28 January 2010

Blair-baiting, Suez and Anthony Eden

They keep at it.  Let us call them, “The Blair-Baiting-Three”.  There are others, of course, but these will have to do.

Philippe Sands, giving his unbalanced view on Lord Goldsmith’s evidence, is like a dog without teeth who keeps chewing at the bone.  He will never be satisfied until he gets the answer he wants.  That is not going to happen.  Does he seriously think that Chilcot and his little band of non-lawyers are going to come out and say the war was illegal?

The other day we had Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s lesson in facts and charm.  We have already done that one.

Then we come to John Kampfner, who the hospitable Indy gives acres of space to this morning.  The piece is full of unproven assertions, for example:

We now know beyond reasonable doubt, for example, that Blair committed himself to joining George W Bush in military action to topple Saddam Hussein when the US President hosted his best buddy at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002.

No, we don’t.  Not yet.

Then we get to the conclusion, where Kampfner’s judgement needs to be further questioned:

One man [Blair] bears supreme responsibility for this most ignominious chapter in British foreign policy and political life.

Really.  Kampfner needs to read up on some history.  He should remember Suez.

It was a far more damaging little episode to Britain's status in the world, where it was proved that Eden lied to the Commons over the collusion with the French and Israelis; failed to inform Americans of his cunning plan; and totally disregarded the UN.

Blair is not guilty as charged by the ‘Blair-Baiting Society’ of any of these not-so-small matters.

There is one other little matter.

Eden resigned after Suez, where ill health was sighted.  The truth was rather different.  Furthermore, he wasn't persecuted for the rest of his life, was allowed a relatively peaceful retirement, although Suez haunted him for the rest of his days.  Yes, there was much said and there were critical books published (Keith Kyle’s Suez is the definitive account), but there was no inquiry.  Not one. 

Perhaps we should keep the Suez fiasco in mind while the Blair-baiting continues, and reflect on Eden’s damaging misadventure when the ex-Prime Minister gives his evidence tomorrow.

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  1. I recommend the Iraq Inquiry Digest for a comprehensive and detailed commentary on Iraq.


    The evolving narrative fits neither the established pro- or anti- war camps. But it damns the government of the day.

    - Blair committed UK troops to action in early 2002.

    - this committment was not conditional and was robust enough to allow UK participation in top secret NOFORN planning some seven weeks later (unthinkable otherwise).

    - Blair believed (self-belief) that he would obtain either 'smoking gun' intelligence or a UN resolution authorising war.

    - Blair persuaded Bush to exhaust either course of action before military action.

    - No WMD smoking gun was found (the September dossier fizzled).

    - The emphasis shifted to the UN process.

    - 1441 was the worst possible fudge, interpreted variously as both having and lacking the requirement for a further UN decision

    - A second resolution was sought unsuccesfully - a requirement, according to Goldsmith's view at the time.

    - They realised 1441 was the best they were going to get and there was no convincing intelligence (which was quite to the contrary).

    - The February dossier shifted the narrative to Saddam's regime and noncompliance.

    - Goldsmith realised the US (and by extension the UK) were going in anyway (and didn't view a resolution as necessary) and changed his opinion for his client (Blair).

    - Blair determined that there was a material breach of 1441 (authority and evidence highly questionable) and this negated the 1991 ceasefire.

    - The UK went to war with the attendant consequences.

    - If unchallenged, the precedent now exists to enforce similarly vague UN resolutions in the same way (ie Iran) without UN authority.

    The failings are of the magnitude of Suez...only we have less further to fall as a nation rather than an empire.

  2. Well said Jess. I would also argue that Iraq will do far more damage in future years than Suez ever did. The world is now a very different place.

  3. The point I am trying to make is that Eden, for all his faults as Prime Minister, which were considerable (Suez was the icing on the cake), he was treated in a much more respectfully than Blair.

    Eden was a total failure as PM, much like Brown is today. The only difference being Eden won an election.

    If we take your point that "the failings are of the magnitude of Suez" then Blair should be treated in a similar way as Eden was in his day.

  4. Subrosa, I have to disagree. Suez was a watershed for the UK as a world power. Iraq was not.

    However, I grant you that the debate is worth having. Interesting is it not, that the dead-tree press have failed in this regard.

  5. If you mean the part we played in 'making' Iraq Howard I doubt it. What I mean is that with our invasion of Iraq, and the international knowledge that it hadn't threatened the UK in any way, has cost our reputation dearly and perhaps made us far less secure than ever in my lifetime.