I have always found Tony Blair’s exaggeration of the case for the Iraq War to be thought-provoking. This has been the main cause of the British public’s loss of trust in him. Blair made the case for war around the central assertion that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The Intelligence Services had been tentative about the possibility of Saddam having WMD, and in relaying this to Parliament, Blair converted this tentative conclusion into a certainty. This, to many people, constituted a lie over a very serious matter, hence the loss of trust.
That happened 4 years ago, and since then I’ve regularly turned Blair’s ‘lie’ over in my mind. On the face of it, it is a lie, and a big one. On the other hand, politicians habitually say one thing and mean another, and their fellow MPs all know the language, they know what is really being said and what the speaker’s real intentions are, and the speaker knows they know this. In this context, what is ordinarily a lie is not so.
So it’s not necessarily a simple matter. The way the system works is adversarial. We have an Opposition, and this is a good thing, and we have a ‘free press’, which again is a good thing, for between them they help keep the government accountable. But they habitually give the worst possible interpretation of anything the government might do, and twist the meaning of anything they might say. In this context, it is not a simple matter for a member of the government to speak the truth.
In the case of Iraq, a clear motive for the government was that of staying ‘onside’ with America. All British governments have wanted to do this (and Blair recently actually stated the importance of being ‘in’ with the US: it opens lots of doors, he said). Harold Wilson wasn’t prepared to go as far as Blair, for he refused to join the US in Vietnam; and Margaret Thatcher was known for not giving Reagan an easy time of it, despite the closeness of their relationship. So we can criticise Blair for being too subservient, but not necessarily for the basic intention of staying onside with America.
But he couldn’t say this. If he had given this as a reason for going to war, he would have found himself out of office. It would have been too humiliating for the country, even though everyone knew that was what was going on. So he had to give another reason for going to war, for which he has subsequently been hounded by the public but not, interestingly, by Parliament, for they know and accept the game.
I have been watching Andrew Marr’s ‘A History of Modern Britain’, and last night’s episode included the Suez Crisis of 1956, when Marr said (very topically) that Britain went to war on the basis of a lie. Nasser of Egypt had nationalised the Suez Canal, and Britain wanted to claim back its control of the canal. To do this they cooked up a plot with the French and Israelis whereby the Israelis would find a pretext for attacking Egypt, and the French and British would join in to support them.
In those days you didn’t have a vote in Parliament about going to war, and the war's failure, under American pressure, led to the resignation of Eden, the Prime Minister. The crisis made clear that Britain was no longer a major player in the world. Eden had a Sun-Neptune conjunction in Gemini, and at the time of the war, Mars in Pisces was squaring this conjunction: a war (Mars) based on deception (Neptune). In the run-up to Iraq, Tony Blair had transiting Neptune conjoining his Moon, so again we have the element of Neptunian deception; as for the ‘war’ bit, Blair has Mars Rising, so he’s in his element anyway. But for the record, Mars in Capricorn was a few weeks off joining his Capricorn MC.
The point here is that in constructing a pretext for war, Tony Blair wasn’t doing anything new. It’s just that it was no longer politically acceptable to do so, which I think is a good thing. It is one of the outcomes of Pluto’s passage through Sagittarius, a sign that values honesty and truth: this, I think, is the cultural and political significance of Blair’s ‘Lie’.
The trouble is, it wasn’t just ‘A Convenient Untruth’ (to paraphrase Gore). Blair seemed entirely convinced that Saddam had these weapons and was an imminent threat. I dislike, but kind of understand, why politicians lie in the ordinary sense. What makes me scratch my head is how Blair convinced himself that the pretext was the reality. And why he had this trusting and appreciative relationship with Bush. They are part of the same package, I think. I recently saw Lord Kinnock, a previous Labour leader, also failing to understand Blair’s relationship with Bush.
So while I very reluctantly accept that politicians often have to say one thing and mean another, and that this was probably an inevitable part of going to war with Iraq (and that DOESN’T mean I agree with the real reasons for that war), I still don’t understand why Blair brought such a flimsy pretext before Parliament (he didn’t have to) and persuaded himself to believe in it. It was asking for trouble. It was wilfully self-destructive. I tend to think that what we’re looking at it not so much a moral issue, but some sort of psycho-pathology in Blair which he is blind to, and which I for one don’t yet understand.
But it has the character of religious extremism: the passionate certainty under the influence of a higher authority (the will of God, as manifest through the person of both himself and the more powerful Bush). And for Blair, I suggest that loyalty to this authority transcended ordinary political loyalties. It also seemed to blind him, as religion often does, to ordinary considerations of truth. I think people are right not to trust Blair over this issue. But not because he ‘lied’ in the sense of being deliberately deceptive. He can’t be trusted because to some extent he is a mole, a foreign agent, whose loyalties lie, in the last resort, not with his country but with what he imagines to be ‘God’.