Today on al-Jazeera TV, Blair agreed with interviewer David Frost that the invasion of Iraq had "so far been pretty much of a disaster". A somewhat tactless admission, given all the lies he's told to Parliament, the public--to pretty much everybody who would listen. Yet this statement has a verisimilitude that will be hard to dismiss, like Cheney's evil chortling that "dunking" prisoners is a "no-brainer".
And just for added fun, Blair's cabinet minister for Trade and Industry gave a private speech in which she slammed him for his dishonesty and "moral imperialism" in Iraq, which she called a "big mistake". She added, "I hope this isn't being reported."
The British newspapers are having a field day with these stories. Here is The Guardian, and The Independent, and The Times. From the Guardian:
Tony Blair conceded last night that western intervention in Iraq had been a disaster. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, the Arabic TV station, the prime minister agreed with the veteran broadcaster Sir David Frost when he suggested that intervention had "so far been pretty much of a disaster".
Mr Blair said: "It has, but you see, what I say to people is, 'why is it difficult in Iraq?' It's not difficult because of some accident in planning, it's difficult because there's a deliberate strategy - al-Qaida with Sunni insurgents on one hand, Iranian-backed elements with Shia militias on the other - to create a situation in which the will of the majority for peace is displaced by the will of the minority for war."
We knew that the strain of keeping up appearances would grow too much for Mr Blair. Sooner or later, like Cheney and Bush before him, Blair would make the mistake of blurting out the truth. Nice job at recovering...'we planned for this out the wazoo, so this "disaster" thingee is the fault of the natives who didn't play along.'
Downing Street tried to downplay the apparent slip. "I think that's just the way in which he answers questions," said a spokesman. "His views on Iraq are documented in hundreds of places, and that is not one of them."
Won't do much good trying to distract attention, I think; Blair admitted it's "pretty much a disaster", that's what everybody has been waiting to hear him admit, and journalists are now going to run with it. So will his political rivals.
John McDonnell, the leftwing MP who has pledged to challenge for Labour's leadership, said the prime minister's concession was "staggering" and urged him to bring forward Britain's exit strategy.
And here's more from the Independent:
[Blair's] admission was seized on by opponents of the war last night and will revive demands for the Government to call an independent inquiry into what went wrong in Iraq since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Sir Menzies Campbell, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: "At long last the enormity of the decision to take military action against Iraq is being accepted by the Prime Minister. It could hardly be otherwise as the failure of strategy becomes so clear."
He added: "If the Prime Minister accepts that it is a 'disaster' then surely Parliament and the British people, who were given a flawed prospectus, are entitled to an apology."
You think we could get one of those apologies over here in the U.S., too? It will be interesting to see if this story turns into a media swarm in Britain. The Lib Dems are ideally positioned to keep the heat turned up, as the main anti-war party. And they don't call Campbell 'Ming the merciless' for nothing. He relishes every opportunity to embarrass the Blair government.
Anyway, Blair's government is doing a pretty tidy job of embarrassing itself today. Here's a parallel story about the statements of the Trade and Industry Minister tearing Blair apart for his Iraq policy. From The Independent:
Margaret Hodge has become the first serving minister openly to attack the Iraq war after describing it as Tony Blair's "big mistake in foreign affairs", adding that he was a man who was driven by "moral imperialism".
It is the first time that a minister has been directly quoted as attacking the Iraq war, although others are known to believe privately that it was a serious mistake....
Mrs Hodge, the Industry minister, told members of the Islington Fabian Society, a pressure group within the Islington Labour Party, that she had had doubts about Tony Blair's foreign policies since 1998 [because of his belief in imposing British values and ideas on other countries]. Challenged by one of the dinner guests about why, in that case, she had voted in favour of sending British troops into Iraq, she replied that she had accepted Mr Blair's claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction because "he was our leader and I trusted him".
Aware of the implications of what she was saying, Mrs Hodge added: "I hope this isn't going to be reported."
Yesterday, the minister denied making the comments attributed, which appeared on the front page of the Islington Tribune, a free newspaper. The story was unsigned, but was written by the newspaper's editor/proprietor Eric Gordon, who was described by a fellow journalist as "a hack of some repute, who knows a story and knows what is reportable".
Nice, that last bit. Gordon, you see, happened to be at the dinner, so yes as it turns out, it was going to be reported.
Anyway, the implication is clear: a minister within Blair's government thinks he lied about the grounds for invading Iraq. It doesn't help Blair that he and Mrs. Hodge are old friends.
What is the White House's view about Tony Blair? At the top of their slow-moving propaganda apparatus is a churlish rant against the American news media for having suggested that Blair's views on Iraq were diverging from those of George Bush. Here is the point that we're supposed to take away:
Prime Minister Blair's Policy Is Not New And Is Similar To President Bush's Policy
It's actually underlined in the original. Problem is, the WH makes its point by contrasting the coverage of Blair's comments earlier this week with the coverage given to them by British newspapers. The implication: That the British media gets things right, while American journalists merely give vent to their own biases and parade their stupidity.
