Tony Blair Relied on ‘Beliefs, Not Facts’ When He Backed 2003 Iraq War, Investigator Chilcot Says

US President George W Bush (r) greets British Prime Minister Tony Blair Prior to a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House, 16 April 2004. Photo: Shawn Thew/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

  • Ex UK leader Tony Blair was not ‘straight’ with Britain over his decision to go into Iraq in 2003 together with the US, according to the head of Britain’s Iraq Inquiry, John Chilcot.
  • Blair made the decision to join US President George W. Bush in the attack against Saddam Hussein regime based on beliefs, not facts, Chilcot says.
  • Investigator deems Blair was giving away too much to Bush when he pledged to support him no matter what in a private note back in 2002.
  • Blair accepted the US goal of regime change in Iraq in order to be able to exert influence on the US, Chilcot thinks.
  • Blair spokesman has said the issues surrounding the Iraq Inquiry in Britain were dealt with a year ago when Chilcot’s report was published.

Britain’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair made the decision to join then US President George W. Bush in the 2003 Iraq Invasion based on beliefs, not facts, according to John Chilcot who chaired an independent inquiry into the UK’s involvement in the Iraq War.

The United States, aided by a Coalition of the Willing led by Britain, invaded Iraq in 2003, and deposed its dictator Saddam Hussein. The Iraq Invasion came in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., and the US toppling of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, amid claims, later found to be unsubstantiated, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

In 2009, an independent inquiry was started into the UK’s involvement in Iraq and how Tony Blair led Britain into the deeply unpopular invasion. The inquiry was chaired by John Chilcot, a former permanent secretary of the British civil service at Whitehall.

Chilcot published a report on the inquiry in July 2016, lambasting former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for his decision to go to war in Iraq based on a lack of hard evidence about Saddam’s Hussein’s possession of WMDs.

Among other things, the report revealed that in a private note sent on July 28, 2002, Blair promised Bush, “I will be with you, whatever.”

After the British Iraq War report was released, Tony Blair vehemently defended his decisions made back in 2003, while Chilcot declined to take further part in the debate, as his and his panels’ conclusions were digested.

US President George W Bush (l) and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair (r) shake hands for photographers at the G8 Summit in Sea Island, Georgia, 09 June 2004. Photo: Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA/REX/Shuttterstock

‘Emotionally Truthful’

Tony Blair was not “straight with the nation” about his decisions in the run up to the Iraq War, the chairman of the inquiry into the war, John Chilcot, told the BBC in his first interview on the report, a year after it was published.

Chilcot said the evidence Blair gave the inquiry was “emotionally truthful” but he relied on beliefs rather than facts. He talked about Blair’s state of mind during the inquiry and his relationship with the then US President George W Bush in the build-up to the 2003 conflict.

The inquiry concluded that Blair overstated the threat posed by Iraq leader Saddam Hussein and the invasion was not the “last resort” action presented to Parliament, when it backed the action, and the public.

“Any prime minister taking a country into war has got to be straight with the nation and carry it, so far as possible, with him or her. I don’t believe that was the case in the Iraq instance,” Chilcot said.

“Tony Blair is always and ever an advocate. He makes the most persuasive case he can. Not departing from the truth but persuasion is everything. Advocacy for my position, ‘my Blair position’,” he elaborated.

In his words, the former leader of the British Labor Party gave the case for war based on his own assessment of circumstances, i.e. Blair made the case “pinning it on my belief, not the fact, what the assessed intelligence said.”

Asked whether Blair gave the fullest version of events, Chilcot replied:

“I think he gave an – what was – I hesitate to say this, rather but I think it was from his perspective and standpoint, emotionally truthful and I think that came out also in his press conference after the launch statement.”

“I think he was under very great emotional pressure during those sessions… he was suffering. He was deeply engaged. Now in that state of mind and mood you fall back on your instinctive skill and reaction, I think.”

Delegates from the Stop the War Movement and the Muslim Association of Britain hold placards of US President George W Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair during a protest on 21 January 2003. Photo: Gerry Penny/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

‘Giving Away Too Much’

The chairman of the inquiry in the Britain’s role in the 2003 Iraq War also discussed Blair’s relationship with the US president in the build-up to the war.

“Tony Blair made much of, at various points, the need to exert influence on American policy making,” he said.

“To do that he said in terms at one point, ‘I have to accept their strategic objective, regime change, in order to exert influence.’ For what purpose? To get them to alter their policy? Of course not. So in effect it was a passive strategy. Just go along,” Chilcot added.

Commenting on the documentation revealed when the Iraq Inquiry was published, the former civil servant revealed that his first response on reading a note sent by Blair to Bush in 2002 in which he told him, “I shall be with you, whatever”, was, “You mustn’t say that”.

His reaction was: “You’re giving away far too much. You’re making a binding commitment by one sovereign government to another which you can’t fulfil. You’re not in a position to fulfil it. I mean he didn’t even know the legal position at that point.”

Asked if the relationship between Mr Blair and Mr Bush was appropriate, Chilcot said the former British Prime Minister was running “coercive diplomacy” that clashed with the settled position of the government.

“I think that the fundamental British strategy was fractured, because our formal policy, right up to the autumn of 2002 was one of containment. That was the concluded decision of Cabinet,” he elaborated, adding,

“But the Prime Minister was running one of coercive diplomacy. With the knowledge and support of the foreign secretary, but the foreign secretary hoped that diplomacy would win and not coercion. I think to the Prime Minister it probably looked the other way round.”

US President George W Bush (l) and First Lady Laura Bush (second R) greet British Prime Minister Tony Blair (second L) and his wife Cherie as they arrive for a private dinner for the heads of state at the G8 Summit in Sea Island, Georgia, 09 June 2004. Photo: Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA/REX/Shuttterstock

‘Dealt With’

In response to John Chilcot’s interview, a spokesman for Blair said on Thursday:

“All of these issues were dealt with, in detail, at the two-hour press conference following the publication of the report.”

Maj. Gen. Tim Cross, who was involved in post-war planning in Iraq and gave evidence to the inquiry, said Mr Blair was “an emotional guy” and that he was “sure” his emotions affected the decision to go to war.

“We all bring our emotions into this, but the question is how far to you let them infringe on the decision making process,” Cross said.

“I don’t rush to defend Tony Blair and I don’t agree with a lot of decisions he made… but obviously his emotions had a big impact on his decision-making process,” he added.

“When I briefed Tony Blair, it was quite clear that he felt this was a necessity, that there was a just cause, that we had to do something about this. How he portrayed that politically… I do not think he played it very well,” the British general concluded.

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