Friday, January 29, 2010


I didn't expect to hear anything new when Tony Blair appeared before the Chilcott panel, but what really leapt out at me was the admission that 'the crucial thing after September the 11th is that the calculus of risk changed'. For me, this is tantamount to an admission that nothing (or nothing very much) changed on the ground. What had changed was the tolerance of Western states for the position in which they found themselves vis-a-vis Saddam. Or, to be very clear, if Saddam [why is this the only head of state we seem to be on a first name basis with?] had 5 or 50 units of unspecified WMD before 9/11, he continued to have 5 or 50 units after 9/11 (or none, actually), we continued to believe that he had 5 or 50 units, but we acted as if he had 50,000 because the notion of the posession of even 5 or 50 units by someone we had no control over had become intolerable. In addition, the government lacked the confidence that the country at large would share this risk assessment (namely, that it was ok to bomb the shit out of a country if one was unsure of what was going to happen next). Hence, the dredging up of an unrelenting stream of half-stories ranging from the alleged purchase of uranium yellowcake from Niger, to alleged links with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden (who, by the way, had in 1991 offered the Saudis help to push Saddam out of Kuwait), to the alleged ability to deploy said WMD in 45 minutes. Now Tony Blair effectively tells us the discovery of these 'facts' were not crucial to his decision to go to war on Iraq. The invasion of Iraq was basically the diplomatic equivalent of a hike in risk premiums.

The other really interesting semantic distinction to emerge from the enquiry so far is that between 'lie' and 'exaggeration'. I can appreciate that a certain kind of exaggeration may not be a lie, but at some point when exaggerations become very big or the relative consequences of small and large exaggerations very disparate, the category distinction between 'lie' and 'exaggeration' collapses. BLIAR is not a spelling mistake (actually it's the way a lot of South Indians would pronounce his name anyway). 

Clare Short was on the news on Sunday and said that Blair made no reference to this argument about risk in cabinet at the time of the war. As such, it reads very much like post-hoc justification. I think the more coherent explanation is that 9/11 gave Blair et al. the pretext to "reorder this world around us" (as he put it in his "Chicago doctrine" speech) and get rid of evil-doers.
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