Blair discussed this in his interview with Andrew Marr the other day. Marr asked him if he agrees with the NIE assessment that "the threat of terrorism has been markedly increased, seriously increased, by what's happened in Iraq".
Blair: I don't think that terrorism has increased as a result of Iraq, no, or Afghanistan...Blair then launches of into another of his spurious rambles.
Marr: But this is the CIA, the FBI, All these guys, these clever guys...
Blair: I don't know whether it's the view of the CIA or the FBI but I can tell you my view very, very strongly indeed is that part of the biggest problem we have is in believing that we started this thing. Look, 9/11... happened before Iraq or Afghanistan.
First of all, fair play to Marr for even managing to get into the position to be able to ask the question. Not an easy task in itself, I'm sure.
But what of his answer? Blair's willingness to dismiss expert opinion (experish opinion anyway) in favour of his own "very, very strongly held view" is a clear reflection of his messianic belief in the infallibility of his own judgement. It was just that sort of approach which caused the British government to adopt its disastrous Iraq policies in the first place. Lessons learned? He seems incapable of it.
But that's not the main problem with his answer. I've discussed the logic defying nature of his attitude to this question before so let's leave that and look at a related matter.
Blair's standard response to this question is that "they" started it. Leave aside all that follows from that if you can and pedal back to the question. Marr asked if Iraq is making the terrorist threat worse; he didn't ask who started it.
Just once, I'd like an interviewer to say that to him. This sort of thing perhaps:
Mr Blair, that's an interesting answer but not to the question I asked. I didn't ask who started killing who, I asked whether what's happened in Iraq has increased the threat of terrorism to a level greater than it was before the invasion.Wouldn't that be great?
You said before the invasion that it would make Britain and the world safer from terrorism. Now, every intelligence estimate we read says the opposite. Don't you think you owe it to the British people whose lives are now more endangered to honestly address this issue rather than changing the subject in such a misleading fashion? The British public are not idiots and I don't think the Prime Minister should behave as if they are. Please answer the question.
Of course, anyone who did say that would quickly find that they'd never be allowed access to another government minister as long as Blair was in power. They certainly would never get another interview with Blair himself. Journalism is a competitive business but there's only one PM. The most sympathetic voices will always to Downing Street's "go to guys". That's the wonder of political journalism.
Personally, I believe we need more people like Michael Crick. I've no idea what his politics are but he appears to have a willingness to ask politicians really difficult or awkward questions even though he knows it means he'll almost never get a set piece interview with anyone of note. Fair play to him for that. If a lot more political journalists adopted that approach, perhaps politicians would find it less easy to practice the evasions which so irritate and alienate the public. Experts in game theory could no doubt explain why this doesn't happen more. In essence, someone will always be willing to soft pedal their way to favoured interviewer status, there's just no personal advantage to individual journalists in maintaining a united front.
There's no particular use blaming Marr for this state of affairs. The truth is, any journalist who demonstrated any sign that they might nail Blair down on this would certainly be denied the opportunity by the control freaks who operate the Downing Street spin machine. That's what having an honest debate with the country is all about in Blair's Britain. That's the way it has to be when a government must defend what is indefensible.
To an extent however, Blair's continual evasions on this do speak for themselves.
One final thought. When Blair wants to frighten us into giving up our liberty, he has no qualms about describing the "unprecedented" threat from terrorism we now face. When he's confronted with the reasons why this is the case, he denies that the threat has increased. Duh? How can any rational human being hold those two obviously contradictory views at the same time?
Tags: News, Politics, Iraq, WonT, Tony Blair