x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Blair cannot duck blame for troubles in Iraq

The former prime minister tries to twist the facts of Iraq to suit his political decisions

Tony Blair has always been good at framing an argument, even when the facts are against him. And few facts have gone against him so much as those surrounding the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003. And yet that has not stopped the former British prime minister, and now largely absent Middle East envoy, from wading into the argument over the rise of militants in Iraq, seeking to defend his own decisions – and reshape the argument to suit his historical record.

Writing on the website of his Faith Foundation, Mr Blair said it was “bizarre” to claim that the success of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq was due to the US invasion. Even though few have seriously claimed that. “The fundamental cause of the crisis lies within the region not outside it,” he writes.

Yet the relationship between the 2003 invasion and the current crisis in Iraq is not that one directly caused the other. The relationship is that the shattering of the Iraqi state – removing its state institutions, its army, its police – and then seeking to rebuild them under US tutelage in a matter of years contributed to the instability of Iraq. It was not the sole cause, and no one would seek to deny the obvious impact of the Arab Spring and the Syrian civil war. But to completely ignore the impact of a devastating war against Iraq, followed by a decade-long occupation, is to ignore the reality of what a war on the scale of Iraq means.

Mr Blair is a canny observer of events, but he has his blind spots. In the same essay, he writes, accurately, that, in both Iraq and Syria, “there is no sensible policy for the West based on indifference”. Mr Blair has argued for stronger engagement with the Syrian conflict – which this newspaper would support – although he must recognise the impact of his decision to take the UK to war on false pretexts contributed to the anti-war sentiment on Syria in both the country and its parliament.

Too often since he left office Mr Blair has found he has to contort his own analysis to fit his historical record. This is one of those times. Mr Blair recognises the “agonising and protracted transition” of many Arab countries, but he cannot bring himself to admit the role that the Iraq war might have played. He seems to imagine the Iraq war as a surgical strike, leaving all else intact. In fact, the devastation of Iraq was such that the impact will be felt for more than one generation. Mr Blair’s words took him into the Iraq war 11 years ago. His words cannot get him out again today.