A War Too Far

I'm not sure that tonight's instalment of Michael Cockerell's documentary on Tony Blair, 'The Inside Story', will have gained a huge number of student viewers, competing as it was with 'Life on Mars'. Nevertheless, it carried on the fascinating unfolding of a tragic tale that was begun last week. This week, the focus was on Blair's propensity for war. Infamously, this man who began his premiership with a speech that resounded with the words "We could be the first generation not to have to send our troops into battle", has sent his troops into battle no less than five times. They're still there of course - dying and suffering in the killing fields of Afghanistan and Iraq.

War was like a drug for Blair. The more he experienced it, the more he wanted it, on ever grander scales. The exhilaration of war, the absolute sense of rightness, the applause of liberated peoples - these were toxic mixes for a man who had never seen war first hand. What is even more fascinating is that in the first, very limited engagements, there was strong justification for his actions. He could argue that he helped bring Milosevic to the negotiating table over Kosovo; there was no doubt about the triumph in securing the release of British soldiers held hostage by Sierra Leone's vile 'West Side Boys'. But limited engagements are one thing - a war to change the world is another, and that is what Iraq was.
The problem for Blair was twofold. First, the more success experienced by British forces the more Blair seemed keen to use them on an ever wider canvas. Second, he had an unshakeable belief in the justice of his various causes. Cockerell edited a number of Blair's speeches and interviews together, and al lthe time that trite little phrase kept coming at us - "I believe I am right". As if somehow that is justification enough. Never mind the need for reasoned judgement, for the weighing up of options, for the realisation that the decision you take affects millions, for the ability to understand pragmatism and compromise in a murky world. "I believe I am right" is no real justification for fundamentally flawed actions, but it is all Blair has ever sought to give us.

I called Cockerell's three part documentary a tragedy, and there is no doubt that it is. Tony Blair has fallen far, even if he doesn't recognise it himself yet. The shiny optimism that greeted his arrival in office has soured into the recognition of his own grubby dealings, his own self-delusion, and his responsibility for untold chaos and ongoing slaughter. These are indeed the ingredients of tragedy.


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