Whether or not the Iraq war was wise, it’s fair to say that it is now unwise for Tony Blair to intervene in the ongoing foreign policy debate. The former Prime Minister was under fire last week as the country British and US forces invaded in 2003 was rent asunder by ISIS, and naturally the debate about whether these developments show the intervention was the wrong decision has put further pressure on Blair. He rarely needs much pressure to justify his actions, though: he gives the impression of a man who protests too much. In his column today, Boris Johnson makes quite clear that these protests do not come without a cost to the wider debate about intervention. His accusation that Tony Blair ‘has finally gone mad’, that he is ‘unhinged’ and ‘surely needs psychiatric help’ is less stinging than this paragraph:
‘The Iraq war was a tragic mistake; and by refusing to accept this, Blair is now undermining the very cause he advocates – the possibility of serious and effective intervention. Blair’s argument (if that is the word for his chain of bonkers assertions) is that we were right in 2003, and that we would be right to intervene again.
‘Many rightly recoil from that logic. It is surely obvious that the 2003 invasion was a misbegotten folly. But that does not necessarily mean – as many are now concluding – that all intervention is always and everywhere wrong in principle, and that we should avoid foreign entanglements of all kinds.’
Boris concludes that Blair should ‘put a sock in it’ unless he accepts ‘the reality of the disaster he helped to engender’. The Mayor also argues in the piece that the intervention was flawed because there was no plan for the transition afterwards. But his point is that Blair does not help any debate now because he refuses to acknowledge his mistakes.
Indeed, Blair certainly did not help the debate about intervention in Syria. Just in case his ghost didn’t loom large enough over the House of Commons, he made sure MPs all had Blair on the brain by penning this op-ed calling for intervention in The Times.
This isn’t to say that the decisions Blair took in office were right or wrong. But the controversy they stirred means that whenever he gets involved in debates about foreign policy, he distracts everyone from the issue at hand, and takes them back more than a decade to old debates about a decision no-one can undo, even if they wanted to. ISIS appears to have butchered soldiers in a shallow grave in Iraq over the weekend, yet Blair is attracting limelight and airtime. Whether or not he is right, perhaps a little silence would be beneficial.
More Spectator for less. Stay informed leading up to the EU referendum and in the aftermath. Subscribe and receive 15 issues delivered for just £15, with full web and app access. Join us.