The Tragedy of Tony Blair

The scathing Chilcot verdict on Tony Blair’s contribution to the war on Iraq brings to mind a more awful tragedy: that more politicians – notably of the American variety – have not suffered the public, private and utter disgrace now falling on Perfidious Albion.

It took Donald Trump – in a rare moment of clarity – to shout the news into Jeb Bush’s face: that his brother George had lied his way into a $5-trillion blunder and crime, still bleeding all over the place. How prissily evasive is the near-silence in our country, to this day! George W. Bush and his team of Vulcans – Cheney, Rumsfeld, Feith, Wolfowitz and Co, and all those career-driven Senators and camp followers in media – have escaped Sir John Chilcot’s overdue sentence: to fess up their individual guilt and abject sorrow, and please now get off the stage. How much of the defining rage of 2016 rises simply from the anomaly (absurdity, anyone?) that Hillary Clinton, who cast her Senate vote for George Bush’s war, is running on her ‘experience’?

Sidney_blumenthal_2006In both sorrow and anger, I’m chewing over the Tony Blair story here with my friend of four decades, Sidney Blumenthal, who had a hand in writing it. We met a few weeks ago to talk through his acute personal take on Abraham Lincoln in A Self-Made Man – and the fixation Sidney shares with Abe on politics as vast and intimate theater. But on the Chilcot news blockbuster, it’s the digressions on Tony Blair that leap out of our conversation. Sidney had been ahead of the reporters’ pack in 1991 in marking Bill Clinton’s schmoozing route to the Democratic nomination. Writing for The New Republic and then The New Yorker, Sid Blumenthal in effect presided at the conversational table around the Clintons—contributing, not least, “a vast right-wing conspiracy” as the catch-phrase explaining Bill’s setbacks in office.

Meantime, Sidney and his wife Jackie, on their 20th wedding anniversary in 1996, turned their Washington reception into a party for Tony Blair—and Hillary came! It was the beginning of a political alliance and adventure that isn’t over yet. With George Bush in the White House after 9/11, Tony Blair was eager still to be a “strong ally,” as Sidney puts it. He wound up enabling the war in Iraq, being used, deceived and finally “destroyed” by it.

Hear more of our conversation below:

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  • Potter

    Blair allowed himself to be misled and in the process, thinking he was making the better choice. Perhaps he thought little or at all about possible consequences or lives. We knew, so he must have known,at the time that he had the power to make a big difference. But he did not. And today, watching him with the yellow background, I feel sorry for him; he seems so sincere, so deeply sorry. Many are not having it. It was such an error; oh well intended, he wanted above all to keep a strong alliance between the UK and the US. He did not go deeper into whether this war was warranted. He just believed,he followed, he justified. We called him Bush’s “poodle” at the time.

    I love the English for a lot of things, but today for this Chicot report especially. It really shames us. It should shame Bush Cheney Rumfeld and co. too and then Obama tangentially for telling us to just move on when he came into office. WE should have had this years long investigation and report. This issue would not go and will not go away for us. We need an accounting here. Sooner or later there will be one. In the meantime by all means let’s go back to the circus about the FBI, Clinton’s emails and Trump’s anti-Semitism.

    Great chat! Thank you.

    PS-It was kind of astonishing to hear Trump actually say, in this campaign season, that the Iraq War was a big mistake and exclaim how else the money could have been better used. I heard that only once early on and never again. It did not become a refrain. He goes with the wind. He was saying something like that apparently after the invasion, early on but after March 2003 according to fact checkers. So in that sense he is consistent. But running as a Republican, maybe he shushed himself ( or was reminded) since this was the Republican’s war, Bush’s War with some Democrats (like Hillary) enabling. Trump pushing this anti-war line shoots, if not himself, then Republicans, in the foot. Would Trump, heaven help us, as president ever oversee an accounting similar to the Brits ?

    • Potter

      Nor will Hillary, but a congress might. I am reminded, as I feel sad for Blair, an essentially good person I think, of Colin Powell. There were more against going to war than for here- I think 65% were against at one point what with all the media talk op-eds etc. Then Powell appeared at the U.N. I think this helped turn the tide, maybe did a lot. Before you knew it we were seeing American flags waving from SUV’s and yellow ribbon stickers support our troops. Today, in my mind, it’s still Bush’s war for his Dad. Make America great again.

    • Kento

      Your comment motivated me to seek out the full speech, and I was surprised to feel I felt some sympathy for him too. He does seem troubled by this, and it does seem especially striking when remembering the absence of any sign of a feeling of guilt figures like Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld have shown. That must be granted to him. But I feel that having the role he had in this war should have left any good person with such a profound hatred of war that they would work as hard as they can to prevent any future wars whatsoever.

      It disturbed me to hear Blair speak of wanting to “do it the right way” about starting a war, as surely there is no right way. The way he talked about “Mr. Putin and the President of France,” to my ear, sounded like an effort to lump in detractors with Putin, whom he would trust to be perceived as a sorry figure to be lumped in with, even when it came to something as awful as the Iraq War. Why wouldn’t he mention Chirac, and instead favor such an awkward construction? Putin is more relevant today, but if I can still remember Chirac, I’m sure most of his audience can too. Can it be that he really believes both Putin and Chirac were on the wrong side of history, and he felt uncomfortable dragging Chirac’s name through the mud, but was comfortable doing so with Putin? That seems so perverse, and tactless. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but it left a distasteful impression on me. No, the speech came across as an attempt to preserve his legacy more than an attempt to prevent tragedy.

      You are right though to point out that it is good that the United Kingdom can have something like the Chilcot report. I worry that the United States will never reckon with this history, that it is already buried and few people in this country feel any urgency in understanding or accountability for this war. In the past week, I read an article in Japan’s Asahi Shimbun that a citizen group had formed to investigate Japan’s role in the Iraq War. Japan’s role was of course relatively minor, mostly offering logistical support and adding non-white faces to the American coalition to make the war appear less racist, but it’s taken by some Japanese people to have been a very serious violation of Japan’s peace tradition, and with Sunday’s historic election it suddenly seems like a very urgent matter. I wonder if in the United States, any citizens group could get respectful attention for doing something similar, or if they would just be ridiculed.