Tony Blair came to the Iraq inquiry with last year’s game plan. Answer questions on his terms. Talk about the big picture, keep it subjective and off the specifics. He may think he did this well. Until he put his foot in his mouth.
We should remember that the panel did not need to pin Blair down on anything. It has the evidence and can draw its own conclusions. Blair had a “final opportunity” to answer their questions and disprove their implications. If he did not do so that was his choice.
The specifics and the evidence, including new evidence published today, are against Blair. The evidence makes clear that he was seeking regime change from an early stage.
Opening questions sought to establish when Blair took the decision to pursue a policy that was likely to lead to war and what part the cabinet played. Martin Gilbert asked exactly when Blair took this decision. Blair waffled and evaded the question.
When it came to the way that Blair kept most of his cabinet out of the loop, the tables were turned. Had the cabinet seen the march 2002 leaked but still officially unpublished, which set out the plan that led to war? Could Blair point to a cabinet discussion of the paper? He could not. So how did Blair expect the cabinet to take an informed view? Blair waffled further, disputing “the notion that people weren’t debating and discussing the issue”. The cabinet knew what the policy was.
But Blair later acknowledged that he had come down against the paper’s option of “toughening containment”, ie on the side of regime change. Strangely, the way toughening containment is described, it looks very much like the option Blair said he was pursuing. The man who co-
on Wednesday that the government pursued this policy for many months afterwards. No wonder people are confused.
After the cabinet secretary – at Blair’s request – blocked disclosure of what Blair told George Bush in the run up to war, chairman John Chilcot put the ball in Blair’s court. Would he discuss what he had said in his discussions with Bush? “I am very content to discuss the basis of them.”
That’s a “no”, then.
When Roderick Lyne asked what Blair had said to Bush in late 2001, Blair could choose his own words. He said, he claimed, that he was “up for the policy … of dealing with this issue”.
ordinated the paper, Tom McKane told the inquiery