Tag Archives: Iraq

Blair’s Dodgy Decision Making

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tony-blair

 

Judging by all the searingly emotional and often savage reactions to Tony Blair as a result of the invasion of Iraq, the continuing death toll and the Chilcot Report, purely for balance, I think it would be interesting if there was more understanding of Blair’s decision-making process. Such an understanding  may help many to begin to comprehend what prompted Tony Blair to invade and destroy a sovereign state.

I am certainly not a fan of Blair’s (and neither am I an apologist for Blair or his actions)…. but I do think it only fair that everyone should at least attempt to understand what he may have gone through in the weeks before he gave the green light for the British military to invade Iraq.

He is often portrayed as some sort of monster-warmonger and yet he was so loved by the majority of the British electorate until the moment that he latched onto George W. Bush’s shirt tails. Plus, he is a barrister and I therefore, I believe him to be a moral and honourable man.

Many decisions delivered by senior people are made on historical data rather than measurement. In other words, whenever a problem arises analogies are drawn between today’s problem and past difficulties with a decision being made on what may have provided reasonable solutions in the past. I hate labels but this is known as ‘decision-making by analogy’. In Saddam’s case it was “Remove the bad bloke and then it will  be much easier for us to put everything right.”

The question as to whether it was Blair’s job to ‘put everything right’ is not relevant  and debatable but throughout history, removing the bad guy at the top has proved to be the correct fix….and I believe that removal of Saddam was Bair’s core assumption and the premis upon which he based everything that followed.

Nowadays it is widely recognised that the best decision-making method is a systematic logical approach which actually looks at all the alternatives available, together with all possible consequences. This method removes what is known as the ‘gut’ decision and also takes all the emotion out of the decision-making process. This is not an infallible system any more than decision-making by analogy.  It is simply the best available to us at this time.

Here’s the simple straight-line thought process:

  1. Set objectives. In this case it would have been to remove Saddam Hussein and by doing so, to introduce democracy to Iraq.
  2. Evaluate objectives. For instance, would killing Saddam conflict with other goals and is democracy the right answer for a society with such a complex social system of religion, class, sect, politics and ethnicity?
  3. Collect information. The intelligence services were so obsessed with a specific type of information that everything else appeared to be ignored.  Was the correct information collected?
  4. Analyse all the information. Then re-analyse it.
  5. Develop alternatives. In this case, were different methods available? For instance, killing Saddam Hussein or possibly taking him out of Iraq. Did the Iraqi people actually understand what was meant by democracy? In which case, might it have simply been a case of replacing the man at the top rather than relying on people who had neither sense nor experience of government?
  6. Evaluation of all of the alternatives and then choosing the ‘best’ all-round alternative. For instance, the assassination of Saddam may have done the trick. Remember Gen Colin Powell pointing to possible WMD sites on satellite maps? Would destruction of those have emasculated Saddam?
  7. Communicating the final decision to all stakeholders – including Saddam and his people.
  8. Setting up control systems by deciding what was to be measured, how it was to be measured and when. Whatever solution was chosen, its effectiveness  and consequences needed to be measured or estimated.
  9. Implementing the decision after proper preparation and a detailed plan, including several ‘consequence’ scenarios.
  10. Finally, it’s the evaluation of the decision/solution. If the original objective was to introduce  Iraq to democracy – has it been successful?

In retrospect, it appears to be quite obvious that a modern approach to decision-making was not used, and that Tony Blair had made the decision to remove Saddam Hussein as an end and not as a means to an end.

However, when Tony Blair says that he feels that he took the ‘right’ decision, I believe him.

I also think that the root cause of everything that has happened since Blair made the decision to invade Iraq was a total lack of knowledge of a proper decision-making process compounded by an unnecessarily emotional attachment to George W Bush plus a strange and  yet-to-be-explained craving for a place in the history books.

Blair has certainly earned his place in history…so it really was a personal ‘Mission Accomplished’….but not as an evil person, merely as an incompetent.

Gaddafi the Dictator-King

Muammar Gaddafi has probably been studied by the West more than any other post-war leader, yet, judging by the way that he is being treated by the anti Gaddafi, pro-rebel Coalition, it is plain to see that to them,  he is still an enigma.

Over the years, I have had contact with many corporate dictators and the behaviours which they exhibit bear a striking resemblance to those of Gaddafi and the only other comparable despot within the last few years – Saddam Hussein. One thing that I can report with certainty: they cannot be changed. Their behaviours are hard-wired.

Dictators rule by fear but ironically, they themselves are ruled by their own fears. Outwardly, they appear to have developed the symptoms of paranoia and as their career progresses, they believe (quite rightly) that there are fewer and fewer people that they can trust. Those feelings of universal mistrust eventually put them onto a self-destructive path which always leads to either their death or foreign exile. There is NO retirement home for them!

