Has anything been more torturous than the attempt to extract an apology from Tony Blair for the Iraq War? The Iraqi people can probably think of at least one thing. So when Blair used a CNN interview at the beginning of this week to say that he was “sorry” for the war, and that there “might be some truth” to the argument that the Iraq War helped cause the rise of Islamic State, there was little rejoicing but some grudging satisfaction.
It was misplaced, of course. Blair’s apology was in the usual manner. He said he was “sorry” that the intelligence was wrong, and he regretted the manner in which the aftermath of the invasion was handled. But he was not sorry for getting rid of Saddam. Once the nature of the apology was realised, a pitch of fury returned. The imminent release of the much-delayed Chilcot report into the war is the obvious trigger for this sudden reflection, an advance guard for refighting the conflict all over again.
But the sport of Blair-baiting is futile. What matters is the history, and how it guides us in the future. We know that the notion that the intelligence was convincing but ultimately wrong is spurious. The intelligence was via a single source, “curveball”, a possible alcoholic paid by the “fact”, introduced to intelligence services by self-appointed Iraqi exile leader Ahmed Chalabi. So thin was it that aerial photos of trucks and an MA thesis taken off the internet were used as part of the case. The handling of the intelligence was that rare case where a fact instantiates a value: the very fact of how it was handled was inherently wanton, wrong, given the deaths that were certain to result.
And of course we now know from a mountain of evidence that the decision to invade was taken in 2002 — if not September 12, 2001, or 1997, for that matter.
What we need to take from this is not the frenzied pursuit of a handful of men and women, but politics that changes the relationship between government, intelligence and people. We need a public body for oversight of the relationship, made up of common citizens. That’s the best sort of transparency that might come out of this.