Friday, January 21, 2011

Blair at the Chilcot inquiry: Untangling the truth

The potential lessons for good governance at home and for relations overseas are urgent

The Guardian, January 21, 2011

History is written by the victors, and – victors or not – Tony Blair and George W Bush lost no time in picking up their pens. If not quite mission accomplished, the mantra of their memoirs is mission justified. The world dimly recalls that the facts were fixed, the intelligence spun and the law bent into line. But these sins dripped out so slowly that they lost all power to shock, political trust going the way of the frog who was slow-boiled by rising degrees. With regimes long since changed in both Washington and London, the second appearance of Mr Blair at the Chilcot inquiry could pass off with all the excitement of a historical debating society.

That would be a catastrophe. The potential lessons for good governance at home and – with a crisis over Iran in prospect – for relations overseas are urgent. Only this week we have learned that the attorney general was cut out of decision-making for several months, until the point where he came round to a more helpful understanding of the law. We learned, too, that Mr Blair sought to block his “personal dialogue” with the president being properly recorded. The assurances the prime minister gave to the president are “central” to the work of the inquiry. Sir John Chilcot himself argued as much while trying and failing to get the cabinet secretary to clear publication of those passages of the official record which provide “important, and often unique, insights into Mr Blair’s thinking and the commitments he made”.

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