When I first called the prime minister a liar on air over his repeatedly denied plans to invade Iraq – in the wake of the Texas meeting with George Bush in spring 2002 – the BBC presenter was aghast at my presumption. Today there can scarcely be a sentient being in the land who would disagree.
If Tony Blair had been told a couple of months ago that three days before polling day the 87th British soldier would be killed in Iraq (not that Blair cared to remember the number) and the first seven items on the Today programme would be about Iraq, he might well have called off the election.
As if in a Shakespearean tragedy, a powerful leader with a fatal flaw is diminishing before our eyes – his prime ministerial title, as with Macbeth, “hangs loose about him like a giant’s robes upon a dwarfish thief”. Whatever the result on Thursday, these are the last days of Blair.
Taunted even by the star of the softball interview, Sir David Frost, at the weekend for being allowed out without his new best friend, Gordon Brown – the man he banished from the campaign leadership in a flurry of spin just months ago – Blair is on the run. But there is no diminishing in the pursuit. He lied, and more than 100,000 died: the real blood price of his grotesque special relationship with Bush. As the epigrammist has it: “Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.” The Blair betrayal is deep in the mire precisely because it has been a disastrous failure. Every “turning point” has led into a new cul-de-sac. The fall of Baghdad, the capture of Saddam, the “handover” of sovereignty, the destruction of Falluja, the much trumpeted and manipulated elections and last week, at last, a new client administration. None of these has achieved any reduction in the cycle of resistance to the occupation.
As the avalanche of leaks indicates, at the heart of the British establishment people are reaching the conclusion that Blair must pay for what he has done. He misled parliament and the people – the mandarinate might have swallowed that – but he lied to the armed forces, too. As Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, then chief of the armed forces, made clear at the weekend, he doesn’t intend to go into the dock by himself. The troops were told the war was both legal and unavoidable. We now know it was neither. They were promised a warm welcome by “liberated” Iraqis. Red-hot and razor-sharp has been the reality. This is treason – and it hasn’t prospered.
If every one of the hundreds of New Labour poodles were re-elected on Thursday, why should they learn new tricks? If there is to be no punishment for blunders, crimes of this magnitude, what meaning has democracy? And why should they stop at Iraq?
Bush may well soon demand the special relationship be consummated again. We know who the targets are and – in the light of the weekend’s revelations – it may even be that agreement has been reached to prime the guns again. This time we will not be able to argue that we did not know the truth.
The last redoubt of the apologists for the war is that while it might have been illegal, even unnecessary, at least it removed a tyrant. But weighed against the disfigurement of the international legal and political system, the mass graves of victims of sanctions, invasion and occupation, the surge of sectarian and ethnic strife in the country and the mass influx of recruits to Islamist fundamentalism, even the end has been undone by the means. There was no al-Qaida in Iraq before the arrival of US and British troops. Now fundamentalists are descending like spores of anthrax on the gaping wounds torn open by the war. It is without doubt the biggest foreign policy calamity in modern history.
When they are really behind the eight ball, the Blairites say that all this has the benefit of hindsight. But 2 million people on London’s streets in February 2003 had no 20/20 vision. They could just somehow see that visiting devastating violence on an already dangerously unstable part of the world was likely to make the world even more dangerous. This common sense somehow didn’t percolate into the House of Commons, which had already begun falling in behind the bugle call for war. Leaders of the anti-war movement, such as me, were called traitors for refusing to fall into line.
The name calling may have ended, but the reckoning has only just begun. History will link this prime minister irrevocably with Iraq. It will be the sculpting on his political tombstone. Iraq has been broken. Millions of lives have been shattered. But broken too have been the hearts of those who waited so long for the return of a Labour government. Tony Blair promised that a new dawn had broken. But he became the leader who lost his way. For a stars-and-stripes ribbon to pin on his coat, he betrayed us. For New Labour, it will be never be glad confident morning again.
George Galloway is the parliamentary candidate for the Respect coalition in Bethnal Green and Bow, and a columnist for the Scottish Mail on Sunday – [email protected]