Sunday | June 08, 2003
Is Blair lying?
Tony Blair, for reasons which have never been fully enunciated, jumped on the war bandwagon, and is now facing growing hostility from both the press and all of the parties in the House of Commons.
While he fended off the last challenge, last week, by waving the bodies of murdered Shia about like a talisman, there is a implication that the Security Services (MI5,MI6 and GCHQ) recorded their meetings with Blair's aides and will send them off if the slanders about "rogue elements" within them, uttered by Labour Party leader John Reid on BBC4, don't stop. Blair's spokesman, Alastair Campbell, muttered something about respecting their intelligence in the future, but the threat still hangs over Blair.
Unlike Bush, who's motives could have ranged from vengence to venality, Blair's desire to help "liberate" Iraq seems to have come at tremendous personal and political cost.
While neither the Tories or the LibDems can get their ducks in a row and the Labour backbenchers fume at the skill of a man they now regard as Frankenstein, the creature they created who is now wreaking havoc, Blair staggers on, with article after article hammering away with his links to the most unpopular US president in the UK this century. Radiohead's new album, Hail to the Thief is hardly a subtle commentary on the American president.
Is Blair lying about WMD? Did he purposely mislead the Commons about the war and ignore the recomendations of the security services? The government is apologizing for their ridiculous second dossier, but the breach between Blair and the British public is so great that it is unlikely to ever be repaired and if there was a viable opposition within or without the Labour Party, Blair's job would be in jeopardy.
Unlike Bush, where the root of the deception (whether by ommission or comission) is clear, it still remains a mystery to many, across the British political spectrum, why Blair believed there was WMD and why he risked his premiership over it. Clearly, alienating France and Germany made little sense, yet Blair marched in lockstep with a man who he shares few values with. The UK media was so desperate to find a bond that they asked Blair if he prayed with Bush. Blair, who hides it better, is nearly as religious as Bush and makes, for a Briton, fairly open proclaimations of faith.
Now that Iraq is descending into opposition across the country, the British are withdrawing as many troops as they can, as fast as they can, knowing the war remains unpopular at home. While the British claim they are having a better time with the Iraqis than the Americans using their experience in Northern Ireland as an example, they also know they don't want their army there for years on end.
But it still remains a mystery as to what convinced Blair to throw in with Bush. Was he influenced by the same things as Bush or did he get an extra special helping from UK-based exiles. Unlike the US, where SCIRI, the main Shia opposition was anathema, they got a fair hearing in the UK. Let's also remember the SCIRI wanted intervention and elections, because they know who wins that vote. As members of the Iraqi National Congress, did they and other exiles play a role in shaping Blair's view of Iraq. Did Bush and the exiles play on Blair's internationalist and interventionist tendencies to get him to go along with this?
Unlike Bush, who has a chance, however slight, to escape with a lie, Blair would be tossed from the Commons like a drunk England fan from a Dublin pub. Lying to the Commons is a cause for being removed as a member and he knows it. It would be hard to believe Blair would knowingly lie about WMD evidence and offer up such paltry evidence to backup such a lie.
Are Bush and Blair suffering from a delusional belief in Saddam's pefidery? That he was so clever and sneaky he could hide thousands of weapons with no one noticing? Or are they so venal, they thought they could create a lie and then be covered by events? Or did both men buy into a version of the truth which matched their ideologies. Bush, that Saddam was evil and Blair, that by ending the reign of Saddam, Iraq could become a fundamentally better place.
In the end, did Blair push for evidence to bolster his case, no matter how shaky it was, because he believed his intelligence services had been outwitted? That because they disregarded the exiles, the professionals were missing the boat.
Blair has mangled every crisis he's handled from Hoof and Mouth to his wife's home buying habits. His one saving grace was preventing the monarchy from being swept away in a tidal wave of grief after the death of Diana, the Princess of Wales. The Queen's indifference played poorly after the death and Blair's intervention saved the day. But every other crisis onward, from the firemen's strike to the MMR controversy, where he refused to discuss if his infant son had gotten the innoculations, fumbling and mangling has been par for the course. The UK press calls it spin, but compared to its US version, it seems more like bumbling.
Now, when faced with a crisis which has not only damaged his relationship with Europe, and placed his career in jeopardy, it seems the "evidence" he relied upon is coming undone day by day.
What both men forget, or ignore, is that we live in an age of aysmetric media. The BBC reaches the most educated Americans, the full range of British newspapers from the Sun to the Guardian are now daily reading for Americans. Americans can gain the same understanding of British politics available to Britons and vice versa. The internet has fundamentally changed the way we communicate. So Blair's Question Time is news in the US as it happens. A US Congressional Committee's actions are reported in real time to the UK. Allegations in British newspapers are no longer reported second hand, but read and discussed daily. It takes no more effort to quote from the Guardian than the New York Times and live broadcasts of BBC4 are a browser away.
In an environment where actions in Washington can harm Blair and discussions in London drive Congress, the ability of either leader to escape the effects of their actions are extremely diminished. Everyone gets to play in an English-speaking world where the internet reduces 3,000 miles to a click on a browser. Which means their fates are intertwined as never before.
Blair, for reasons only his memoirs can explain, has placed his faith in George W. Bush to a degree which is dismaying to Americans. much less Britons. Whatever strings they pulled on him, he fell for the Administration's line like a college junior on her year abroad. The minor detail that they share few actual beliefs seemed to have been glossed over. Of course, they would dump Blair over the side if he ever questioned the agenda, it would be silly to assume anything else. Loyalty for Bush flows upward, not down.
I doubt Blair is lying when he says he believes there is WMD in Iraq. But when the Security Services release those tapes and his aides are browbeating senior officials, an actual lie may no longer be relevant. With the war unpopular, allegations of torture floating about and daily protests against British troops, it may well cost him his job, regardless of his honesty.
Steve GilliardPosted June 08, 2003 11:59 AM | Comments (106)