Peter Goldsmith, the former Attorney General, who said on the programme that Bridgen’s was a silly political remark.

And the point I made to Livingstone and Mellor is that, although MPs’ views must have been coloured by the experiences of Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, I thought the opposition to military action in Syria – although it was not tested explicitly in the votes – was decided on its merits.

I think that most of those who opposed air strikes did so because they could not be sure that they would improve things for the Syrian people, and not because they had ceased to trust assurances from government politicians.

I disagree with them, but only just, because I think not doing anything is a green light to Assad to carry on using chemical weapons.

While the debate gave everyone the chance to repeat what they already thought about Blair, mostly in a simplified and bilious form, I think he had nothing to do with the reluctance of the Commons to support military action.

Photo: SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty

  • tectorgorch

    Actually ‘the best efforts of the intelligence community’ were rendered dodgy due to how the second dossier was used and presented in the media by Blair and his acolytes. It was they who were dodgy, a term that is somewhat kinder to them than the truth; that they were outright liars.

  • JohnJustice

    The final draft of the second dossier, including Tony Blair’s introduction was cleared with the JIC prior to its publication. There will always be some in a project like this who take a different view, particularly ex post facto when kudos can be expected from the anti-war media, but it is the views of the senior committee members that count in the end since it is they who have the responsibility for making the ultimate judgement as to where the burden of truth lies.

  • aardvark10

    You conveniently forget to mention that Campbell chaired JIC meetings with no specialist knowledge and presented the information in the most favourable possible light . Probabilities and possibilities were presented as certainties. And what on earth are you talking about “responsibilities”. Scarlett was party to distorted and actually factually incorrect material and was promoted. Some “responsibility”!!

    I note that you are quite happy to have plagiarised material, incidentally over ten years old, as useful evidence to wage war.

  • Kippers

    It’s both. Some MPs seem to have learnt from the decision about the invasion of Iraq that they should not depend on assurances from the PM (or Foreign Secretary or Attorney General or the Joint Intelligence Committee). Some MPs seem to have learnt that they have to seek out their own information, ask questions and think for themselves. And when they did so they concluded that bombing Syria presents as many risks as advantages.
    In early 2003 MPs believed the assurances of Blair that it was an established fact that Iraq had WMD, that Blair had some influence over Bush for the planning of the occupation, that regime change would be quite straightforward and that it would lead to a resolution of the Israel – Palestine issue. In my opinion, MPs were just as culpable in believing (and repeating) these misleading talking points as Blair was in instigating them. In 2013 some MPs have remembered that their job is to hold the Government to account, and not to be always “on message” and repeat whatever government spin-doctors have decided is the truth.

  • JohnJustice

    The JIC was chaired by Sir John Scarlett. Campbell’s role was confined to making the raw intelligence material comprehensible to the general public. The dossier was not about presenting the pros and cons of the data but about answering the question constantly put to the government as to what it was about the data that convinced them that Saddam still possessed WMD. All this against the background of Saddam obstructing UN inspectors giving about their job which suggested he had something to hide. In those circumstances it was understandable that Saddam was not given the benefit of any doubt when the intelligence was being assessed.

    And the intelligence was not the casus belli of the Iraq war (as it might be in any military action against Syria). For the umpteenth time, the case for the Iraq war rests on the breach of UN resolutions.

    Finally plagiarised material does not damage a case being made if it is reasonably accurate, even if it’s ten years old.

  • aardvark10

    My apologies. Campbell did not chair the JIC.
    However, I am still laughing uncontrollably that anyone would believe Campbell’s presence was “confined to making the raw intelligence material comprehensible to the general public”. This is factually totally incorrect. I cannot post links on here, but a 30 second Google search will prove you complete ignorance in this matter. If nothing else, look at Scarlett’s comment about Blair’s introduction to one of the dossiers. Are you seriously suggesting that Campbell helped the general public understand the 45 minute rubbish? The idea that the general public need Campbell’s help in understanding intelligence is too ludicrous to comment on.
    The reason you have to go on about breach of UN resolutions is because no one believes you. The case for war did not rest entirely on breach of UN resolutions, the legality of which is still debated today and is still in doubt. If it were the only reason, why did we need the dossiers?
    I was on a long car journey today and had the opportunity to listen to discussion of the Syrian situation.
    Peter Hain (you might remember him, a former Labour cabinet minister under Blair), who originally supported the Iraq invasion, declare that the case for the Iraq war had destroyed the public’s trust in politicians
    A French politician stating that the case for war in Iraq was based on false information and was in effect all lies.
    None of this sort of stuff was challenged. The truth now seems to be accepted by all but the dwindling few who can see no wrong in Blair.
    Finally, as far as the plagiarised material is concerned, it may well be acceptable to use it if the source is disclosed and the age of the material. In fact it wasn’t “reasonably accurate”, but totally inaccurate and from an unreliable source

  • JohnJustice

    The 45 minute rubbish was only a very small part of the case for war. It was the blatant breach of UN resolutions that finally did for Saddam, whatever you say.

    The dossiers were needed only because the media and the Opposition were demanding to see the intelligence evidence for going to war?

    Please show me the evidence for asserting that the plagiarised material was “totally inaccurate and from an unreliable source. Otherwise cease your biased blatherings on this matter.

  • aardvark10

    I cant give links on here, but I suggest you read “Iraq dossier” on Wikipedia On second thoughts, don’t bother. Just keep spouting your UN nonsense – each time you say it you look sillier than the time before.

  • Pacificweather

    One thing you can say for Mr. Blair, he does a better “serious face” than Mr. Cameron.


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