Gaddafi probably employs food tasters, doubles, sleeps at numerous locations and has all visitors searched. He definitely sleeps with a gun under his pillow because he constantly senses that it is only a matter of time before he is assassinated.

A dictator will do ANYTHING to remain in power – even if it means a diminution is status and financial or power-deals with the opposition. The overriding aspect and driving force of the dictator’s existence is POWER and its trappings. Too often, a dictator gives the impression of a messianic complex but in reality, compromise and compliance are often not too deep beneath the surface – if approached correctly. Having said that, they often genuinely do believe that they are on a divine mission. That belief can be so fundamental to the dictator’s makeup that  they are willing to sacrifice themselves in order to preserve their legacy for their descendants.

Whenever the West is upset by a dictator – even a benevolent one, they begin to think “regime change ” and “democracy”. The propaganda machine grinds into gear and soon the stock phrases are deployed: “massive violence”, “murdering his own people”, “he’s mad”, “….but he’s a survivor”,  “dangerous if cornered”, “talent for dividing his enemies”, “isolated”, “iron rule” .

Currently, the stock phrases are being applied to Gaddafi but if you think back just a few years, you will recall exactly the same phrases being slung at Saddam Hussein, as they will be to Assad of Syria.

Hitler, Stalin, Saddam, Gaddafi, Nasser and many others all used violence in order to retain power – although they didn’t always kill their enemies. For instance, Saddam would force his enemies to watch videos of their wives being raped or their children tortured. It was rumoured that Idi Amin would cut slices of flesh off his victims or their relatives and eat bits in front of them. Terrorism in its purest form.

Often it is most potent when the victim is not killed but instead given such an appalling story to tell that just hearing the stories keeps others in line.

Middle Eastern dictators are currently in the limelight and their opponents are right to be suspicious of   promises of reform because in spite of the fact that they may introduce superficial reforms, their inability to trust anyone makes it impossible for the dictator to work with anyone else apart from close friends and family.

Arab dictators sincerely believe in the moral weakness of the West and tend to reinforce that belief with demonstrations of their own piety in order to create a religious bond and empathy with their own people. Their belief in the superiority of Arab Civilisation is absolute. They see themselves as warriors defending  not-only their country but their faith against  Crusaders. The same Crusaders who used to  raid their lands every few hundreds of years but who nowadays arrive not-only with increasing regularity but with bigger and more powerful weapons.

Arab dictators such as Gaddafi know that the “soft” West will try to avoid the killing of civilians – hence the concept of the “human shield”. Tanks and guns are secreted in residential areas  in the sure knowledge that NATO will be too squeamish to risk blowing-up “innocent civilians”.

In many ways, fighting a dictator such as Gaddafi is an unequal struggle. He believes that he holds the moral, religious and “terror” aces. The “infidels”, “Americans and their Zionist friends” or just plain NATO are warmongers who are “acting illegally”. He may have a point. Gaddafi’s style of leadership is nothing new. He has been on the throne for 43 years and his current enemies have been perfectly aware of his methods for all of that time. They have known of his involvement in many atrocities – from Lockerbie to the various IRA bombings. Yet, the West tolerated him to such an extent that he became lauded as one who had made such progress that in 1988 he initiated the annual $250,000  Swiss-based  Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights. The first recipient was Nelson Mandela.

Less than one year ago, Libya was elected by a majority of its fellow U.N. members to serve on the United Nations’ Human Rights Council.

No wonder that the man (Gaddafi) feels confused and betrayed.

What he sees is the West siding with a bunch of protesting hooligans and terrorists who have no mandate or alternative to the Gaddafi regime. Protestors who began their campaign as a copycat version of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings and who, by the simple expedient of shouting “democracy and freedom of speech” have managed to persuade NATO to bomb what, until a couple of months ago was a friendly nation.

Many have learned that all they have to shout is “Democracy” and the Americans will come running with the rest of those spoiling for a fight trailing behind them.

Gaddafi knows that when the clarion call “DEMOCRACY!” is shouted loud enough, it distorts during its journey through the ether and take on an altogether different sound:

“OIL”.

Blair ne regrette rien

 

Sometimes history slips out of buff government folders and falls into the rough-and-tumble of current affairs, creates an impression, is rewritten and is quietly replaced in its folder – but not this time.

I missed the (almost) live feed of Tony Blair’s appearance at the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry and my subsequent viewing of  a recording of the day had all the qualities of watching  a tape of a football game after I had learned the result.  Many of the press articles on the following Saturday morning contained  what appeared to be pre-polished phrases and sentences – as if they had been written before Blair’s performance. Sometimes, political comment gave way to bar-room psychology and  biased-reporting seemed to have achieved a  re-birth.  Supposition appeared to give way to facts. It all seemed quite messy and unnecessarily over-emotional.

