Tony Blair’s fortified exterior is slowly beginning to crack. He may not, yet, feel justice closing in on him but he will certainly have become resigned to the fact that his political legacy is in tatters; that in itself must weigh heavily on a moral crusader like the former British prime minister. No doubt he would have wished to be thought of on a par with great statesman of yesteryear, if not quite Nelson Mandela and Ghandi. Instead, history will judge him as the man who opened the door for Daesh to unleash its unique brand of barbarism on the Middle East.
Within the space of a week, the major contentions over the Iraq war and Tony Blair’s involvement in it have been laid to rest: the war was sold to the world on a the basis of a pack of lies and, equally incriminating for Blair and his acolytes, it helped to create the terrorism that we face today. This, of course, simply confirms what millions around the world believed all along.
It is quite fitting, then, for the curtain to come down on the Iraq war in the week when one of its most vocal critics was laid to rest. Michael Meacher MP held a number of ministerial briefs and would have relished the events of the past week and the chance to close “Iraq-gate” with the latest incriminating evidence.
As early as 2003, the then Labour minister pointed out that the “war on terrorism is bogus”. In a Guardian article he exposed the opportunism of the neo-cons on both sides of the Atlantic, and their exploitation of shock and awe — what later became knows as the “shock doctrine” — to advance their ideological cause. He stressed the well-known theory of the time that a blueprint for the creation of a global “Pax Americana” was drawn up by US neo-cons long before the invasion of Iraq. The plan showed that the George W Bush administration intended to take military control of the Gulf region whether or not Saddam Hussein stayed in power.
The nefarious project to remake the Middle East was exposed further by General Wesley Clark. The retired four star army general and former supreme allied commander of NATO gave an extraordinarily revealing interview in which he described his incredulity at being told that the neo-cons had planned to overthrow Saddam ten days before the events of 9/11 had even take place. In his interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, he also explained US plans to overthrow seven other regimes in the Middle East within the space of five years.
What was unclear at the time was the extent to which Tony Blair was on board with the neo-con plan to remake the Middle East on the back of the 9/11 tragedy. The leaked White House memo published last week shows that Blair wasn’t just on board but was also willing to act as a spin doctor for Bush, who was told that the “UK would follow our lead”.
Putting aside claims of war crimes and prosecution at The Hague for now, Blair clearly lied to parliament when he claimed to be searching for a diplomatic solution when in fact he had agreed to support President Bush in going to war with Iraq, which in turn was decided by his cabal in Washington before 9/11.
Whilst the leaked memo is certainly a smoking gun for reasons why Tony Blair took Britain into the war with Iraq on America’s coat-tails, his confession a few ago was equally incriminating for the impact it had on the region and subsequent British and US policies in the fight against violent Muslim extremists. His interview with Fared Zakariya of CNN was not “the historic moment that Tony Blair finally apologises”; nevertheless, it was equally effective in shattering the lie advanced by the neo-cons that terrorism is a problem within Islam per se and not the outcome of failed Western foreign policy. Those who do concede that foreign policy is a factor regularly underestimate the extent to which this is true, choosing instead to target Muslim groups and communities disproportionally without paying at least the same level of attention to foreign policy.
Blair was in fact less than forthcoming in his ritualised contrition over the Iraq war as he reiterated his unoriginal line of apologising for the misleading intelligence he had been given, but not the war itself, even though we know — and he knows that we know — that he had already agreed to go to war in 2002. He told CNN that he regretted the mistakes in planning and “[our] mistake in [our] understanding of what would happen once [you] removed the regime.” The interview was not as sensational as the media presented it, except of course for the one remarkable admission; his belated confession that the Iraq war was responsible for the rise of Daesh/ISIS.
Will Tony Blair now be put on trial for war crimes? Luckily for him, British public opinion means nothing, otherwise he would most certainly be dragged into The Hague to face charges. Likewise, the opinion of the millions of lives that he has affected adversely with his actions barely touches the radar of those behind foreign policy, otherwise they too would have clamoured to indict Mr Blair and George Bush for crimes against humanity.
