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Tony Blair's two great mistakes



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

July 16th, 2004

LONDON - If parliamentary politics were a simple yes and no business, as in a referendum, British Prime Minister Tony Blair would be out of office by the end of the week. It's a subtle process, as it should be, and his party, bruised though it is by being seriously misled on the reasons for going to war in Iraq, is apparently not yet ready for it.

Still, after the publication of the latest report - authored by Lord Butler, a former head of the UK civil service - that has plumbed the murky world of intelligence and the office of the prime minister in the decision making that led up to the Iraqi war - historians if not yet parliament are already fashioning their judgments. Anthony Seldon, author of a recent biography of Blair, has observed, "No prime minister in the last 100 years has added to their achievements after seven years in power. I don't believe anything he does will add to his status. He's done it, we've had Tony Blair."

History may regard Blair well for much of his domestic stewardship - successful economic growth, improved spending and management of the educational and national health systems and so forth but it seems now inevitable that on the two major foreign policy issues he dealt with - Europe and the Middle East - he will be judged a profound failure. Unlike President George W. Bush he cannot even take much credit for improving the West's relationship with Russia, China and India.

Blair, along with Bush, will be remembered in most of the world as the man who rammed a jagged hole in the Charter of the UN, tragically laying down a precedent for other powers to go too easily to war. At home he will be remembered as the leader who dissembled the truth on an issue of central importance. He was not merely economical with the truth, he set out to use all his credibility as a man who said that he regarded honesty as a fundamental part of his Christian convictions to persuade the public of an argument that in his brain if not his heart he must have known might be false.

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There can be no doubt from reading the Butler report that whilst Blair was telling us all that the evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was incontrovertible he and his closest advisers felt they had to work on toughening the presentation of the evidence given him by the intelligence agencies. Moreover, not only did he mislead the public he apparently allowed himself to be swayed by evidence that he judged was not strong enough to convince a skeptical public. As Lord Butler remarked, "more weight was placed on the intelligence than it could bear."

We know that for Blair it was important for Britain to support America. And we know too from what Blair said before the U.S. Congress last July that the fact that Saddam Hussein was a murderous tyrant was enough justification for him to decide on war. But we also know that neither parliament nor public would have regarded that as sufficient reason and if that was the sole reason the UN Security Council would have come to an anti war vote much quicker than it did. The world is full of murderous tyrants and Britain's place is with Europe first and foremost.

Winston Churchill in September 1946, speaking just six months after his Iron Curtain speech, said, "I hope to see a Europe where men and women of every country will think of belonging to their native land, and wherever they go in this wide domain they truly feel, 'I am at home.'" For post war Britain its place in Europe has been the central political issue.

Blair had his opportunities to put his country at the center of Europe and missed them. He has spent his entire seven years at the helm running scared before a vitriolic, untruthful, euro-skeptic press. The first time was when he first came to power. Although before the election he had boxed himself in by promising a referendum on Britain's entry into the Eurozone and indicated this was to be at a later date, he could have used the flush of overwhelming victory to announce that he had now "read the books" and that it was in Britain's interest to enter the Euro at the onset and he was calling a referendum in two months' time. Very few would have wanted to vote "no" at this moment of enthusiasm in British political life.

Britain has ended up under Blair being even more semi-detached than it was under the anti-European Margaret Thatcher. By making a united, integrated Europe harder to create it pushes further away the day when Europe is so locked together that the terrible conflicts, wars and, as Churchill said, "hate filled" relationships of yesterday, will never return.

Parliament for now may absolve him of these momentous double errors. History won't. 

Copyright © 2004 By JONATHAN POWER


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:




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