Tony Blair, who gave evidence today to an enquiry in London set up to draw lessons from the Iraq disaster, has disappointed many people by refusing to express regret about his decision to go to war. "Unrepentant", "defiant",  "righteous" are some of the inevitable headline words, but they strike the wrong note. Having watched the final two hours of today's six-hour grilling, I think "tormented" better captures his state of mind.

His agony is not that of a man who has done wrong; he doesn't believe he has. "I genuinely believe that if we had left Saddam in power, even with what we know now, we would still have had to deal with him in circumstances when the threat was worse," he told the enquiry under Sir John Chilcot, "and possibly in circumstances when it was hard to mobilise any support for dealing with that threat." His argument throughout the day was that Saddam was a monster whose removal was necessary because of his willingness to manufacture WMD; the fact that no WMD were eventually found has not affected his judgement. "Suppose we backed off," he told the enquiry. "What we now know is that he retained absolutely the intent and intellectual know how to restart a nuclear and chemical weapons programme when weapons ­inspectors were out and the sanctions were changed." This view of Saddam was formed in the aftermath of 9/11; the attack on New York, Blair believed, "changed the calculus of risk". 

But he admitted that the mission came close to failure when Iran and Al-Qaeda exploited Saddam's removal to engage in a brutal strategy of destabilizing Iraq. "If we had known what we know now we would have done things very differently. People didn't think that al-Qaida and Iran would play the role that they did. It was really the external elements of al-Qaida and Iran that really caused this mission very nearly to fail."

Blair admitted to other failings: he said Britain had planned for a non-existent humanitarian disaster in the immediate wake of the invasion, but had not foreseen that the Iraqi state could not function. That's not a small admission. That's not a small failure.

The result of these errors, he did not say -- it didn't need saying -- was a massive loss of human life. You could see how much this weighed on him when one of the commissioners read to him the statistics on the violent deaths of Iraqis month by month over the period 2003-2007. As Blair rightly pointed out, these were not deaths caused by the Coalition but by murderous Islamic fanatics paid for by Iran and trained by Al Qaeda; but he knows that it was the Coalition's failure to ensure security in the post-invasion period which allowed the terrorists to move in so spectacularly.

So what Blair is left with are no regrets over the invasion, but a deep sense of responsibility for its massive human cost. 

That's not an easy place to be.

"I had to take this decision as prime minister," he said today. "It was a huge responsibility then and there is not a single day that passes by that I do not think about that responsibility, and so I should." You knew, watching him, that this was true. It torments him.

I imagine that this came up frequently in his 2007 process of becoming a Catholic. Is there anything you want to tell me? "I took my country into the Iraq war, Father."

He used the word "responsibility" again when asked if he had regrets. "Responsibility – but not a regret for removing Saddam Hussein", he said, to boos from the gallery. "I think he was a monster."

You can deplore his manic self-belief, his sometimes tortured arguments, and his unshakeable conviction. 

But my respect for Blair increased today. It is much easier, in many ways, to repent of something you now regret. How much harder it is to live with the cost of something you still believe was right. We who never faced - -nor will have ever to face --- a decision of that magnitude cannot imagine it. It doesn't make his decision right. But he does not flee the responsibility that came with it, and faces it every day.

Comments

Igor Driker | 4/7/2010 - 12:53pm
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Beth Cioffoletti | 2/1/2010 - 4:39pm
In 2002 there was no hard evidence that Hussein had WMD.  THose who were in a position to know - Dr. Hanx Blix and Scott Ritter - doubted their existence.  Those of us who are mainstream, didn't have a clue whether he had them or not, but we knew that it wasn't a certainty.  Hundreds of thousands of Americans and British citizens publicly marched to oppose the invasion of Irag in the spring of 2002.  I know, I was one of them.
 
Yet using WMD as a reason to declare war, we went into Baghdad with the full force of our weapons and military, destroying their electrical grid, thier water supply, and many of their buildings.  THere was considerable "collateral damage". 
 
Bush and Blair made a HUGE tactical and moral error.  Justifying this pre-emptive war strike means that from now on, the countries with the strongest militaries and weapons, can do whatever they want in the world.  They rule over all of us.
 
At least Tony Blair is now agonizing over that decision.  I hope that he will one day come to realize how very wrong it was, and to publicly regret it.  It would be a turning point in the general acceptance of war as a way to solve international problems.
Beth Cioffoletti | 2/1/2010 - 9:27am
If you can remember, the reason that Bush and Blair gave for the invasion into Iraq was because of the suspicion of WMD.  This was the reason given to Congress to approve the war.  Remember Colin Powell with his satellite photos before the U.N.?  Remember Condeleeza Rice with her talk of the "mushroom cloud"? 
The only person I remember talking about the suffering of the Iraqi people was Kathy Kelly, from Voices of the Wilderness, who, for 10 years had been bringing medicines into Iraq, and pleading for an end to U.S. Sanctions.
Beth Cioffoletti | 2/1/2010 - 9:21am
Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, and the Iraqi people were suffering under his regime, just as they were suffering under the 10 years of sanctions that had been imposed by the US and were not doing any good.
Intelligence now shows that Hussein's hold on his country was not as strong as we suspected.
 
Going to war, taking over another country's government, on the false hunch that they were making WMD, is wrong and immoral.  It is one thing to intervene to save peoples' lives, it is another to dismantle and take over their country.   Justifying pre-emptive war is the end of civilization.
Beth Cioffoletti | 1/30/2010 - 5:07pm
The rush to Shock and Awe conveniently ignored both intelligence and common sense.
Didn't you see the desperate pleas of Scott Ritter and UN inspector Dr. Hans Blix?
 
