The parallels between the reaction to Chilcot and Brexit ought to worry us. In spite of 2.6 million words which show that Blair believed the intelligence he was given, those who had already decided he was lying maintain it is so. Evidence? Experts? They don’t need those things, they have feelings, they are that most coveted of modern phenomena – ‘victims’. Chilcot thinks Blair should have challenged the Intelligence reports, but omits to specify on what grounds? Imagine for a moment that, as the Intelligence said, Saddam still had WMDs (he had had them, he had lied about having them, and he had used them in the past) and Blair had refused to believe it – and Saddam used them. Can you imagine what Blair’s critics would have said about his hubris in ignoring what every expert had warned him about? So, the experts were wrong? That happens sometimes, experts are just that, people with experience using their best judgment; they are not the Pope pronouncing on matters of faith and morals.
As someone who is on record as saying Blair was not to be trusted, I am mildly amused at the outrage with which his former true devotees have turned on him; they invested their emotions in him and he let them down, so they have turned on him. This is the nemesis of the politics of touchy-feeliness. Politicians are not your friend, or your lover (usually) or the Messiah. They are fallible human beings doing the best they can with imperfect information. If you want perfection and the right decision every time, follow Jesus, not Tony, or Jeremy or anyone else.
It is clear that the Ministry of Defence was poor at supplying our troops with what they needed. Who would have believed it? Anyone who had studied the logistics of the old War Office and the MoD from the campaigns of Marlborough’s war, through the Napoleonic and Crimean Wars, and into the two World Wars of the last century. Anyone who believes that ‘lessons have been learned’ deserves a medal for optimism – and a crash course in reality. The consequences of this repeated failure are always the same, men die who ought not to have done. Wars cost lives, and they should not be undertaken lightly or ill-advisedly, and that is what has created the most resentment – the feeling that the Iraq war was undertaken in such a manner. It seems uncertain from the evidence that this was the case – but in our contemporary politics, feelings will outweigh evidence; ironic that the man who profited most from that style, Tony Blair, should now be its chief victim.
What do we know that we did not know before a fortune was spent on Chilcot? Nothing. The USA was seen by Britain as a vitally important ally whom it was important to support; America was not willing to go for a second UN resolution and was not going to wait for one because Britain wanted it it; the balance of power within the Special Relationship was as unequal as it always had been. America brought 95% of the military assets to the war, so it got to call the shots. Rumsfeld and the Necons were ideologues with no understanding of the realities of Iraq and too great a confidence in their own ability to shape a new reality; Britain was pulled along in their wake. Blair did a great job of obfuscating these realities and of posing as a vital ally playing a key role; this came back to bite him.
What we also know is that despite the hysteria on Left and Right, Blair did not lie. He believed the evidence and he did that lawyer/rhetorician thing of convincing his colleagues and the Commons that he was right. This is called politics. Those, such as myself, who disagreed with him at the time, saw that that was what he was doing, he did it on so many issues that his followers voted him back into No. 10 thrice. Perhaps those who did that are venting their guilty conscience by using him as the scapegoat for their own shortcomings? In continuing to deny the evidence of the experts and insisting that their former hero was lying, they are, ironically, doing what Brexiteers did, and continue to do, which is what Rumsfeld and co. did – substitute their own version of reality for reality itself. Best of luck to us all with that. As Clemenceau said of Woodrow Wilson’s plans at Versailles: “Wilson has his 14 points, God has his ten commandments – we shall see.” We did then, and we shall now.