The first impressions were of placards outside the Queen Elizabeth Halls and people in anoraks chanting “We all live in a terrorist regime” – rather bizarrely, to the tune of the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine“. Then the inevitable interview with an inarticulate lady whose son had been killed. As usual , she  couldn’t “find the words” but wanted to know why her son had been killed. Grave-looking TV newsreaders were conveying their disapproval of Blair, even before he’d had a chance to explain himself.

The odds appeared stacked against Blair.

As he sat at his table, ready to face Chilcot, the first thing that you noticed was that the boyish charm that had propelled him so far in the late 90s had gone. This was an expensively-suited, more serious introspective-looking Blair who had brought a rather thick lever-arch file to act as his comfort blanket and would allow him precious thinking time as he flicked through its pages when asked a difficult question. We knew that many of the people seated behind him were relatives of soldiers who had been killed in Iraq and if previous reports were true, they were angry; an only-just-contained mob which could strike at any minute. Blair’s hand shook as he filled his glass with bottled water.

This was British theatre at its best.

The following six hours were destined to  rewrite Blairs’ place in history and at that moment, many were anticipating  the odd admission, the odd touch of contrition, the odd apology and the odd regret. Once again, the “hand of history” was hovering over Blair’s shoulder.

The day unfolded to the gasping realisation that Blair was going to be having none of it. He defended and justified his position to the hilt. Contrition – forget it. Apologies – none.

Instead we had an exhibition of absolute self-regard – only just this side of vainglorious arrogance. There was even the odd laugh.

Previous witnesses had made it clear that the legal case for the invasion of Iraq was “constructed” and Blair was not only able to adopt the  “I was only following advice” stance  but showed that what has been interpreted as his “lying” was no more than the sum of his own self-justifying twisted reasoning and mutated thinking.

During awkward questioning, he would try and change the subject, use  the “unfinished sentence”  technique or even take his reasoning into a verbal “cul-de-sac” without actually answering the question.  The stage-hesitation coupled to  the slightly downward stare, the occasional shrug of the shoulders were all back!.  It was to be a master-class in the art of   provincial barristering.

So how did an apparently astute politician such as Blair manage to put himself in such an awkwardly – almost untenable position?  How had he managed to paint himself  into a corner? Back to the hand of history:

9/11 had undoubtedly given George W  Bush the opportunity to make a tenuous connection between Saddam Hussein, al Qaeda and the Twin Towers. That was when the decision to invade Iraq had been made. What followed over the next year-or-so was simply a sales pitch to Blair, Jack Straw and Peter Goldsmith.

Saddam had blotted his copy-book several years earlier by invading Kuwait. What is not generally known is that Iraq has laid claim to Kuwait for many years. Kuwait would have given Iraq direct and much-needed access to the Persian Gulf. Baghdad had laid claim to Kuwait since the 1930s – ever since Kuwait was a British Protectorate (Kuwait did not achieve independence fro the United Kingdom until 1961). When Saddam finally invaded Kuwait, fellow Arab states saw this a far less objectionable than Jewish Israel’s appropriation of Arab Palestine. But because of Western interests, a series of United Nations resolutions were passed on Iraq in 1990. Saddam’s intransigence and military “munchausenisms”  made the end-game inevitable.

Blair and Bush always referred to Saddam as a tyrant who killed his own people with weapons of mass destruction. That was true – but there is a context.

Saddam had spent years fighting the fanaticism of Islamic revolution in the Middle East. His own regime was grounded in Ba’athism which was  a brand  of  Arab Socialism  that owed more to Moscow than to Mecca.  Everywhere but in Iraq, ideology was beginning to defer to theology. Consequently, he was viewed with suspicion by his neighbours who were busying themselves with Islam-driven political re-engineering. The West did not like him because of his Mussolini-like macho posturing  and his refusal to be bullied by succesive American Presidents.

In those days the social climate in Iraq was far more liberal that in the rest of the Middle East  and Saddam was not considered to be either the  religious bigot or   crazed tyrant that he has been portrayed by both Bush administrations.

However, there was one major 1988 episode which would provide the catalyst for the Blair/Bush invasion of Iraq and which forever sealed Saddam’s reputation as a terrorist bogeyman.  The Kurds in the north of Iraq welcomed Iranian invaders into Iraq and were consequently attacked with mustard and nerve gas by the Iraqi air-force . The manner of their death has without doubt not-only made this one of the most appalling episodes in human history but subsequently enabled Bush and Blair to promulgate Saddam as a “monster capable of  anything”.

It was Saddam’s reputation and attitude which clouded the West’s every single subsequent Iraq-linked  decision. That in turn, led to the  2003 invasion of Iraq and the deaths of over 100,000 people. A Royal Running Flush of UN resolutions would have made little difference and as for the “legality” of bombing  and invading a non-aggressive state – it was irrelevant. The United States had already decided to invade Iraq and would have done so with or without Blair’s connivance. British participation in the war was firmly in the “nice to have” category and served only to give the invasion a superficial legitimacy. 

