It is a customary practice for many global politicians, to publish their memoirs after leaving office. This is seen as a means of raising money, returning to the spotlight, setting the record straight, and providing a version of history from their point of view. Therefore, it was not surprising that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently published his memoirs, which went on sale last week. All British Prime Ministers since the end of World War II have published their memoirs, and offered their version of events and history. However, Blair’s memoirs have generated a storm of commotion, which has yet to subside. The man is a controversial figure on a number of levels, but he will always be remembered as the man who led Britain into two devastating and costly wars firstly in Afghanistan, then in Iraq, of which the repercussions are still ongoing.
Many people were eagerly anticipating Blair’s memoirs, not only to uncover the truth, but because the man is a cunning politician of the highest degree. Indeed he says as much in his memoirs, stating “politicians are forced from time to time to hide the full truth, twist it, or even distort it”. But the people wanted to hear what he had to say about many events and issues, which characterized the ‘storm’ that Britain and the world witnessed during his reign as Prime Minister from 1997, until his forced ‘resignation’ in June 2007, after ten years full of controversy. Perhaps this is the reason why his book leapt to the top of the bestseller list, and became the fastest-selling political memoir in Britain. It also reached number 12 in the bestselling books in America (the U.S. edition was published with an introduction especially written by Blair expressing his feelings toward the United States), and number 9 in Canada, yet it did not experience a similar boom in France and Germany.
The reality is that the commotion around Blair’s memoirs began before it was even on sale, when the office of the former Prime Minster announced that he had decided to donate all the proceeds of his book to a centre for treatment and rehabilitation of wounded British soldiers, an amount estimated at over 4 million pounds (around 7 million dollars). Many have described this move as an attempt to buy British affection, and apologize indirectly for the bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, in his memoirs, and in a series of promotional interviews in newspapers, on television and radio stations, coinciding with the books publication, Blair disappointed many when he refused to apologize for the decision to go to war with Iraq. He said that it was the right decision, although he expressed his regret for the families of those killed. Although the rationale to justify the war, that was presented to the public, was later proven to be untrue when no weapons of mass destruction were found, Blair still says in his memoirs, which he has entitled ‘A Journey’: “I can’t regret the decision to go to war…According to what we know now, I still think that leaving Saddam Hussein in power would have been a bigger risk to our security than removing him”.
Two admissions, disclosed by Blair in his memoirs, relating to the war, have also attracted controversy. Firstly he revealed that he was inspired to take the decision to intervene in Iraq after watching the film ‘Schindler’s List’, which tells the story of a man attempting to save Jews from the Nazi Holocaust. The other admission was that they [the Allied Forces] did not have a clear exit strategy from Iraq, and even with regards to this issue, he had tried to conceal the truth. He said that he did not expect violent and destructive interference from Iran, and ‘Al-Qaeda’ in Iraq, yet these are strange words given that many analysts had expected chaos in Iraq, and warned of [the invasion’s] impact, especially after the decision to disband the Iraqi army. It has been said that the British Foreign Office warned Blair of the possibilities of chaos and civil war, but in his insistence for war, he rejected advice from his opponents in government, and likewise he did not listen to the many voices in the Middle East warning of the consequences of invasion.
From reading the memoirs of a number of officials during that phase, whether from the U.S. administration or the British government, it is clear that the decision to go to war in Iraq, which has resulted in thousands of victims, and an estimated economic cost of more than a trillion dollars, was confirmed when Blair visited Bush as a guest at his Texas ranch in 2002. The two men held closed meetings, and even their closest advisors did not take part. After those meetings, Blair gave a speech in Texas, where he adopted, for the first time, the slogan of ‘regime change by force, when the need arises’. He continues to maintain this viewpoint, refusing to apologize for the incorrect justifications for war that were presented to the public, and insisting that he does not regret the decision, which he still deems to be the right one. However, he tells those who opposed the Iraq invasion, that he thinks that Britain and the West could be soon forced to fight another war, this time with Iran.
Any researcher looking for the facts of the war in Iraq will not find them in Blair’s memoirs, because the version provided by the man, regarding one of his most important and serious decisions, remains deliberately obscure. He does not reveal secrets; rather he provides what he describes as his ‘ideological vision’ of the decision to go to war, and his personal view on certain events and people. Perhaps we should remember that Blair, who some have described as ‘a professional actor’, is an advocate of the theory of ‘creative ambiguity’.