The question isn’t so much if a crime has been committed but whether a highly politicised International Criminal Court (ICC), will break ranks to prosecute a western leader. One commentator captures this paralysis in international law succinctly: “I think the ICC has indicted 36 people so far – all of them are black Africans. [The court has] been accused of being a racist body. Now there’s a chance for it to indict Tony Blair for war crimes. The case is absolutely crystal clear: he led Britain into an illegal war with a sovereign state on deceitful grounds… A million people have died… If Tony Blair isn’t put on trial for war crimes, then who else is going to be put on trial for war crimes? It really makes the whole system of international justice a farce… The ICC is indicting African leaders for crimes that are not on the same scale as Tony Blair’s crime. The Iraq war was the greatest crime of the 21st century”.
That being said, it is unlikely that Blair will be in the dock at the ICC any time soon. Nevertheless, we have a very good idea how such a scenario might play out, without needing to speculate, because a trial has already taken place; more importantly, it found Tony Blair, along with George Bush and close members of his cabinet, guilty of crimes against peace.
The Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal (KLWCT) was set up in 2007 by the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, as an alternative to the ICC, which Mahathir accused of bias in its selection of cases. In 2011 the tribunal, made up of five leading international judges and lawyers with judicial and academic backgrounds, proceeded to try, in absentia, key individuals responsible for the Iraq fiasco.
The tribunal acknowledged that its verdict was not enforceable in a normal manner associated with a criminal court operating within a sovereign state or as constituted by international agreement, as is the case with the ICC. Even so, it followed a juridical procedure and standards of a proper war crimes tribunal in order to ensure that its findings and recommendations carried the necessary legal weight. After two years of investigation, the tribunal reached a unanimous verdict in finding Bush and Blair guilty of crimes against peace, crimes against humanity and genocide as a result of their roles in the Iraq War.
Blair loyalists and pro-Iraq War crusaders will no doubt resist the charge vigorously, not just to absolve themselves of their role in stoking up the war and for being on the wrong side of history on such a crucial matter; they will also persevere to protect the political gains made on the back of their recklessness in order to preserve the neo-con and neo-liberal bias of our political system. It’s worth noting the central hypothesis of the “shock doctrine” and recall that much of our domestic and foreign policy on security matters is still based on false assumptions about the war on terror, the most significant of which is, of course, the invasion of Iraq.
Scurrilously, some people attempt to dismiss the very idea of putting Tony Blair on trial with claims that it will devalue “real war crimes” or the fact that Blair did not act on his own but sought the approval of the British parliament and, as such, decisions taken through a democratic process cannot be classed as war crimes. Let’s overlook the inherent racism of such an argument; it still does not take into account the fact that international standards exist for determining what is and what is not a war crime and, in theory at least, we don’t get to pick and choose who gets prosecuted and who doesn’t.
There is more than a solid prima facie case to charge Tony Blair but there is a simple explanation for the legal immunity granted to him and his kind. He is in many ways a totemic figure; he doesn’t just represent himself, he represents a powerful ideology that influences the way we do politics. We know the former prime minister never shied away from conveying a rare and hyper-inflated sense of being on a moral mission encapsulated in the doctrine of “liberal interventionism”. We also know that the key architects of the Iraq war were either steeped in conventional religion or had an unwavering faith in their neo-con ideology. Both, it should be stressed, exist simultaneously in the minds of Messrs Bush and Blair.
It appears, therefore, that no mistake is too big if you are a powerful agent of the ideology that subscribes to foreign interventions, its own civilising mission and global securitisation to advance neo-liberalism. Despite the fact that the two biggest disasters in recent history — the invasion of Iraq and the financial crises of 2008 — resulted from this worldview, its proponents remain the most potent force in politics. As long as it maintains a stranglehold over those calling for the greater democratisation of national and international politics, and over those wanting to put people before profits, Tony Blair will continue to reap tremendous personal rewards despite his responsibility for the biggest political failure in recent history.