Chilcot – first thoughts

Well, the Report is out at last, and by all accounts it isn’t at all the ‘whitewash’ that cynics were predicting. It really lays into Blair, confirming what I and the majority of historians and commentators had been saying almost from the start of the Iraq war. Two initial comments:

First. It didn’t require ‘hindsight’ to foretell what would be the war’s result and aftermath. That’s what Blair repeatedly claims. In fact Chilcot shows that experts in the fields of intelligence and Middle Eastern studies – and he could have added the history of imperialism – were warning him and Bush of the dangers at the time, pretty accurately. Blair chose to allow his own ‘instincts’ to override them. I imagine he’d go along with Michael Gove on this: ‘people in this country have had enough of experts’. On the contrary, in 2003 they (we) could have prevented a calamity.

Second. Blair’s sincerity is probably beyond question when he claims – ad nauseam, including in his uncomfortable press conference this afternoon – that he went to war because he thought it was ‘the right thing to do’. But that didn’t prevent the war’s being a disaster. What should be criticised here is not his motives, but his judgment. He doesn’t understand this; thinks that if he can square his motives with his ‘God’ then everything’s OK. But it’s not. One of the main themes in my British Imperial. What the Empire Wasn’t (2016) is that maleficent effects don’t need to be malevolently meant. ‘Harm can be done with the best of intentions’ (p.185). You don’t need to prove Blair was bad in order to believe he was wrong. Whether this affects the question of whether or not he should be charged as a ‘war criminal’ is a moot point. Do motives count?

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