Best Defense

Tony Blair: Bounder or dirtbag? One of the slipperiest books I’ve ever read

I used to have a pretty good opinion of Tony Blair, the British prime minister from 1997 to 2007. Now I wonder why I ever thought that.

during the Ceremonial funeral of former British Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher at St Paul's Cathedral on April 17, 2013 in London, England. Dignitaries from around the world today join Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh as the United Kingdom pays tribute to former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher during a Ceremonial funeral with military honours at St Paul's Cathedral. Lady Thatcher, who died last week, was the first British female Prime Minister and served from 1979 to 1990
during the Ceremonial funeral of former British Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher at St Paul's Cathedral on April 17, 2013 in London, England. Dignitaries from around the world today join Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh as the United Kingdom pays tribute to former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher during a Ceremonial funeral with military honours at St Paul's Cathedral. Lady Thatcher, who died last week, was the first British female Prime Minister and served from 1979 to 1990

I used to have a pretty good opinion of Tony Blair, the British prime minister from 1997 to 2007. Now I wonder why I ever thought that.

What changed me? Lots. But most of all, I recently I read his memoirs, A Journey: My Political Life. I now suspect my respect was born entirely of ignorance. The book is as trite as that title suggests, but even worse is his persistent mendacity. Historians pick on Churchill for occasionally selectively offering facts or outright lying in his World War II memoirs. But with Blair, I wonder if it would be easier to find the few places where he is genuinely candid. Reading his book, I became especially alert when he used phrases such as “To be fair” or “The truth is.” That usually means he is about to try to peddle another whopper.

When I sit down to read a book, I always have a pen in my hand. As one of my college professors taught, if you’re not marking the book, you’re not reading. The more I know about an event, such as the Iraq war, the more he shocked me. His pages about Iraq are now festooned with my comments — “BS” and “Wow” or simply “!”

You may think I am overstating the case. OK, let’s go to one page, 470.

He begins this page with an assertion about the Iraqi army: “The truth is the army more or less melted away.” Actually, no — in the summer of 2003, many of its members could be found just outside the gates of the Green Zone, where they were in the streets demonstrating for the pay they believed they had been promised by the Americans. And American officers even were compiling contacts lists of Iraqi army commanders in case that army was to be called in to work on cleanup and infrastructure projects.

In the next paragraph on the same page, he gets into the banning of Baath Party members. “It was a far less drastic programme than, say, the denazification after the Second World War.” It was also far more inept than that earlier program, which was conducted at the grass roots level, made important exceptions, and worked its way up. De-Baathification was a clumsy, top-down directive. The CIA station chief in Baghdad warned at the time that if the American insisted on it, six months later they would face an insurgency.

And still on the same page, Blair writes, “With hindsight, both the de-Baathification and the disbanding of the army could and should have been done differently. . . . But this is, as I say, a judgement with the benefit of hindsight.” Actually, no, it was a judgement that some American generals and other officials made at the time, arguing for different approaches, and were overruled by Bush Administration officials.

A few pages later, he concludes this section by instructing his critics. “So, my final conclusion is this. Whatever the planning, be prepared for this: to stand up and fight, if necessary in a long, protracted and bloody battle.”

Now he tells us.

Photo credit: Chris Jackson/WPA Pool/Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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