Is Blair mad – or just defending himself ahead of Chilcot report?
Former PM insists Iraq nightmare 'was always going to happen': you need help, says Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson, the Tory Mayor of London, has this morning accused Tony Blair of being “mad” and in need of "professional psychiatric help" because of his refusal to face the fact that the 2003 invasion of Iraq has led inexorably to the Isis attacks on cities across Iraq.
But is the former Labour prime minister "mad" - or is he carefully getting his defence ready for the imminent publication of the Chilcot report into the Iraq war? Is it, in short, a pre-emptive strike?
The speculation has been fuelled by the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, who said this morning on Radio 4's Today programme that he believed the Chilcot report would be “coming shortly”.
Sir John Chilcot's inquiry, which began taking evidence in 2009 and has cost £7.4 million, is widely expected to criticise Blair for supporting US President George W Bush in invading Iraq without a proper plan to deal with what would happen next.
The report has been held up by the refusal of the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, to allow publication of secret memos between Blair and Bush. Last month Chilcot conceded defeat, agreeing to publish merely the "gist" of the exchanges, clearing the way for his report to be published.
The big question is when?
Many expect it will come out before the Parliamentary summer recess begins on 22 July. There are no clues as to the precise timing on the Chilcot website but because it is known that Blair is to be given advance warning of its findings and the timing of its release, his apparent attempt to defend himself suggests it could appear any day now.
Hague, who is due to make a statement in the Commons today on the threat of a Middle East conflagration posed by the Isis advance in Iraq, said he hoped Chilcot would “report fairly soon – we have to reserve our judgment for that inquiry”.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson's assertion that Blair must be mad comes in a Daily Telegraph column today.
The mayor is reacting to assertions made by Blair in an essay posted on his website, and reiterated on yesterday's Andrew Marr Show, that the 2003 invasion was not to blame for what is happening in Iraq today.
This is "jaw-droppingly and breathtakingly at variance with reality", says Johnson.
"He [Blair] said that the allied invasion of 2003 was in no way responsible for the present nightmare – in which al-Qaeda has taken control of a huge chunk of the country and is beheading and torturing Shias, women, Christians and anyone else who falls foul of its ghastly medieval agenda. Tony Blair now believes that all this was 'always, repeat always' going to happen."
The reality, says Johnson, is that "before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, there was no al‑Qaeda presence in that country, none at all. Saddam was a ruthless Ba’athist tyrant who treated his population with appalling brutality. But he did not have anything to do with the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre, and he did not possess Weapons of Mass Destruction."
Johnson does not rule out Western intervention this time. "
It would be wrong and self-defeating to conclude that because we were wrong over Iraq, we must always be wrong to try to make the world a better place. But we cannot make this case – for an active
Britain that is engaged with the world – unless we are at least honest about our failures.
"Somebody needs to get on to Tony Blair and tell him to put a sock in it – or at least to accept the reality of the disaster he helped to engender. Then he might be worth hearing. The truth shall set you free, Tony."
In his essay, Blair blamed the situation in Iraq on the West's failure to take military action to topple the Assad regime in Syria. "To argue otherwise is wilful," he wrote.
Speaking on the Marr Show, Blair added: "Even if you'd left Saddam in place in 2003, then when 2011 happened, and you had the Arab revolutions going through Tunisia and Libya and Yemen and Bahrain and Egypt and Syria, you would have still had a major problem in Iraq.
"Indeed, you can see what happens when you leave the dictator in place, as has happened with Assad now. The problems don't go away."
Johnson isn't the only one to react with incredulity.
Lord Prescott, former Labour deputy prime minister, ridiculed his old boss: “Put on a white sheet and a red cross and we are back to the Crusades,” he said.
Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain’s ambassador to the US from 1997 to 2003, said the handling of the campaign against Saddam was “perhaps the most significant reason” for the sectarian violence now ripping through Iraq.
“We are reaping what we sowed in 2003. This is not hindsight. We knew in the run-up to war that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would seriously destabilise Iraq after 24 years of his iron rule,” he said.