Blair at the Inquiry

by Chris Ames

Tony Blair is apparently already at the Inquiry. The papers this morning are full of wishful thinking. As far as the promised tougher questions are concerned, and the evidence, I suggest that we will believe it when we see it.

The Financial Times (subscription) says that:

Tony Blair has been served scores of searching and detailed questions ahead of his second appearance at the Iraq inquiry on Friday, in an indication of the more forensic approach expected at the hearing.

Scores of these questions have been sent to Mr Blair ahead of the hearing – an attempt to elicit some more precise answers from a formidable public speaker whose “big picture” responses last year infuriated some panel members.

One Whitehall source familiar with the inquiry predicted the tone would “certainly” be different. “They’re going for him this time,” he said. “It is going to be much tougher.”

In the Daily Mail, a Mac cartoon has Blair saying: “I promise to tell the truth, the edited truth and nothing harmful to me about the truth…”, which is very pertinent in the light of this week’s developments and Blair’s own admission that he deliberately gave at least on incomplete answer last time.

In the Guardian, Philippe Sands lists the questions that Blair should face, while BBC correspondent Peter Biles suggests some questions which the Chilcot committee may want to ask.

The Guardian’s leader, to which I should declare a small contribution, strongly disagrees with the decision, which seems to go back to Blair, to prevent the panel publishing and quoting from Blair’s promises to George Bush:

Secrecy makes the committee’s tough task tougher. But they have read the papers and so must exploit them in their questions, following the forensic lead Sir Roderic Lyne has given on a panel that lacks legal expertise. Why, for instance, does one still-secret paper reportedly record Mr Blair agreeing with Mr Bush that he did not need a second UN resolution, at a moment when London’s official position remained that one was necessary? And why were any promises made at all while parliament was still being told that no decision had been taken?

The answers today will deploy rhetoric about the war being a decision, and not a deceit. The questions must move beyond it, and interrogate the real possibility that it was in both.

34 comments to this article

  1. barb bishop

    on January 21, 2011 at 9:00 am -

    Must be reeling from rehearsing scores of detailed and searching questions in 4 hours.
    6 mins maximum per question? Cheer up all, panel must have machine guns.

  2. Iain Paton

    on January 21, 2011 at 9:34 am -

    Blair does not look happy. Questions put to Blair in writing seem comprehensive – at first glance.

  3. Iain Paton

    on January 21, 2011 at 9:41 am -

    Blair disagrees with the eminent Sir Stephen Wall, and to be blunt, sounds slightly deranged.

  4. Iain Paton

    on January 21, 2011 at 9:48 am -

    ‘Rest of the cabinet’ discussed the PLP briefing paper, not the Options Paper released. Point being pressed that there couldn’t be a full discussion of the options paper.

    Blair acknowledges two options of ‘containment’ or ‘regime change’.

  5. Iain Paton

    on January 21, 2011 at 9:50 am -

    Blair is waffling and generalising.

  6. Iain Paton

    on January 21, 2011 at 9:53 am -

    Blair – ‘many ways to effect regime change’

    Question – ‘but internal papers had ruled out regime change other than by military action’

  7. Iain Paton

    on January 21, 2011 at 10:03 am -

    Blair can’t answer a single question of detail and is generalising all the way.

  8. barb bishop

    on January 21, 2011 at 10:09 am -

    Ludricous so far. Ludricous. Amazing. Who woulda thought Sir Rod would be making an idiot of himself? TB can’t stop himself from smiling. This is not how it was the4 first time he4b gave evidence..

  9. Iain Paton

    on January 21, 2011 at 10:09 am -

    Blair’s policy – ‘people were testing it all the time’ – he points to Robin Cook! That only leaves Clare Short.

    Churchill, a leader Blair perhaps aspires to, had any number of crazy ideas. He allowed the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Alanbrooke, to rein him in on most occasions. Would Blair have even allowed this to happen?

  10. Iain Paton

    on January 21, 2011 at 10:11 am -

    Lyne is not making an idiot of himself. He’s asking on what basis the Cabinet took collective responsibility…the Parliamentary Labour Party paper?

  11. Iain Paton

    on January 21, 2011 at 10:12 am -

    Another point, which they will presumably come to, is when the Cabinet collectively agreed a second resolution was not necessary, and what advice they received? We know the answer to that, of course.

