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Tony Blair and Brexit – the man deserves a hearing

July 17, 2017

A couple of days ago Tony Blair, one of Britain’s longest-serving prime ministers, published a statement on his website arguing in favour of a re-think on Brexit. It was coherent and well-argued, as you would expect from a former lawyer and politician whose communication skills put those of the current crop of British political leaders in the shade.

As far as this reader is concerned, he was preaching to the converted. Others, including the influential London Times journalist Sathnam Sanghera, heartily endorsed his views on Twitter. But plenty of others didn’t, not because of the arguments themselves, but because they think Blair is a war criminal.

The thought process presumably goes that if a person is a war criminal, nothing they have to say about anything is worth considering. Which would probably have surprised the Americans, who happily employed Werner von Braun to design the US space program despite his dubious past as the creator of the V2 rocket, built with armies of slave labour.

But Blair has never been convicted of war crimes by any jury under British or international law. While it’s true that there are many people who would like him – and George W Bush – to be put on trial, that hasn’t happened and is unlikely to in the future.

So if I believe in the rule of law and my country’s justice system, I have to regard him as innocent until proven guilty. What’s more, I accept that his actions in taking us to war with Iraq in 2003 were based on good faith. Not a very fashionable view in blame-obsessed 2017, I know.

I also accept that for all the reasons that were endlessly chewed over in the Chilcot Report and elsewhere, the venture was a disastrous mistake, not only in its execution but in the subsequent administration of Iraq.

Fourteen years on, there are plenty of people who say they opposed the war from the start, but not so many who admit that thought it was the right course of action. In the same way, you would have been hard pushed to find many British people after the Second World War who would admit that they supported appeasement. My father was certainly one of those people who applauded Neville Chamberlain when he returned from his meeting with Hitler in 1938 with a piece of paper that allowed the Fuhrer to dismember Czechoslovakia in return for “peace in our time”.

I will happily confess that I supported the decision to go to war with Saddam Hussain. Not because I bought into the neoconservative guff about bringing democracy to the Middle East, but because I thought that Saddam was murderous thug who killed his own people and would continue to do so if given the opportunity. And I didn’t buy into the argument that it was all about the oil. Whatever the motive, knocking an evil bastard off his perch was fine by me.

How wrong I was, and how wrong Blair and Bush were. And how gloriously clear hindsight is. If calculating the extent of political and military errors is a numbers game – how many Saddam killed versus how many died as the result of the invasion and all the horrible events thereafter – the wrongness of what happened is an open and shut case.

It didn’t appear so at the time. A man who had actively sought nuclear and chemical weapons, and who had gassed thousands of his own people, was a menace who had to be stopped.

Anyway, there it is. Mea culpa. Nobody in their right mind would have taken Saddam out in the knowledge that his overthrow would trigger a vicious civil war, cost hundreds of thousands of lives, and lead to the instability that leached across Iraq’s borders into Syria and beyond.

But how much of the responsibility for the subsequent chaos can you lay at Tony Blair’s door? Was he responsible for Iran’s manipulation of the newly-empowered Shia, for the oppression in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya that blew like an exploding pressure cooker in 2011? Was it his fault that the blundering Bush administration slavishly followed the de-Nazification policy after WW2, and disbanded the one organisation that could have maintained some semblance of order in the shattered Iraqi state? Did he ignite the subsequent wars in Libya and Syria?

Iraq 2003 was certainly a way point in the sequence of events that led to Mosul and Raqqa, but it was by no means the starting point. For that you need to look much further back.

I doubt if anyone who blames Blair for all the consequences of the 2003 invasion could be persuaded to take notice of what he says on Brexit. Which is a shame, because what he says makes plenty of sense.

In my humble opinion, it’s time to forgive him for his huge mistake, just as the British public eventually forgave Winston Churchill for the disastrous Gallipoli campaign that cost thousands of British, Australian and New Zealand lives. I’m not comparing him with the hallowed Winston, but there are few politicians still on the stage with Tony Blair’s stature and experience.

Whether we like him or not, the least we can do is to consider his arguments on their merits, rather than dismiss them on the basis of the biggest mistake of his life.

I know there are plenty of people who share my views on many political issues, but probably not this one. So be it.

From → Middle East, Politics, UK, USA

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