In his biography of Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble, Himself Alone, Dean Godson of the Daily Telegraph paints a similar picture of a Tony Blair who, in the context of Northern Ireland, was eager to bypass Foreign office officials and ministers in order to attain political goals. Of Blair's early meetings with Trimble and the Ulster Unionists, Godson says &ldquoUnlike Major who met them over the great table in the Cabinet room, Blair in shirtsleeves would talk to the Unionists in a small room on the ground floor. Moreover, with the exception of a few occasions in the early months of the Labour Government, the bulk of these meetings were held with Blair and the No. 10 staff alone, rather than with the Northern Ireland Secretary present, as was the case under the tories”.
Whether it was Northern Ireland, Kosovo, or latterly Iraq, the approach was similar. To have a personal involvement, avoiding, if necessary, traditional channels and processes. Having gotten to the root of the problem, be it centuries of conflict in Ulster, or the removal of Saddam Hussein, Blair's conviction was always that he could sell the deal. Kampfner details how, after a round of meetings in Crawford, Texas, between Blair (occasionally accompanied by Manning), and Bush in early April of 2002, the decision to go to war was clearly made. On his return to Britain, almost a year before the war would actually start, Blair secretly instructed officials from the treasury and Downing St. to calculate the cost of war preparations: &ldquo'We were all told to make a hard assumption that there would be war,' says one senior official. 'It was very delicate. We had to do it on the quiet, because we were saying politically and diplomatically that nothing had been decided, whereas in actual fact the decision had just about been taken.'”[Pg169]
Earlier interventions such as those in Sierra Leone and Kosovo have either been forgotten, or lazily been assumed to have been a success thanks in part to a media dazzled by military machines, technical jargon, and the next story. Iraq, has refused to fit into either the easily forgettable or success category. The damage Iraq has done to Tony Blair's prestige is, according to Kampfner, very clear: &ldquoHe's been deeply damaged by the road to war within Europe, by the perception that he's given far too much uncritical support to the US. By the extent to which he sought to persuade the people that he could bring the United Nations around, and quite clearly he failed to do that. It's done him immense damage in internal politics within the Labour party and with the British public at large. And militarily, no matter what point you start from, it has been anything but a success.”
Presuming then that it is fair to lay full responsibility for Britain's involvement in Iraq at Tony Blair's door, why have there been no consequences? On the 15th of February, 2003, what has been described as Britain's biggest ever protest march took place in London, with a crowd estimated between 750,000 to 2 million demonstrating against British involvement in Iraq, and yet the political consequences for Tony Blair, until now have remained more anticipated than real. ”Nobody around him has produced any compelling evidence to deny the claims that he was on the point of standing down last spring/summer, – says Kampfner, speculating on Blair's future. – So he was close to that. He has already said that he'd go by the end of the next parliament. My hunch is that he will decide that course on the basis of two things: 1) the size of the Labour victory on may 5th, and 2) the extent to which that victory would seem to be because of or in spite of Tony Blair. If it's the latter, then I think he'll go rather quickly, perhaps within a couple of months, or it could be immediately after a British referendum on the European Constitution. I can't see him staying on much beyond that.”
It is, though, perhaps too easy, I suggest during the interview, to apportion all the blame for Iraq with Tony Blair. After all, while he may have sold the idea (backed up by faulty intelligence), his government and party allowed him to do so, with some honourable exceptions. &ldquoIt is quite an indictment, – agrees Kampfner, – both on the individuals in the government and the system of government, or the machinery of government, that they all stood by and didn't even advance certain questions about, for example, the legal status of the war, or about the evidence regarding weapons of mass destruction. They were quite happy, to a frightening degree to accept the arguments put forward to Blair. Privately many of them now will accept that they didn't do what they should have done. Which was not necessarily to oppose what he did, but certainly to question, and to be rigorous in checking the facts and the assumptions, which they did not do. Several cabinet ministers have said privately that they now regret that Britain went to war. They have to look themselves in the eye and answer for the fact that they didn't oppose or question Blair in the run up to the war.”
So, while there seems to be little likelihood of the electorate directly punishing an acquiescent Labour party (despite efforts like www.libdemthistime.org), have any clear lessons been learned from Iraq? For example, immediately after George W. Bush's re-election there were a number of whispered suggestions that both Syria and Iran would be targets for American 'democratisation' during his second term. Will there be a substantial difference in a third-term Labour government in relation to support for American foreign policy? &ldquoOn the night of the US election, – Kampfner recounts, – I was around various people in the Blair government. In the early hours when it seemed from the first exit polls that came out that John Kerry might win, there was scarcely concealed jubilation. There's a general feeling amongst those around Blair, possibly with the inclusion of Blair himself, that Bush's second administration will produce nothing but trouble. The choice of Paul Wolfowitz as World Bank Head was possibly the worst piece of news that they could have given the Blair government. So, whatever the Bush administration does, be it with Syria, be it with Iran, it is acutely awkward for this government. I wouldn't, though, rule out any future military intervention with Britain playing a part. Certainly the days of Blair or any British prime minister just being able to do what they did with Iraq are well over.”