If it wasn't so unspeakably maddening, it truly would be comical. Step back for a moment from the narrative about Blair's peerless communication skills ensuring that there will never be a chink in his armour on Iraq, and the conclusion that he had in fact already skewered himself weeks ago would be inescapable. By conceding that he would still have wanted to remove Saddam from power even if he had known there were no WMDs, Blair had unambiguously demonstrated that much of the case for war was built on a conscious deception. How was that statement, for instance, even remotely consistent with his firm undertaking weeks before the war that "even now" Saddam could stay in power if he disarmed? It wasn't, and it was clear from his performance yesterday (for that, of course, was precisely what it was) that he knew that perfectly well. So no way out of that one, then? Oh, don't be silly - this is a) Blair, and b) the Chilcot Inquiry we're talking about. All that it took to get off the hook was a sheepish grin, and a suggestion that he's simply far too much of a novice to be expected to handle fiendish lines of questioning from heavyweight political interviewers like...Fern Britton. As ever, the brazenness is beyond breathtaking.
Listening to hours of Blair testimony is a bit like watching the Conservative party conference - eventually you find yourself being sucked into a parallel universe where black really is white. Some other choice examples from yesterday -
'If you want to deal with WMDs, you start with a regime that's used them before.' Well no, actually, what you do is you start with a regime that's actually got them. Like North Korea, perhaps, or even Israel, both of which have nuclear weapons, as opposed to Iraq which had...well, nothing.
'What was a surprise was that al-Qaeda and Iran got involved in Iraq.' Well, perhaps it wouldn't have been quite so much of a surprise if you had listened to the countless voices warning that, far from tackling international terrorism, the invasion of Iraq would actually fuel it. Blair might counter that nobody could have known any of that was going to happen, it was all just pure speculation. Well, quite. In that sense it was rather like the pure speculation that Iraq had an 'extensive and growing' WMD programme with which it planned to threaten its neighbours - speculation that was solely based, let's not forget, on 'sporadic and patchy' intelligence. So what was the difference between one lot of speculation in early 2003 and the other lot? Faith. Conviction. To coin a phrase, he simply 'knew it was right'. Even, apparently, the categorical proof we now have that it was wrong still doesn't mean it wasn't right. Now that's real faith.
'The really interesting question is the Iraq 2010 question - what would have happened if we had allowed Saddam and his sons to remain in power?' From a man who has just acknowledged that terrorists and malign Iranian influence ended up in Iraq as a direct result of the invasion (and yet in a way that was apparently completely unforseeable), it really is beyond satire to base the case for war entirely on his own 'foresight' of the unspeakably terrible things that would have happened otherwise. Blair even informed the committee in grave tones that important 'lessons' for the future needed to be learned from the way in which Iraq became a terrorist base. Perhaps chief among those lessons ought to be that this outcome (the real "2010 Iraq" outcome) could have been easily avoided by not invading Iraq, and that such a devastatingly simple avoidance strategy might have been rather wise with the benefit of hindsight?
'What made Saddam different from other dictators is that he was responsible for the deaths of a million people.' But to get to that figure, you have to include all the casualties of the Iran-Iraq war, on the basis that Saddam was responsible for every single one of those deaths because he started the war by launching an unprovoked invasion. That really is exceptionally dangerous ground for Blair to be treading on given the circumstances, and once again, extraordinarily brazen. And that's before you even recall the fact that the west seemed to be rather supportive of Saddam's bloodthirsty adventures in Iran at the time.
'Some people thought there would be a humanitarian disaster in Iraq. We avoided that, actually.' Is this guy for real?