It has taken eight years, but Tony Blair has finally leveled with the British public and admitted that the WMD thing didn’t really matter: he wanted to depose Saddam Hussein anyway. That’s what he has said in a BBC interview, presumably to pre-empt his appearance before the Chilcot inquiry. His chosen confessor: Fern Britton. His medium: BBC1 on Sunday. It has been trailed to the newspapers, including tomorrow’s Times. As it says:
"He said it was the ‘threat’ that Saddam presented to the region that was uppermost in his mind. The development of weapons of mass destruction was one aspect of that threat.
Mr Blair said that there had been 12 years of the United Nations going ‘to and fro’ on the subject, and he noted that Saddam had used chemical weapons on his own people.
Asked by Britton if he would still have gone on had he known there were no weapons of mass destruction, he said: ‘I would still have thought it right to remove him.’"
Why does this matter? Because it proves that Blair willfully misled the British public into the war. At the time, he said that if Saddam would have disarmed then the war would have been averted (because the regime would have changed). As he told the Commons on 25 February, 2003:
"I detest his regime—I hope most people do—but even now, he could save it by complying with the UN’s demand. Even now, we are prepared to go the extra step to achieve disarmament peacefully. I do not want war. I do not believe anyone in the House wants war. But disarmament peacefully can happen only with Saddam’s active co-operation."
Now, he is admitting this was untue.
A little context. George W Bush was honest with his country: he wanted regime change with or without WMDs. In fact, the Iraq Liberation Act formally committed the USA to the goal of deposing Saddam Hussein – and this was an Act made law by Bill Clinton’s signature. But Blair saw it as his great role in life to get UN Security Council approval for the American operation: it would show he was the ultimate salesman, diplomat, bridge-builder etc. So how could he get the world’s approval? If it were proven that Saddam had the weapons, it would constitute a formal violation of UN Security Council resolutions and make things as “legal” as the intervention in Afghanistan had been. Blair thought he could spin everyone.
Bush played along. This was his great concession to Blair. But the WMD thing was over-hyped – and then Blair was prepared to mislead the British public in hope of misleading the UN. Which he failed to do. The truth, which he should have told us all along, is that he decided Saddam should go. And I write this as one of those who agreed with the Iraq Liberation Act which Clinton signed in 1998. But I just wish Blair had been honest. And I wonder, if he’s in confession mode, that he will wish that too.
UPDATE: John Rentoul blogs that Blair was asked a similar question by Adam Boulton three years ago. To make my position clear: I agree with what Blair says now, and that was my position at the time. I was for deposing Saddam with or without WMD (which I sincerely, and wrongly, believed that he had at the time). I think that Blair stretched the truth in his hope of getting a UN resolution, and that his focus on the international accord meant he committed an unforgiveable error on the domestic front: he was not honest with the country on the reasons for taking us into war.