Politically, it can be argued that Blair had made the right decision. Although in the 2005 General Election, Labour’s Westminster seat-count  went down to 356  (from 413  in 2001), the still-healthy Labour majority demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that  Blair was continuing to enjoy the backing of the British voter. That was in spite of the 2003 Hutton Inquiry.

Tony Blair now says that his reference to  the fact that Saddam was capable of deploying  weapons “within 45 minutes” referred to “battlefield” weapons and not ballistic weapons. That suggests either a total lack of communication skill on Blair’s part, or a very selective use of information and misinformation. There is little doubt that Blair was in a hurry: He told us that Saddam’s weapons capability was “active, detailed and growing”. That appears to be a statement designed to motivate and hurry the country to action. Blair was in a hurry because Bush was in a hurry.

Later, Blair said that it was the future threat which Saddam posed which meant that action “had to be taken” . His earlier television interview with Fern Britton demonstrated the full extent of his clouded judgement and inconsistent thinking when he said that he would have removed Saddam regardless of whether or not he had Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Blair seemed to be clutching at every excuse and justification that came to mind – even if they contradicted each other.

Jack Straw’s  and Peter Goldsmiths evidence has clearly demonstrated that the legality of the invasion was “finely balanced”.  Therefore, one would assume that because the invasion of a foreign state is such a profoundly major event, one would naturally err on the side of caution and not invade.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw’s entire retinue of 27 Foreign Office lawyers thought that the invasion of Iraq would be illegal.  Unfortunately, Straw failed to convey that message to No 10. Why? Probably because  he knew that  some bosses only want to hear either the good news or the news which happens to dovetail with their own judgements.

Blair’s most memorable moment at the Chilcot Inquiry occurred when Chilcott asked him directlly whether he (Blair) had any regrets. This was Blair’s big opportunity and he blew it.  He said that he felt “Responsibility but not regret”. He was implying that Saddam-like, he felt no regret for over 100,00 dead soldiers and civilians.  He delivered his pre-prepared  and ill-judged  “no regret” vignette   to the chorus of “Murderer” and “You’re a liar”. Finally the gallery behind were able to have  their say.

It is doubtful that this is the way that Blair would wish to be remembered by history.  Remembering Saddam’s dignified exit as he stood quietly on the trapdoor while his executioners screamed obsceneties at him makes you think that Saddam may yet have the last laugh.

When that lever was pulled – it ended several careers.

 

Blair the Invader

Tony Blair was a bad Prime Minister and his tenure at Downing Street was underpinned by nothing more than spin and window-dressing.

He is now attempting to justify his illegal aiding and abetting of that insaniac George W Bush’s mission to complete the Iraq job – or more specifically, his own father’s (George Bush Snr’s) failure to subdue Saddam in the 1990s.

Blair’s spinning habits have not changed at all and that is why he is suddenly acquiescing to the odd interview prior to his appearance at the Chilcot inquiry. That should be a laugh because judging by the inquiry events so far, Chilcot has already dipped the roller in the whitewash and is about to start redecorating the facts.

One hates to cloud the issues with facts but the only important one is that George W Bush and Tony Blair illegally invaded a sovereign state. They both knew that there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Those two are the sole reason for the recent world-wide expansion of the terrorist industry.

Saddam was a merciless tyrant and was not the most popular leader but Iraq was stable, there were no terrorists blowing themselves up and there was nowhere-near the current body-count.

Imposing sanctions on Iraq so that, for instance. there weren’t enough medicines and then  refusing Iraq the ability to sell its oil were both clumsy amateurish attempts to paint Saddam into a corner. He and the Iraqi people felt very vulnerable and were easy prey to anyone who felt like invading them. It is no surprise therefore that Saddam decided to “big himself up” by making all sorts of claims about Iraq’s military prowess.

Everyone with an iota of intelligence could see that Saddam’s pronouncements were nothing more than Generalissimo-type posturing and window-dressing.  All that is except that Dumb and Dumber of politics: Bush and Blair. The thick and the slimy.

Blair is not a bad person, although his conversion to Catholicism does suggest that he enjoys reading fiction such as the WMD dossier. His actions over Iraq do show him to be an incompetent, ill-informed manager. It is difficult to refer to him as a “leader” because that describes  a generic ability which he lacked in abundance. It is also an inability which he so cleverly passed-on to his successor.

What is most worrying though  is the fact that he (Blair) allowed himself to be led by Bush – a man who , one suspects would have had difficulty finding the Presidential helicopter parked on his own lawn.

Looking on the bright side though – had Gordon Brown succeeded John Smith, we definitely would not have invaded Iraq.  The inquiry would  still be in full swing.