Tony Blair faces Chilcot: enter the great Houdini
The Mole: Judgment Day? Don’t bank on it after Lord Goldsmith’s performance
Before Tony Blair slithers into his chair in front of the Chilcot Inquiry this morning, let's get one thing straight. This is not the Nuremberg trial, neither is it an impeachment hearing. This is a panel of four men and one woman, three of whom - as Sky TV's Adam Boulton put it the other night - are on first-name terms with Tony Blair.
Their function is not to recommend anyone for trial as a war criminal, nor even to apportion blame in any way - but to consider Britain's involvement in the Iraq war and prepare a report on what lessons might be learned before Britain’s next reckless foreign adventure.
So while many members of the British public might wish this was Judgment Day for Tony Blair, it is very unlikely to be so.
What it is is a chance for Blair – who, we are told, has been burning the candle at both ends in preparation – to provide answers, however slippery, however lawyerly, to the questions that have been building over recent days:
Why did he push for war when it was abundantly clear that the government's best legal minds were advising against it, even if his Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, was finally swayed by a visit to Washington to change his mind?
Did he or did he not tell George Bush at the president's Texas ranch, nearly a year before the invasion, that he would make sure that Britain helped him topple Saddam, come what may?
Did he advocate - or play any part in - bending the intelligence about Saddam's WMDs in order to "sell" the Allied invasion to a sceptical British public?
And did he and his colleagues give enough thought to planning a future for the Iraqi nation after deposing its leader?
The Mole’s guess is that the great Houdini of modern British politics will have answers to the first three but offer a mea culpa on the fourth (he has to throw something to the baying crowd).
On Tuesday, the two former Foreign Office legal brains – Sir Michael Wood and Elizabeth Wilmshurst – looked like they were tightening the chains before throwing the former PM into the Thames. The legal case against war could not have been clearer in their view.
Twenty-four hours later, Lord Goldsmith, with his unanswerable assertion that he simply changed his mind on legality – from 'No' to 'Oh, all right then' - after chatting with some of his oppos in Washington, slipped Blair the key to the padlock.
We shall see.
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