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John Rentoul: Blair, Waugh and Britton

Posted by Eagle Eye
  • Friday, 22 January 2010 at 05:05 pm

Paul Waugh is only doing it to disrupt my real work. Now he decides to take issue with something I wrote before Tony Blair's appearance on the Fern Britton programme.

He accuses me of selective quotation, which is unfair, as I was working from a first web edition of The Times before the full transcript was available. I returned to the interview in my post the next day and with a transcript of all the Iraq sections of the interview a few days later.

This is the important exchange about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction:

Britton: "If you had known that there were no WMDs, would you still have gone on?"

Blair: "I would still have thought it right to remove him. I mean, obviously, you would have had to use and deploy different arguments, about the nature of the threat."

Waugh rightly thinks that the the last sentence is more significant than the one before it, which is all that The Times quoted. Its main significance is that it was a mistake for Blair to have expressed himself so clumsily. Waugh says:

That sounds awfully like a man who is saying he would have argued strongly with his own party and Cabinet that Saddam was such a threat that he had to be toppled.

Well, it does if you are opposed to the war and looking for a "hidden" motive to explain why Blair "really" wanted British forces to take part in the invasion. To me, it sounds awfully like a man following a train of thought even as he realised that it was a dead end.

If Saddam had complied fully and verifiably with UN resolutions, Blair would still have preferred him out of power, but there would have been nothing he could have done about it. If the Americans went ahead with the invasion, Jack Straw, the Cabinet and the House of Commons would not have been with them, as Straw made clear in his submission to the Iraq Inquiry (pdf).

Finally, Waugh says:

But the strangest thing about Rentoul's post is his claim that "the British would not have been able to join the Americans in [regime change] because there would have been no legal grounds for it"

Yet John is the man who keeps telling us that there is no such thing as an illegal war. Confusing, huh?

Perhaps I was not as clear as I should have been. There is no court that can rule on the legality or otherwise of military actions outside of treaty-defined war crimes. Britain as a matter of public policy prefers to rely on a body of international precedent; America doesn't give a stuff. So actions can be more or less "legal": Kosovo was "less", Iraq "more", because it was in pursuance of UN resolutions as "revived" by 1441 (and well explained by Straw in his submission).

Or perhaps Waugh could ask Philippe Sands to explain it to him.


quietzapple wrote:
Friday, 22 January 2010 at 05:35 pm (UTC)
Some wars are quite clearly illegally declared, some illegally fought, Second Iraq war not among them.

Blair pointed out to Fern Britton that he would have favoured the removal of Saddam Hussein even if Saddam had permitted the UN to prove that there were no WMDs left, but he had other reasons in addition.

He didn't say that he would have successfully led the likes of Jack Straw to support the USA led efforts, or that he would have tried to do so.
Legality is irrelevant
glenkristensen wrote:
Saturday, 23 January 2010 at 01:56 pm (UTC)
So lets leave it to those wasting their time studying it.

I think we have to take Blair's words at face value and in this case he hasn't (to my knowledge) provided a clarification after the Fern Britton interview. So when Blair says:

"I would still have thought it right to remove him. I mean, obviously, you would have had to use and deploy different arguments, about the nature of the threat."

we can only assume he means he would have thought it right to remove Saddam whether there was WMD or not, and that other arguments would have been needed to be used to justify this of course, but other arguments would have been deployed, because it was still right to remove Saddam after all. This strongly implies WMD were NOT the reason to remove Saddam, or at least not the only reason.

There is nothing wrong with this per se, except for the fact that Blair justified the whole invasion with the need to disarm Saddam of WMD, and said in Parliament Saddam could stay put if he would just hand over the goods.

Again there is nothing wrong with this per se, but when you base the whole invasion on WMD and then spectacularly get the intelligence on them wrong, it doesn't sound good to say 6 years later "I would have thought it right to get rid of him even if I knew he didn't have WMD".

At best this is very sloppy indeed, would you agree?

Re: Legality is irrelevant
blairsupporter wrote:
Tuesday, 2 February 2010 at 09:01 pm (UTC)
Blair ALWAYS thought it was right to remove Saddam. And guess what? He never made any secret of that. And still he won elections. Odd to win elections when you declare against the bad guy in liberal Britain, isn't it?

See Hopi Sen, a new Ban Blair-Baiting signatory, for more on this:


"A few commenters seem to have this mysterious belief that Tony Blair didn’t refer to the nature of Saddam’s regime.

I can’t think why.

From Tony Blair’s speech to Spring conference in Glasgow.

“Ridding the world of Saddam would be an act of humanity. It is leaving him there that is in truth inhumane.

Where in the past 15 years over 150,000 Shia Muslims in southern Iraq and Muslim Kurds in northern Iraq have been butchered; with up to four million Iraqis in exile round the world, including 350,000 now in Britain.

This isn’t a regime with weapons of mass destruction that is otherwise benign. This is a regime that contravenes every single principle or value anyone of our politics believes in.

There will be no march for the victims of Saddam, no protests about the thousands of children that die needlessly every year under his rule, no righteous anger over the torture chambers which if he is left in power, will be left in being.”

Of course WMD were an improtant part of the case for war – but if the WMD programme had been in posession of a regime that did not have a history of invasion, of use of chemical weapons and of refusal to engage with the international community, things might well have been different. As Blair said last week – Iraq could have “done a Libya”."



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