Sunday, 7 February 2010

Opinion: Tony Blair may be 'honourable' but was he honest?

In an apparently emotional outburst on television today, Alistair Campbell declared that Tony Blair is a "totally honourable man". That's not the same as being totally honest.

I watched the internet video of Mr Blair answering the Iraq Chilcot Inquiry on January 29. He seems charismatic, intelligent, and a wonderful orator: cool and composed in public debate. He seems honourable: prepared to deliver on a difficult promise and stick to allies through thick and thin. A remarkable man, and no wonder that he held the world in thrall to his words when he was Britain's Prime Minister.

In 2003, Mr Blair told us that the intelligence report of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was 'beyond doubt'. Now he says this was only what he believed. In 2003, he told us that Iraq could deploy WMD "within 45 minutes". Now he says that he only referred to battlefield weapons. The press assumed he meant that WMD were an immediate threat to the world. Mr Blair didn't correct that impression at the time.

His oratory persuaded Parliament that there was no more time for patient persuasion. Parliament voted for war. Hundreds of thousands are dead as a result. Mr Blair convinced us on a matter of honour, when he, and we, should have given patient persuasion, international consensus, and honesty, a little more time.

Did Blair intend his words to emphasise the immediacy of the danger to the world?

According to the Oxford dictionary, honour means "knowing and doing what is morally right". Honesty means "free of deceit". 

Tony Blair is an honourable man: he was true to his beliefs, and he lived up to his promise to support the American military intervention. But we needed more than honour, we needed honesty as well. We needed to know that there was room for doubt, and time to check the facts.

Link to video: Iraq Inquiry: Mr Blair defending 45 minute claim
Link to BBC story: Mr Campbell defends Blair

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