Tony Blair’s appearance at the Chilcot inquiry provided a compelling insight into the thinking and modus operandi of the former Labour Prime Minister. When the fog of pre-war lifted at the session, it would appear that Blair’s chief motivation for going to war was the wish not to be left behind by George W Bush.The consequences of this act may take decades to be resolved. It was a big decision and one that will alter history’s view of Tony Blair; his reputation may never recover from the undeniable fact that he brought Britain into war on a false pretext. It seems like a long time ago since millions took to the streets to protest against the coming war; only a handful of protestors were present on Friday. But they were brought back to events of seven years ago the instant the former war-time leader opened his mouth to speak.
One result of the Iraq war is that ‘Liberal Interventionism’ will be an increasingly difficult sell. Saddam may have been a monster but the unintended consequences of invading Iraq make it much more difficult for such monsters to be removed in the future. Public opinion will be a lot more sceptical when it comes to trusting governments; support will be forthcoming for retaliation for direct or indirect attacks on states but not for expeditionary adventures overseas. Pre-emptive military action will be increasingly unpopular. The removal of the brutal regional dictator was based on a gross distortion; Hans Blix was humiliated in the run-up to the war and once the US was intent on toppling Saddam, Blair was eager to follow. A true leader would have shouted stop, a strong one would have advised his ally not to proceed the way they did; a weak leader, as in this instance, merely followed and provided a diplomatic veneer to a military action.
Another bitter legacy of the Iraq war has been Al Qaeda successfully dragging the US and Britain into the recruiting grounds of the Middle East. The radicalisation of Pakistanis, Afghanis and Iraqis continues apace. The vile acts of terrorism in Iraq were wholly foreseeable and the US presence in Afghanistan now has Osama Bin Laden licking his lips in anticipation of future nihilist recruits joining his medieval cause. Al Qaeda could not believe their luck when the US and Britain invaded Iraq. This will become a long and exhausting war between the West and Islamic Fundamentalism. The invasion of Iraq was a boon to Osama Bin Laden and his global strategy.
The authority of the United Nations was greatly diminished in the events preceding the war in Iraq. A sham diplomatic process in the run-up to invasion made the UN look extraneous to events. Diplomats phones were bugged, countries bribed and threatened and the full might of Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Corps was prostrated in a futile attempt to gain UN sanction for invasion. The United Nations may be in need of systemic reform but it did provide an mechanism for negotiation. However the way it was used as a shibboleth in 2002/2003 left it looking weak, used and full of hot-air; the US and Britain drove a coach and horses through the diplomatic process.
The irony of Britain going hand-in-hand with the US is that this act of fealty may weaken long-term strategic relationships. Future Prime Ministers will be a lot less willing to enter into ad-hoc alliances with the US based on disputed evidence. For advocates of a joined-at-the hip approach, this must be particularly galling. Tony Blair surely isn’t as inwardly certain about the outcomes stemming from the decisions he made; if he is, then this is truly worrying.