Thank God that the Chilcot report was not the whitewash which everyone was expecting. It was a very small comfort to hear Tony Blair squirming in front of John Humphries for a full half hour this morning, but I bet that Blair thinks that the experience amounts to the equivalent of a Christian penance for the thousands of lives pointlessly lost, lies told and countries devastated.
Blair is in a very difficult situation right now. On the one hand he has to appear as sincere as he can about the regrets he has for the way things turned out, but on the other hand, he must be very careful not to let the sincerity be construed as a full-blown apology which would be rightly interpreted as an admission of guilt.
Normally, I find John Humphries a rather irritating interviewer who tends to brow-beat his opponents with constant interruption, but in situations as grave as these he is superb. A quite and modulated voice, giving Blair plenty of scope to run out of ways of denying that what he has said in the past has been misinterpreted, or ways of denying that he failed to consult the Cabinet on all sorts of security issues before the mandate was forced out of them using doctored excerpts of 'highly flawed' intelligence. Some of the key intelligence - the most influential - was given by a man with mental health issues who had aqcuired it by watching Hollywood war films. Unbelievable, but never the less true.
Erstwhile members of his cabinet pointed out that they were not asked to vote on whether or not Saddam be deposed as Blair had suggested, but that they were voting on taking action against the vast stockpiles of chemical weapons which U.S. 'experts' with mental health issues had insisted existed, after the real professional weapons inspectors were told that their job had been prematurely terminated. Funnily enough, I remember this well, even though a week is a long time in politics, as we have been reminded so recently.
Right from the beginning, Blair's voice began to crack, and the satisfying effect of this was amplified by Humphries's calm, contrasting baritone, held in check. Yesterday, when Blair stood up to give his initial reactions to the report, his quaking and tremulous voice was misinterpreted as emotion for the lives lost because of his unconditional support for U.S. foreign policy, but in reality I suspect that he was just under extreme stress.
Let's hope that the stress increases one hundredfold as the implications of the report begin to percolate amongst everyone who has waited so long for it. Good work, Sir John. It was worth it.
Footnote: A journalist who visits Iraq regularly came on after the Blair interview, and she said that all the surving inhabitants who talk to her now, tell her that they would rather have Saddam - bad as he was - back in power, than to have to send their children to school every day, never knowing if they will return home.
I know some Iraqi sisters who were brought up in Bahgdad as friends here in Bath, and the youngest still wakes up in a sweat remembering the allied bombing when the war first broke out.
Their father - now dead - was a minister for Iraq's oil industry, and wanted to get his family out, knowing that life would become impossibly dangerous if they stayed.
He arranged an interview with his boss, Saddam, and was blindfolded, placed in a car and driven around for a long time, then ushered into a room where his blindfold was removed. He was sent into an adjacent room where Saddam was waiting for him, and he did not know if he would get out alive.
"I want to go to England with my family," he said to Saddam.
"Ok. You can go," was the response. He was even allowed to take savings with him to live on here.
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