John Kampfner is an author, broadcaster, and commentator, specializing in UK politics, international affairs, media, and human rights issues. He is also the director of the Creative Industries Federation. His latest book, The Rich, was released in October.
The real indictment of Blair is not that he was a liar or a crook, but that he was a charlatan in foreign affairs. That is why he was so upset with Blair's Wars, and why, I assume, it's banned at Guantánamo.
By the end of 2014, maybe—just maybe—we'll know more. The Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War should have published its findings four years ago. It has been forced to delay—possibly now until after the next general election—because of one of those classic nudge-nudge wink-wink deals that the British Establishment is so adept at making. The official reason is that the Cabinet Office is still deliberating how much damage will be caused by publishing emails that reveal the extent of Tony Blair's desperation to please George W. Bush.
The calculation (not from Chilcot himself, it must be said, who is less than chuffed at the delay) is that the more the report is pushed back, the less impact it will have. I suspect that the spooks are right. The report will produce a one- or two-day media frenzy (depending partly on what else is around at the time) and then that will be that. David Cameron, if he's still in power, will utter portentous "never again" words; he will vouch that Whitehall has learned from the mistakes that were made and everyone will move on.
For the first few years after the war, it was so very different, so very fraught. Of the many questions surrounding our former Prime Minister's behavior, one stands out. Indeed I was asked it, not by Chilcot, but by a previous inquiry chaired by Lord Butler, a former top-ranking civil servant: "Do you think he lied?" Just like that: those very words. Strange to admit that, even though I'd spent time prepping for the session, I stumbled and mumbled. With hindsight, I'm not too bothered that I did. The issue is a red herring. Blair was determined to believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and so he believed it and set about convincing others to believe it too. He made his own truth.
The terrible sadness for all the victims of Iraq, civilians and allied soldiers, is that this was a campaign pursued by one man seeking revenge (Bush) and another who had acquired a penchant for fighting the good fight (Blair). It was a campaign devoid of sensible planning, coherent purpose and knowledge of the region. Now all the cheerleaders have dispersed, only the wildest Blair-groupies (and there are one or two stragglers left) would deny that Iraq is set to go down as one of the great blunders of modern history.
When in 2000-01 I first thought of writing a book about Blair's foreign policy, I feared it might turn into a dry study. For sure, the ever-so-popular PM (he was then) had deployed troops to Kosovo and Sierra Leone; he had joined the Americans in launching air strikes on Saddam Hussein in 1998, but foreign policy was still seen as an offshoot of his government's activities.
The events of 9/11 changed all that. Bush was a man on a mission and Blair was desperate not to be left behind. At the presidential ranch in Crawford, Texas, Blair gave his buddy his word that come what may he was with him—a full 11 months before the invasion. From that point, it was just a matter of creating the "narrative." When Blair's Wars was published, back in autumn of 2003, the Crawford deal was one of its revelations. Somewhat unconvincing efforts were made to deny it. The spin doctors also said it wasn't the case that Jack Straw and others around Blair were offered a "workaround" by the US administration. They were told, even on the eve of war, that they didn't need to go in. The Americans could do the job on their own.
These facts, and many more, will soon have another airing. A few further details of who-said-what-to-whom will be unearthed, but most of the jigsaw is already in place. One wonders why the Guantánamo authorities are still so bothered by my book. Everyone long ago figured out what happened.