  12. Chris Ames

    on January 21, 2011 at 10:15 am -

    It seems Iain that some people like waffle and evasion. Surely the point is that it is for Blair to answer the specific questions. If he wants to waffle and generalise…

  13. Iain Paton

    on January 21, 2011 at 10:24 am -

    …then write a memoir?

  14. Iain Paton

    on January 21, 2011 at 10:27 am -

    After 9/11 ‘we need to decide whether we were going to be changemakers or managers’? What planet is this guy on?

    Was 9/11 the first ever grave international crisis?

    ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ is not a new phenomenon either…the Mahdi uprising of the late 19th Century, for example.

  15. barb bishop

    on January 21, 2011 at 10:34 am -

    Never expected TB would be firing like this. My.gosh. Sir Rod asks the big ambush question, completely stuffs it with a long preamble, and before long TB has a routedf Sir Rod laughing in retreat; then Chilcot, then baroness and rest of panel too.

    We are seeing TB at the height of his powers. Boy is he going to give them a burst on Iran.

  16. Iain Paton

    on January 21, 2011 at 10:38 am -

    Blair admits he suppressed the letter to Bush.

    He is pressed by Chilcot on the ‘sweeping’ opening line.

    Chilcot presses Blair on the inconsistency between his claim that ‘no blank cheque was offered to the Americans’ and the content of the ‘letter to Bush’ plus what Blair apparently said to commentator and author Andrew Rawnsley. Ouch!

  17. Iain Paton

    on January 21, 2011 at 10:50 am -

    There are various comments in the wider media on this. Some point to Blair batting away easy lobs from the Inquiry, which I don’t quite agree with. The last week has seen a flurry of disclosure which fills in much of the jigsaw, excepting including the ‘Letter to Bush’. This is different from last year when the picture was much more obscure, so anything batted up in the air needs to come down at some point.

    One of the most interesting takes:

    BBC political correspondent Ross Hawkins says: Sir John Chilcot suggests Tony Blair’s statement that he did not offer the US a “blank cheque” by way of British support was not consistent with what he told the US President; a key allegation against Mr Blair.

    Mandarin speak for lying?

    Chilcot repeats his disappointment that the note apparently cannot be disclosed, for the record, a dig at Blair, who is ‘not hiding behind the Cabinet Secretary’.

  18. barb bishop

    on January 21, 2011 at 11:02 am -

    Heh, heh, Sky finds the one thing the panel got him on – no record of cabinet options papers going to cabinet. Close up TB’s thumb shaking. Hilarious. Hi8larious.

    So far pqanel hasn’t got far on the Goldsmith question either, which going in I thought would be the most challenging issue. Maybe panel will do better next session.

    Chris Ames, I hope TB sends you a copy of all his public statements on the desirability of regime change that he is gonna supply panel. Might be quite a tome.

  19. Iain Paton

    on January 21, 2011 at 11:24 am -

    Roderick Lyne on inconsistencies between AG’s view on ‘unreasonable veto’ and Blair’s statement to Parliament.

    Blair…’I was making a political point.’ Is this is what they call misleading Parliament?

  20. Iain Paton

    on January 21, 2011 at 11:51 am -

    ‘Inspectors had effectively left…’

    They were pulled because of Desert Fox bombing as I recall.

    In response to pressure from Freedman over Blix’s upbeat assessment, Blair is saying that no level of co-operation from Iraq would have been enough, because of a perceived future risk, once the troops had come back down the hill. That is effectively his justification.

  21. Phomesy

    on January 21, 2011 at 11:55 am -

    Probably time you apoplogised and made restitution to Mr Blair, Mr Ames.

    It’s the only decent thing to do.

  22. Iain Paton

    on January 21, 2011 at 12:49 pm -

    The American timetable had its own driving factors. One was the window for high-intensity war-fighting, especially in IPE/MOPP, during summer months. Other was the upcoming US electoral timetable..assume ground campaign of 3-6 months plus a further period of occupation before ‘mission accomplished’.

    Blair can argue his ‘regime change’ philosophy as strongly as he wishes, but the problem is that this is not the case that was made for war, which had initially WMD then UN co-operation as the causes for war. Ironically, his approach to regime change in 2003 has made the world far more dangerous and future coercive action (or regime change) very unlikely.

  23. Iain Paton

    on January 21, 2011 at 1:08 pm -


    Blair appointed Goldsmith as AG as a peer, to have a professional lawyer as AG, but did not include him in Iraq resolution discussions, ignored his ‘provisional’ advice, and didn’t even mention these to Bush?

