Blair’s Iraq session: Key points

Several key points emerged from Tony Blair’s day-long testimony to the Iraq inquiry. politics.co.uk looks at what we learned.

By Ian Dunt

Blair wants a tougher line on Iran

At several points Blair insisted that the international community should adopt a more robust stance on Iran. “I take a very hard line on Iran today,” he said. “It’s for the leaders of today to decide. My judgment is you don’t take any risks with this issue.” The mere fact he raised this point several times served to reinforce the impression that he had no regrets over the Iraq war.

Crawford was not a turning point

For many, not least of all Sir Christopher Meyer, former ambassador to Washington, the Crawford meeting between Blair and then-president George Bush in April 2002 was the turning point. The former ambassador suggested to the inquiry that it was the moment Blair changed, and British policy was set. From that moment onwards, we were going to war. Not so, Blair insisted today.

“Sir Christopher wasn’t there at this meeting,” Blair insisted. When he was reminded that Sir Christopher was presumably briefed, Blair flashed a cruel smile. The firm impression was that he was out the loop. But then, Blair may still be holding a grudge because of Sir Christopher’s disparaging description of his “ball-breakingly” tight trousers.

Iraq was chosen because it broke UN resolutions.

Blair spent much of his evidence today describing how September 11th changed everything. But still the question remained: why Iraq? Because it had WMDs and had broken UN resolutions, Blair insisted. Opponents of the war will not be convinced, but Blair relied on that argument on several occasions. It’s clearly the one he wanted to promote.

Next time, prepare for the worst

Blair was most circumspect when discussing the aftermath of the invasion. Future leaders making these decisions should be wary of the worst case scenario, Blair admitted. “I think in the future you’re best to make this assumption – that if we’re required to go into this type of situation, you might as well assume the worst, actually,” he said.

“Because you are dealing with states that are very repressive, deeply secretive. Power is controlled by a very small number of people and it’s always going to be tough.”

Blix would never have gotten what he wanted.

A strong line of argument during Blair’s testimony relied on the presence of British and American troops in Kuwait, while the final diplomatic wrangles took place. The argument that weapons inspectors would have been given more time is given added force by the fact the war had to take place on an American military timetable, it was suggested. If they had had extra time, the security council might have got behind the British and American proposals. Blair cast this argument to one side, insisting no matter how much time he had Dr Hans Blix’s team would never have got proof of WMD or their absence.

“I think it’s fair to say the only reason Saddam was having much to do with the inspectors … was because we had 250,000 troops down there,” Blair said. Saddam was concealing documentation from Blix and not allowing his scientists to be interviewed.

The activity of outside forces was underestimated

“People did not believe you would have al-Qaeda come in from outside or that Iran would try deliberately to destabilise the country,” Blair said of pre-war planning. Under Blair’s analysis none of the violence came from the Iraqis themselves. Opponents of the war will take this statement to be at best naive, and at worst deceptive. After all, Blair justified the concentration on Iraq this morning as a product of the al-Qaeda attack on September 11th. Regardless, it admits that not enough evaluation of foreign forces was undertaken in the rush to war.