The last Blair show.
If Blair was initially nervous, his hands shaking as the session began, as some have claimed, then it's unclear what he was so worried about. He certainly shouldn't have been of the questioning, which varied from the obsequious and deferential all the way to the mildly troubling, like a small dog trying to hump your leg, embarrassing at first but easy to shake off. Around the only moment he faltered during the morning session (which I didn't see) was when asked about that Fern Britton interview in which he made clear that he would have attempted to remove Saddam even if he knew that Iraq didn't have any WMD. His explanation? That even he, with all his experiences of interviews, still had something to learn, and that in any case, he didn't use the words "regime change". It wasn't then that in a moment of weakness he had for once actually given an honest answer, but that he had, perhaps in that modern lexicon of politicians and celebrities, "misspoke".
This led me onto thinking that maybe we've approached this whole inquiry, if not the modern way in which we expect politicians to be interviewed and interrogated in the wrong way entirely. After all, it's not Blair's first slip to a "soft" interviewer: he previously said to Michael Parkinson that God would judge him on Iraq, which again, might well be what he truly believes. Instead then of having a panel made up of historians, mandarins and other peers of the realm, we should of had the thing chaired by dear old Fern, assisted ably by Davina McCall, Graham Norton, Alan Carr and Coleen Rooney. If nothing else, Carr asking about the legality of the war and the wording of UN Resolution 1441, and what difference there was between "consider" and "decide" when it came to what happened if there was a "material breach" by Iraq might have been amusing for oh, 5 seconds at least.
As the afternoon session drew on, and as it became clear that even Sir Roderic Lyne, the only panel member who has even been close to forensic in his questioning whilst also drier than dry in both his wit and ill-disguised contempt, wasn't as much as laying a finger on our esteemed former prime minister, you could sense that Blair was almost beginning to enjoy himself. The whole world used to be his stage; now the closest he gets are corporate junkets where he spouts platitudes and walks away with a massive cheque, which although doubtless pleasing on the bank balance, just isn't the same. He quite obviously misses being a politician, and although you can say what you like about his politics, and this blog has plenty of times, he remains untouchable at what he does. If David Cameron is Blair's heir, then he doesn't even come close, or hasn't as yet; the air-brushed pretender to Blair's possibly Botoxed brow.
And as it went on, the higher Blair's flights of fancy flew. Why, if we hadn't confronted Saddam in 2003 then by now he would likely be competing with an attempting to go nuclear Iran. It didn't matter that Iraq, being almost completely disarmed in 2003, with even his slightly out-of-allowable range missiles being dismantled by the UN inspectors, would have had to spent those years, still impoverished by sanctions which were never likely to be lifted rebuilding his army from the bottom up. You had to wonder just how he wanted you to re-imagine history: should we be thinking as if the UN inspectors were never allowed back in at all, or as if we'd backed down in March 2003 and given them more time? In the first instance the crippling sanctions would have continued, and in the second eventuality it would have been discovered that Iraq didn't have the WMD stocks which Blair and the intelligence so forcefully stated that they had. In either case Iraq would have been left as the weak link, with Iran the most to gain.
Unlike others who, if not exactly chastened by appearing before the inquiry, have at least admitted that not everything went according to plan and that they had regrets about their involvement, Blair was as rigidly certain as ever of the righteousness of all that he had touched. If things went wrong, it wasn't Blair or the coalition's fault: it was everyone else's but. It wasn't that the planning for after the invasion had been inadequate, it was that al-Qaida and Iran had actively opposed the Iraqi people's rightful safe passage into a post-Saddam era. Despite admitting that Iraq had no links al-Qaida, Iran and al-Qaida as the day wore on grew increasingly inclusive, until finally Blair suggested that the two had been actively working together. Considering that the Mahdi army and the other Iranian-backed groups fought against the Sunni militant groups which sprang up in the aftermath and that this reached its peak during 2007 when civil war and sectarian cleansing of entire parts of the country was taking place, this was something of a revelation. To top that, Blair had to go some, and he managed it with his beyond chutzpah quoting of child mortality figures in the first three years of the decade, as compared with now. That those mortality rates are in part almost certainly attributable to the sanctions regime was something that no member of the inquiry felt like bothering him with.
Asked whether he had anything else to say as the session drew to a close, he simply replied in the negative. Lord Goldsmith, giving evidence on Wednesday, took that opportunity to imply in diplomatic language that even if he had decided that the war was legal, in difference with all the advisers in the Foreign Office and almost every other lawyer versed in international law, it didn't necessarily mean that he thought that it was right, or that it had gone well. Blair could have used it to express his discomfort for all those that have lost their lives, and indeed, continue to do so as a direct result of our actions, even if not at the hands of the coalition. Despite this, you almost expected Blair's interrogators to rise to their feet and applaud, just as Cameron attempted to get the Tories to do on his last prime minister's questions. Delusional to the very last, but still religious in the fervour of his belief that he did the right thing, never has there likely been such relief that Gordon Brown is now our prime minister.