The Wandering Ex-Statesman

Hitch takes the long view on Tony Blair:

He now operates under the somehow touching name of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which can sound rather like a body set up to express faith in Tony Blair. BLAIRBertrandLangloisAFP:Getty His principal day job is to serve as mediator for the “Quartet” of powers that supervise the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.” This means regular efforts to reconcile Muslims, Jews, and Christians in the Holy Land. Cheer up, I want to tell him. At least it's a job for life. ...

When Tony Blair took office, Slobodan Miloševic' was cleansing and raping the republics of the former Yugoslavia. Mullah Omar was lending Osama bin Laden the hinterland of a failed and rogue state. Charles Taylor of Liberia was leading a hand-lopping militia of enslaved children across the frontier of Sierra Leone, threatening a blood-diamond version of Rwanda in West Africa. And the wealth and people of Iraq were the abused private property of Saddam Hussein and his crime family.

Today, all of these Caligula figures are at least out of power, and at the best either dead or on trial. How can anybody with a sense of history not grant Blair some portion of credit for this? And how can anybody with a tincture of moral sense go into a paroxysm and yell that it is he who is the war criminal? It is as if all the civilians murdered by al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Iraq and Afghanistan are to be charged to his account. This is the chaotic mentality of Julian Assange and his groupies.

We don't know what his complicity was in the torture of human beings, and so the term "war criminal" cannot be applied as of this moment. (It is, anyway, a technical legal term, not some kind of insult. Under international law, George W. Bush is a war criminal. There is no dispute about that outside a tiny coterie of legal mediocrities and political hacks and a general public as yet unable to grasp that their ex-president should be in jail.)

And how does the Catholic convert Blair react to the fact that Iraq is now cleansing and murdering its once considerable Christian population, as Moqtada al Sadr increasingly calls the shots in the new government and as torture appears to be routine in the criminal justice system in that country? He is understandably quiet.

I don't doubt Blair's good intentions. It's the unintended consequences of good intentions that I'm talking about, and the ability to own up to them. But then one notices a small fact such as this detail brought to my attention by Geoffrey Wheatcroft's brilliant recent review of Blair's book in the NYRB. Blair wrote in the preface to the now famous Downing Street dodgy dossier on Saddam's WMDs the following sentence:

The document discloses that [Saddam’s] military planning allows for some of the WMD to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them.

Untrue. A lie? Well, the BBC subsequently claimed it was a wild exaggeration, and one of the BBC's sources, David Kelly, was a very respected government official and authority on WMDs and Iraq. In the furious campaign to discredit the BBC's claim, Kelly's name surfaced - and he was pummeled by a parliamentary committee. Kelly subsequently killed himself, a reclusive scientist who couldn't handle being the public object of a government's smear-job. When a journalist asked Blair

“Why did you authorise the naming of David Kelly?” he answered, “That is completely untrue,” and repeated, “Emphatically not. Nobody was authorised to name David Kelly.”

Untrue. A lie? This time: yes. The highly respected British political reporter Andrew Rawnsley did the groundwork:

Rawnsley has now firmly established that on July 8, less than three weeks before those words [- "Nobody was authorised to name David Kelly" -] were spoken, there was a small secret meeting at Downing Street where it was decided that Kelly’s identity must be revealed. The meeting was chaired by the prime minister, Tony Blair.

One lone victim. Hundreds of thousands after him. One small lie. How many bigger ones?