‘Phew, it isn’t a whitewash.’ That’s what everyone is saying about the Chilcot report. It doesn’t hold back on Blair, it gives him what-for, and it lays out in gory detail the intelligence failures behind Britain’s part in the Iraq War of 2003. ‘This is a very, very damning verdict’, says the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg: ‘If people were worried this would be a whitewash, it is not.’
Only it is. It’s the worst kind of whitewash. It’s a political whitewash, a moral whitewash, an historical whitewash. In giving the chattering classes what they so desperately craved — hard evidence that Blair is wicked and his warmongering was a disaster and they are right to hate him now — Chilcot and the circus around it wrenches the Iraq War from its historical context and turns it into the psychodramatic folly of a hubristic has-been. In doing so, it utterly washes away the context in which the war could take place.
The response to Chilcot confirms the extent to which Blair has become the voodoo doll of a certain section of the political and media elite, into which they can shove pins in the hope of making themselves feel better. Whatever the narrow remit of the Chilcot Inquiry — to examine officials’ decision-making process both before and after the invasion — it was clear from the very beginning, and it is especially clear today, that it would play the far larger political role of confirming the sinfulness of Blair and the righteousness of those media and political types who, having fawned over him in 1997, now hold him responsible for every ill afflicting the Middle East, Labour and Britain itself. The hope was always that Chilcot would copperfasten the middle classes’ Blair-bashing narrative: the idea that this one, brash, well-spun man corrupted Labour, soiled politics and visited destruction upon Iraq.
And they’ve got what they wanted. They’ve got the wise, lawyerly confirmation of Blair’s nastiness and, by extension, their own decency. ‘Blair will never escape the shame of Iraq’, hollers Labourish tabloid the Mirror. ‘It was Blair’s war, so it is Blair’s sick, awful calamity’, it says. This is echoed everywhere. Blair lied, Blair destroyed Iraq, Blair turned Labour into something evil, and so Blair must pay, Blair must be shamed, Blair might have to be dragged to The Hague. Get Blair, hammer Blair, imprison Blair: this is the cry of the chattering classes, of those who in 1997 just as madly hailed Blair as a ‘messiah come to save us from Toryism’.
If this hysterical Blairphobia sounds too simplistic to be true, that’s because it is. It is a cover-up of its own. This feverish hunt for the one thing, the one man, we might hold responsible for Iraq and Bad Things in General has the terrible effect of dehistoricising and depoliticising the war. It ignores what politics came before it, and what politics has come after it. It overlooks the fact that, from the moment he took power in 1997, and with the glowing approval of the vast majority of the liberal press that now hates him, Blair and his New Labour team pushed the idea of humanitarian interventionism. It overlooks the wild cheers that greeted Blair’s Chicago Doctrine, outlined in a speech in 1999, which said that when a foreign leader is behaving badly, ‘the principle of non-interventionism [should] yield to the international responsibility to protect’. It forgets the New Labour government’s bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, which the media were solidly behind. ‘If you want to know why the public supported the war [on Yugoslavia], thank a journalist’, said Channel 4’s Alex Thomson. It utterly shuns the fact that in the post-Cold War West of the 1990s and 2000s, the hunt was on for a new sense of mission for our at-sea elites, and they discovered it overseas, in the wreckage of other people’s wars, where from Yugoslavia to Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond our leaders could engage in simplistic moral/military dramas in an attempt to fortify their own flagging legitimacy at home.