Did Tony Blair’s statements about taking Britain to war in Iraq constitute an apology? As far as Britain’s national newspapers were concerned, they certainly did not.
Most of the editorials and commentaries view his CNN interview as a spin operation ahead of the publication of the Chilcot report, which is expected, wrote the Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor, to be “damning.”
The Daily Mail accused the former prime minister of weasel words in “an apology of sorts.” The Daily Mirror thought he had delivered a “half-hearted apology” that “will bring no comfort to families whose loved ones never came home.”
The Daily Telegraph, rejecting any sense that it amounted to an apology, said Blair was “making sure the political ground has been prepared for the fight to defend his reputation.”
As for the Times, its opinionated news page headline reflected its scepticism, “Blair gets his Iraq defence out early.”
The Independent argued that Blair’s “admission… represents progress in coming to some sort of understanding about that ill-starred adventure and its longer-term consequences.”
And the Morning Star saw Blair’s argument that “‘the intelligence we received was wrong’… is not an apology — it is blaming British and other intelligence agencies for making mistakes.”
So left, right and centre appeared to agree that Blair’s pre-Chilcot interview raised more questions than it answered.
For the Indy, “apologies and semi-apologies… are no substitute for a thorough investigation into the decision to go to a war that had such grievous consequences.”
Seeing the rise of Isis and the conflicts across the Middle East as the result of the 2003 invasion, the paper stated:
“That we can trace the plight of Syrian and Iraqi refugees back to those conversations between Mr Blair and President George Bush at Camp David is now acknowledged by at least one of those men…
Whatever Mr Blair says now will not, in the short run, save a single refugee child from drowning in the Mediterranean or freezing in a mountain camp in Lebanon or the Balkans.
It will not prevent a single woman being raped by militants from Isis, al-Shabaab or Boko Haram, nor the attempted genocide of minorities and destruction of human rights and cultural heritage. We shouldn’t let the events of 2003 distract us from action now.”
In the Sun, Trevor Kavanagh said Blair – the “Great Spinner” – had “rejected any blame for the greatest geopolitical catastrophe this century.” In so doing, he confirmed that he “took this country to war on a false prospectus, certain of victory and determined at all costs to support President George W Bush.”
After referring to Blair’s interview answers as “weasel words”, Kavanagh continued:
“Blair suggests he did not foresee the inevitable chaos in Iraq once Saddam was toppled. But the consequences were widely discussed at the time.
In the run-up to the invasion, we saw detailed blueprints for post-war reconstruction, with multi-billion dollar plans for a stable peacetime Iraq.
There would be new roads, water supplies, hospitals and schools. Industrial generators would be flown in to keep lights burning while new power stations were constructed. Instead, power was cut off and people were left to drink from puddles.”
Con Couglin, in the Telegraph, pointed out that before Blair commited British forces to join the US-led coalition to overthrow Saddam Hussein, “radical Islamist groups such as Isis and al-Qaida barely featured on the political terrain of either country.”
But it would be unfair, he contended, to blame Blair and Bush “entirely” for the rise of Islamist-linked militants because it was a coincidence of events.
He concluded: “The real blame lies with a more recent generation of politicians who failed to grasp the importance of maintaining stability in both Iraq and Syria.”
Michael Burleigh, in the Mail, noted a crucial omission from Blair’s not-apology:
“There was no reference in his CNN interview about the recent revelation that he had committed Britain to war in Iraq at least a month before he met Bush at his ranch in Texas in April 2002…
Only last week, we learnt from a newly unearthed memo from the then US secretary of state, Colin Powell, written a month earlier to Bush, that ‘on Iraq, Blair will be with us should military operations be necessary .’
This means that Blair was privately committed to war, which belied his public position that he was going down the diplomatic route to try to avoid it.”
But the editorial in the Mirror will probably have a greater resonance because of the paper’s Labour party loyalties. Acknowledging that Blair has already been able to read large parts of the Chilcot report, it described his “squirming” statement as a “preemptive strike” and “a semi-apology.”
It believed Blair “will never face up to the enormity of his actions. He will never say sorry for all he has done”, adding:
“The central charge against him remains woefully unaddressed – that he took this country to war upon a lie. And as a result of his actions 179 brave British soldiers lie dead, alongside thousands of US allies and untold numbers of Iraqi citizens.”
We should remind ourselves that the Mirror (then edited by Piers Morgan) opposed the Iraq invasion. Some papers, notably the Sun, were gung-ho for war in 2003.
However, the post-war realisation that Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction and that Britain’s intelligence was flawed (and/or non-existent) changed the minds of most of the warmongers.
Some still plug away, of course, viewing regime change in Iraq as justification enough. How wrong can they be?