So, here's a hint all you biased, stupid American reporters: Take this British story and run with it. It's been vetted by the best in the business, and according to the White House, your job is to transcribe what the Brits are saying.
Oh, and here's another assignment for you. Check out the White House's domestic propaganda website in all its glory. What the heck is this all about, anyhow?
Carne Ross told MPs the intelligence presented to the public about weapons of mass destruction was "manipulated".
He also added that "the proper legal advice from the Foreign office on the legality of the war was ignored".
Mr Blair has always defended the war's legality and the Butler inquiry said there was no evidence of "deliberate distortion" of intelligence on WMD....
His Butler testimony concluded that the invasion had been unlawful, he told the MPs in a separate, written submission. It also accused the government of misleading the public over the threat posed by Saddam, and of failing to consider alternatives to military action.
Speaking in public for the first time since he left the diplomatic service two years ago, Mr Ross also confirmed suspicions that the Prime Minister made up his mind months before the Iraq invasion in March 2003 that the war was going to happen and British troops would take part. Mr Ross said when he was serving in the embassy in Afghanistan, as early as April 2002, British officials there knew troops were being held back in readiness for the Iraq invasion.
He claimed that when official documents from the Foreign Office are made public, they will prove that the view of British officials, repeatedly conveyed to the Americans, was that overthrowing Saddam Hussein would cause chaos.
He told MPs: "I took part in the bilateral discussion between the State Department and the Foreign Office for four years. One of the items repeatedly on the agenda was regime change. Whenever that item came up, the leader of our delegation would say, with emphasis: 'We do not believe regime change is a good idea in Iraq. The reason we do not believe that is because we believe Iraq will break up and there will be chaos if you do that'. That view will have been recorded in the telegrams that have remained secret, and will do for years. That was emphatically the unified view of the Foreign Office.
"That view changed in mid-2002. There was no basis for changing the view from what was going on inside Iraq. What changed was our view of what the future policy would be."
The more that is published, the more the issues blur.
But the memo is the goods. It establishes Bush's resolve to find a pretext for war, regardless of the facts on WMD and Saddam's links to terrorism. It further makes plain that there was little or no thinking about the postwar period, an error that now must be regarded as equal to or greater than the invasion. No surprise is expressed in Rycroft's account of the meeting about what was going on in America, which leads one to assume that among a very small group, the idea of invasion was a fully fledged possibility, even though Blair was assuring the public and cabinet colleagues outside the inner circle that nothing had been decided.
There was much more in the original Sunday Times report on the meeting. Jack Straw and Lord Goldsmith had doubts about the legal case for war, while Blair was committed from the outset to supporting US plans for regime change. At the time, no one seems to have remembered what Tony Blair had said in his evidence to Lord Butler's report into the intelligence on WMD, published eight months before the memo came to light. Blair said: 'I remember that during the course of July and August, I was increasingly getting messages saying, "Are you about to go to war?" and I was thinking, "This is ridiculous" and so I remember towards the end of the holiday actually phoning Bush and saying we have got to put this right straight away... we've not decided on military action.'
If not a direct lie, it is hardly the truth.
A report of that meeting appears in Butler, but nowhere is the memo mentioned, even though I now understand that Lord Butler's committee of four privy councillors saw the memo and understood its significance. How was such damning evidence put to one side? The answer seems to be that the head of MI6's report on the thinking in Washington was not regarded as relevant to a review of British intelligence on weapons of mass destruction.
New information passed to this paper suggests that the construction of the intelligence case for war may be pushed right back to the winter of 2002, when, in February, members of the Joint Intelligence Committee were tasked to find out if there was evidence of a link between al-Qaeda and Saddam's regime in Iraq. No one can dispute that in the months following 9/11, this was an entirely proper area of inquiry for the new head of the JIC, John Scarlett. However, even though no evidence had been found, the JIC instructed the intelligence services to go back and find some. This is crucial because it defied what has been described to me as the article of faith in the JIC: that policy should be driven by analysis, not the other way round.
So in Britain, it appears that at a very early stage - 14 months before the war - we were trying to fit intelligence and facts around the policy, just as they were in America. This will not be news to people working with the JIC that year. In the spring of 2002, one individual I have interviewed recalls that he was asked about WMD and Iraq. His interlocutor said: 'There's not much intelligence on that, is there?' He replied that no, there wasn't. 'Oh, they're not going to like that,' said the man at the JIC.
Though one always thinks of Lord Butler as being honest and diligent, the exclusion of the information concerning Saddam and al-Qaeda is very difficult to understand. His report covers assessments by the JIC from before 2002. The possibility that the JIC was tasking agencies to find intelligence to fit policy is surely relevant, even central, to the purpose of his inquiry.
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