21 March 2005


I've just watched the BBC's Panorama programme on the British government's decision-making in the run-up to the war on Iraq (transcript here) – and my verdict, I'm afraid, is that it was utterly unconvincing in its attempt to show that Tony Blair deliberately lied to the public in order to start the war.

It did show that Blair responded to an American decision to go for regime change in Iraq by agreeing that it was a good idea — and then did his best to find a justification for it that would (a) pass muster in terms of international law and (b) be acceptable to as much British opinion as possible. And it showed that he and his advisers hit on weapons of mass destruction as the best possible justification — which of course turned out not to be quite as watertight as they thought it would be.

But where exactly is the lying here? Blair obviously believed that the US case for regime change was right but recognised that unless there was a rationale for war against Saddam in terms of international law it would be very difficult to persuade other European governments or the British electorate to support it. So he actively looked for that rationale — and genuinely believed he had found it in WMD.

Sorry,folks: that's not lying, it's politics. You can say that Blair should have been more sceptical about the intelligence on WMD, that he should have been less enthusiastic about tagging along with the US, that he should have questioned the lack of thought about what happened after regime change — and I'd go along with all of that. But it's his judgment, not his veracity, that is at issue.

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