London: Tony Blair rode a wave of “Cool Britannia” optimism in his first heady years in office but is now reviled by many Britons who accuse him of leading the country into an unnecessary war in Iraq that shattered his legacy.
Published 13 years after the 2003 US-led invasion, Wednesday’s Iraq War Inquiry report pointed the finger squarely at the former prime minister for catastrophic planning failures.
“I will be with you, whatever,” Blair wrote in a note to then US president George W. Bush in July 2002, eight months before the invasion was launched.
Hundreds of people wearing Blair masks and carrying placards reading “Bliar” gathered outside the London conference centre where the report was unveiled, highlighting how divisive a figure Blair remains.
The contrast could not be greater with 1997 — the year the youthful centre-left reformer Blair was elected in a surge of enthusiasm comparable to the historic 2009 election of US President Barack Obama.
Blair’s achievements in office — from securing peace in Northern Ireland to economic prosperity, devolving power to home nations and winning a record three general elections — are now often overlooked.
Since leaving office, many in Britain have also viewed his moneymaking activities — including advising countries with questionable human rights records such as Kazakhstan — with distaste.
“The pity of Blair’s position is that if it weren’t for Iraq, more of the astonishing social transformation of Britain and the change in its structures of government would be recognised,” commentator Bronwen Maddox wrote in Prospect magazine last month.
“As it is, he is all but disqualified from British and European politics.” The leadership of the Labour party which Blair led from 1994 until his resignation as premier in 2007 has now totally rejected his centrist policies, embracing a left-wing programme.
World better, safer after Iraq war, says Blair
Former British prime minister Tony Blair on Wednesday defended his decision to take Britain to war in Iraq in 2003 despite a damning report on the conflict.
“I believe we made the right decision and the world is better and safer,” Blair said at a lengthy press conference following the Chilcot inquiry report. He said he accepted full responsibility for the decision to go to war, but rejected the argument that terrorism today stemmed from the invasion of Iraq.
Blair voiced “sorrow, regret and apology” but said he did not mislead parliament and did not regret toppling Saddam Hussein. “I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe,” said Blair, his voice breaking with emotion in a speech in central London. However, he added: “As the report makes clear there were no lies, parliament and cabinet were not misled, there was no secret commitment to war.
“The intelligence was not falsified and the decision was made in good faith.” Blair made his comments at a press conference in London after publication of the long-awaited Chilcot report into Britain’s role in the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq sharply criticised him. The former premier said the decision to take Britain to war was the “most agonising” he had ever taken.