Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Blair Called a Liar in Iraq Inquiry

The New York Times


February 3, 2010

Blair Called a Liar in Iraq Inquiry


LONDON — Only days after Tony Blair offered an impassioned defense of his decision to take Britain to war in Iraq, a cabinet minister who resigned over the war delivered a blistering condemnation of the former prime minister on Tuesday, accusing him of “conning” her and of deceiving his cabinet, the Parliament and the public in his resolve to have Britain join the United States in the invasion of 2003.

Appearing before an official inquiry into the conflict, Clare Short provided an electrifying counterpoint to Mr. Blair’s testimony on Friday.


Mr. Blair had called Saddam Hussein “a monster,” said he had no regrets about the war and warned that the same concerns that led to war over Iraq now applied to Iran and Western concerns that Tehran is secretly developing nuclear weapons.

Ms. Short, who quit as international development minister two months after the invasion in 2003, repeatedly accused Mr. Blair of “misleading” her and other cabinet ministers about the advice he was getting from government lawyers who questioned the legality of invading Iraq.


On that issue, and on her written warnings of a “humanitarian catastrophe” in the invasion’s wake, she said that Mr. Blair had effectively circumvented cabinet debate. Instead, she said, he had relied on an inner circle of “his mates” in government, having “little chats” with outsiders like herself and plying what she called a “poodle-like” relationship with the United States.


She also accused Mr. Blair of deceit in his argument shortly before the invasion that France had said that it would veto a so-called “second resolution” in the United Nations Security Council approving military action against Iraq, and that it would not shift from that position under any circumstances. That allowed Mr. Blair to say he had exhausted the diplomatic possibilities for dealing with Mr. Hussein and cleared the way for fulfilling his pledge to fight at America’s side.

“That was, in my view, a deliberate lie,” Ms. Short said. “It was one of the big deceits.” She said the truth was that that the French president at the time, Jacques Chirac, could have been persuaded to back military action if London and Washington had been prepared to give United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq more time. “There was no emergency; no one had attacked anyone,” she said.


“There wasn’t any new W.M.D,” she added, referring to weapons of mass destruction. “We could have taken the time and got it right.”


There was little surprise in Ms. Short’s bitterness toward Mr. Blair, whose relations with the former minister had long been strained by her role as a left-wing firebrand within the governing Labour Party. The more damaging element in her testimony might prove to be her revelations about the equivocal role played in the approach to the war by Mr. Blair’s successor as prime minister, Gordon Brown, who was then Britain’s finance minister and deeply estranged from Mr. Blair.

Mr. Brown built on the party’s anger about Iraq as he orchestrated Mr. Blair’s resignation, and his own takeover as prime minister, in June 2007. In 10 Downing Street, he quickly set about accelerating the deadline for British troops to withdraw from Iraq, a process completed last summer, but did so while maintaining a wary distance from questions about his own role in the cabinet discussions in the months before the 2003 invasion.


Ms. Short depicted Mr. Brown as positioning himself opportunistically by avoiding a clear commitment on the war. She said she had “various cups of coffee” with Mr. Brown, and found him to be “very unhappy and marginalized,” disillusioned over a range of government policies, but not specifically Iraq. In the immediate aftermath of the invasion, however, when British and American troops had quickly defeated Saddam Hussein’s forces, she said, “Gordon was back with Tony and not having cups of coffee with me anymore.”


Ms. Short’s testimony seems likely to deepen the challenge facing Mr. Brown as he prepares for his own testimony later this month, when the inquiry panel seems sure to ask him — in the face of deep public anger over the war — whether he supported the invasion. After he bowed to left-wing discontent in the Labour Party and established the inquiry last year, Mr. Brown took criticism for his plan not to testify until after a general election that is expected in May, which was widely viewed as an attempt to duck a public accounting before votes are cast.


But last month, Mr. Brown wrote to the inquiry saying he was ready to testify before the election, and the inquiry chairman, Sir John Chilcot, responded by saying the panel was happy to set aside its plan not to call current government ministers before the election if they were ready to appear sooner.


Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company



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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


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