I saw Ritter on TV several times during the days leading up to war.  Scott Ritter was the UN's top weapons inspector in Iraq until 1998, when he resigned claiming President Clinton was too easy on Saddam. Before the war he said that the dictator didn't seem to have weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and that trying to oust Saddam would be "extremely dangerous."

Hans Blix specifically warned Tony Blair that Iraq might not have WMD.
 
Both Bush and Blair saw what they wanted to see.
 
(How come you don't use your full name, JerryC?)
Anonymous | 1/30/2010 - 1:30pm
I believe there are three characteristics of those who criticize Blair and Bush for what they did in Iraq.  They are hypocrisy, arrogance and ignorance.  That is being kind because I actually believe many of the critics could be malevolent.  And I look at those who shallowly criticize those decisions as having more blood on their hands than those who made the decisions.  It may be the pacifists who have the real blood on their hands.  I believe it was Thucydides who said that weakness is what begets war.
 
 
Someone has to make tough decisions and any decisions may have both short term positive and negative results and the long term will never be known but only speculated on.   Someone should have made a decision in 1937 to stop the imperial ambitions of two countries, Germany and Japan.  That would have saved 40+ million lives but cost a lot of dead in the process, possibly over a million innocent bystanders.  And there would have been the usual suspects saying how useless and stupid such an intervention was as Germany and Japan being sophisticated countries could be negotiated with.  It was just the irrational ambitions of some megalomanic politician who wanted to intervene in the affairs of others.  You cannot point to the 45 million lives saved because that was in a hypothetical future which unfortunately came true.
 
 
I have asked all who criticize the decision to go into Iraq, how do you know there were no WMD's.  They answer with condescension that there were none to be found.  But I answer that had we not gone in, we would not have known that.  And the answer is not quite correct as there were remnants of past programs and the capability to resume the past programs if no intervention was made and sanctions lifted.  The whole world thought Iraq had the weapons and their own people thought they had them.  Saddam Hussein only cooperated grudgingly because he was surrounded by 100,000 US troops and then gave the appearance he was hiding something.  I could just see the 2004 election with a Democrat calling Bush a weakling to engage all those troops and not use them and here we are two years later with the threat of Saddam Hussein's WMDs and probably worst off.  Anyone want to take bets against that scenario?
 
 
Saddam Hussein and his sons were monsters and anyone who studied them know that with that much wealth and that much ill will, there was no good future for that region.  The future was most likely one of three options, radical Islamist government as now exist in Iran, a strongman with ruthless oppressive tactics controlling vast amounts of wealth and military hardware or a democracy that may hopefully persist.  There are some other unlikely options but these were the most likely.  So George Bush and Tony Blair chose to try and establish the third option, the one that might lead to a stable and positive future.  And for that they are vilified and still fought.  
 
 
Does anyone think that Al Qaeda and Iran would have meddled as much if there had been a united front from outside supporting the intervention in Iraq and insisting on a fair distribution of power and wealth.  Instead we had a constant fighting of every decision the coalition made as well as the basis for the intervention itself.  This was a quasi support of Al Qaeda and Iran that gave them moral support and communicated weakness while condoning their financial and logistics support by others.  And this criticism was mainly for political purposes and not for some higher moral purpose. 
 
 
Bush had four enemies he was combating, first the actual radical terrorist who were the source of 9/11, second the malevolent governments in the Middle East that had huge sources of money and were using them for terrorism and destabilizing tactics, third, the left of Europe which will oppose anything a free market, democratically oriented government proposes and then the left in this country which reside mainly in the Democrat party.  
 
 
I personally accuse those who fought the intervention and the attempt at establishing a democratic government as having the real blood on their hands.  If there had been a united front in Europe and in this country there would had been a whole lot less bloodshed.  There would have been the will to make the tough decisions and not one where every thing was subject to criticism for political purposes.  So those who accuse Blair and Bush are the real hypocrites in this debate and are the ones that should look themselves in the mirror as the source of those deaths which they can so emphatically describe.  To me the vilifiers are the evil ones in this scenario.
 
J'ACCUSE.
Anonymous | 1/30/2010 - 3:17am
Iris Murdoch once said that no one wants to cry the tears of the rich; however, wealth does not absent one from the suffering of conscience. Would that we had more men with conscience.
Jacob Ignatius | 1/30/2010 - 2:24am
 

''But my respect for Blair increased today. It is much easier, in many ways, to repent of something you now regret. How much harder it is to live with the cost of something you still believe was right.''
He had the opportunity to say sorry for the massive loss of life yesterday, but there was absolutely no sense of contrition. Oh no, forget about that. He thinks he saved the world from a ''monster''. He took the opportunity to defend his legacy, as any former prime minister or president would. I'm sorry, but as a Christian I find Blair's defiant attitude very disturbing. If every leader in the world was as defiant and righteous as Blair, I dread to think what a horrible place it would be.
''But my respect for Blair increased today. It is much easier, in many ways, to repent of something you now regret. How much harder it is to live with the cost of something you still believe was right.''
Blair had the opportunity to say sorry for the massive loss of life yesterday, but there was absolutely no sense of contrition. Oh no, forget about that. He took the opportunity to defend his legacy, as any former prime minister or president would. I'm sorry, but as a Christian I find Blair's defiant attitude very disturbing. Isn’t repentance and compassion part of a Christian’s duty? If every leader in the world was as righteous and defiant as Blair, I dread to think what a horrible place it would be.

 
Beth Cioffoletti | 1/29/2010 - 6:52pm
Tony Blair's torment is that of the white man who lives in a priveleged world.
Philip Williams | 5/26/2010 - 1:21pm
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Philip Williams | 5/26/2010 - 12:29pm
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