    Difficult to see how Blair can escape from this without severe damage to his credibility, despite his self-assurance and refusal to release the notes to Bush.

  24. Iain Paton

    on January 21, 2011 at 1:41 pm -

    I suppose the one thing which comes to mind from this unrepentant performance is ‘so what’?

    If all this had been known in 2005, Blair would have had to resign.

  25. Iain Paton

    on January 21, 2011 at 1:45 pm -

    Sir Roderick Lyne hits the nail on the head right now with regard to the increased risk from Iran and North Korea.

  26. Phomesy

    on January 21, 2011 at 5:06 pm -

    Oh, for goodness sake, stop clutching at straws. Blair showed, once again, that he’s a titan amongst pygmies. So much so that Sky and Beeb News both dropped the coverage at the merest hint of a more interesting story developing.

    What rotten luck for David Cameron that his attempt to bury Coulson’s resignation was scuppered by the media’s swift realisation that the only story coming out of the Iraq inquiry was “Blair proved right – again”.

  27. Iain Paton

    on January 21, 2011 at 5:35 pm -


    Incidentally, I think Coulson’s timing came on the back of Alan Johnston’s resignation rather than Blair.

  28. Phomesy

    on January 21, 2011 at 5:55 pm -

    Don’t be silly. Why on earth would the Tories interrupt the Johnston news cycle with their own scandal?

  29. Iain Paton

    on January 21, 2011 at 6:51 pm -

    There isn’t much of a Johnson news cycle, to be honest….the unhappy story is of limited news interest, other than to right-wing bloggers speculating if Balls was somehow behind it. It’s possible to conspire further and wonder if Johnson stood down to coincide with Blair.

  30. chris lamb

    on January 21, 2011 at 7:41 pm -

    Has anybody appreciated the complete nonsense of Blair’s ploy about the provisionality of Goldsmith’s legal advice?

    The declassified note by Goldsmith to Blair dated 30 November 2003 refers to his legal thoughts up to then as being “provisional” but which had now hardened into the position;

    “You should be aware that, notwithstanding the additional arguments put to me since our last discussion, I remain of the view that the correct legal interpretation of resolution 1441 is that it does not authorize the use of military force without a further determination by the Security Council.”

    It seems that the hapless Attorney General found his erstwhile confident assertions persistently reduced to a provisional pap until his “advice” exactly mirror-imaged Blair’s position.

    Significantly, Blair did not elaborate on how the “negotiating history” after January 30 2003 brought about alterations in the wording and meaning of the Operational Paragraphs of 1441 sufficient to warrant a sea change in the Attorney General’s advice on legality of military force. There was, in fact, no change to the key wording of OPs 4, 11 and 12 in the draft which required reports of non-co-operation/compliance to be made by the UN weapons inspectorates to the Security Council and for the Council to assess any further material breach by Iraq prior to any question of military force.

  31. chris lamb

    on January 21, 2011 at 8:04 pm -

    Also of interest, Michael Mansfield QC interview with Channel 4 News today in which he suggests that a sufficient case can be presented for prosecuting Blair (and others?) under breaches of international humanitarian law due to mass civilian deaths and (ongoing) casualties caused by the weaponry used- eg. cluster bombs and white phosphorous.

  32. Iain Paton

    on January 21, 2011 at 9:14 pm -

    According to a Scottish blogger, Blair checks with lawyers whenever he travels abroad, to make sure there won’t be an attempt to arrest him.

    Cluster bombs get a lot of attention…artillery is ignored by comparison. It was all part of ‘effects based warfare’….1,500 cluster bombs compared with 6,000 artillery rounds fired by British forces alone.

    Iraq Body Count has more details. Sobering reading….this is the ‘blood price’ paid by Iraqi civilians.

    Mansfield may be onto something. If causus belli was disarmament, then bombardment of cities would potentially be disproportionate. The battle for Fallujah is a case in point….Marine commanders didn’t want to do it, and they were told to…not much different from the Vietnam War era battle for Hue in terms of military and civilian casualties.

  33. Iain Paton

    on January 21, 2011 at 9:21 pm -

    what about the failure to clear unexploded ordnance? These things have a failure rate of around 10% to 15%. Would this not be a duty of an occupying power? The IBC stories about dead children are utterly horrific.