Saturday, January 30, 2010
Tony, it was 'Your Calculus of Risk' which was at the Root of the Iraq Disaster
The Blair images above, giving evidence at Chilcot reveal a man looking drawn but also using all those old (sleight of?) hand movements to which we are so accustomed. It was strange seeing him on the screen again, almost as if he had never been away. The newspapers have had a field day commenting on his lack of contrition, his lawyerly evasions and his existence, according to The Guardian, on a different 'planet'. The one phrase which resonated with me, though, was his 'calculus of risk' which Blair said was totally changed by 9-11.
He constructed a narrative from this point which seemed to convince him, seemed to hang together and seemed to hold Chilcot and his panel in thrall. He argued that after 9-11 there was a desperate danger that rogue states like Iraq would become havens for terrorists as the Taliban had for al Quaeda. It could not be ruled out that Saddam might do a deal with the 9-11 terrorists, acquire ther nuclear weapons Iraq so nearly had developed and inflict untold harm upon the world. It followed that Blair saw 9-11 as an attack on 'all of us' and so had no difficulty in being 'shoulder to shoulder' with George Bush as his fight was our fight.
Saddam had to be brought down: 'supposing we had backed off this military action, supposing we had left Saddam and his sons who were going to follow him in charge of Iraq... we know he retained absolutely the intent and intellectual know-how to restart a nuclear and chemical weapons programme.' The calculus of such risk in the post 9-11 world was such that an invasion was now justified.
Blair's line of argument was quite fluent and even credible up to a point. But there was one huge flaw. Suppose the calculus of risk was looked at the other way? Suppose western efforts at containment had proved successful? Suppose someone within Iraq had finally shot Saddam and taken him out of the equation? What if the bad scenarios are replaced by good ones? Then the war would not have been necessary? Isn't that outcome just as likely and credible? Instead he and his cowboy partner waded into Iraq, expecting to be welcomed but were seen as invaders; expecting 75,000 troops to be enough but were very much not enough; blindly dismantled the civil service and the forces of law and order and allowed the anrchy to kick off.
Blair wanted to invade to prevent his nightmare scenario becoming reality, but the execution of the war was so bad that the nnightmare was created anyway. Blair was and is, so desperate to justify himself that he was even able to claim 'we didn't end up with a humanitarian disaster' while the whole world knows that is exactly what Iraq very quickly became. At the core of the decision to invade was a careless indifference to the bad risks- like he and Bush and company thought just would not happen and a naive faith that the good risks would all come off.
We all know being a modern prime minister is fraught with difficulties and tough judgements but we hope our elected leaders will have the judgement they claim when campaigning to keep us safe from danger and not enage in military conflict unless the threat to us is real and substantial. It seems all Blair had to justify himself was a series of 'what ifs'; the aggreage of all these hypothetical dangers was by no means sufficient to justify lead us over the top and into the volatile and hugely dangerous spectrum of war. In the old days, Henry V and all that- kings led their troops into war. GeorgeII was the last king to do that at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743. If Tony Blair had been required to go in with the troops, or if Euan had been a front line soldier I suspect he would not have been quite so gung ho about going to war.
Of course I'm only joking....
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