There is a fine piece of analysis published at Chris Dillow’s blog on the nature of honesty and the individual in politics.
Dillow takes the protestors at the Chilcot Inquiry on Friday to task. He argues the chants of Bliar show public expectations of honesty in politicians are unrealistic. I’d agree with him.
Political life sometimes demands equivocations, evasions and obfuscation to allow behind the scenes negotation to take place. This was certainly true of the attempts to manifacture a consensus for a second UN resolution before invading Iraq. In this behaviour, Blair was no different than any other politician faced with a dilemma.
But, as Dillow notes, most truly meaningful criticism of what Blair’s government about Iraq related to allegations that the war was a bad idea, badly executed. Complaints about Blair’s honesty, or lack of it, are really just by-product of this*. Equally, this is why the arguments over the legality of the invasion of Iraq are so much more important.
What Blair did during the period 2001-2003 was to apply many different justifications for the desired invasion. This was confusing to the public and made the process look a planned war searching for any excuse to justify it. (We have since had it confirmed this was so.)
At Chilcot on Friday, in between grandstanding and muddying the detail as much as possible with talk of bold global strategy, Blair was candid, or cynical, enough to admit his desire for regime change. Whether he actually believed this at the time of controversy – or had simply promised things to George Bush he found he could not deliver – we shall never know.
Whatever his actual belief at the time he did not find a way to successfully talk about it to the public. Any honesty about his strategic beliefs would have been welcome, even from those of us who did not agree with him or what was planned. There would have been space for a straighter debate (not least in parliament) instead of the evasions, equivocations and obfuscations we got, all of which fuelled the protests and the controversy about the eventual invasion.
Practically, and after the failure to get the second UN resolution, desperation set in and in the search for an existing justification pressure was applied to the Attorney General Peter Goldsmith who was weak.
He was exposed by the flaw in the system and the idea that the senior independent law officer serving the government can also be a minister and on the government payroll at the same time. In this dodgy context, legally dubious things became possible because Peter Goldsmith was persuadable despite his own first legal opinion.
*Of course, Blair had a lot of form including the £1m gift to delay the TV tobacco ban from F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone.