Dear Tony Blair, ‘trust’ still matters over Syria

2:39 pm - September 6th 2013

by Sunny Hundal    

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Former PM Tony Blair was on the BBC’s Today programme this morning, saying the Syrian conflict wasn’t about trust in the same way was Iraq, because we know that chemical weapons exist in Syria and were used on innocent people very recently.

Before I come to the issue about trust, it’s worth emphasising that Blair is right about the second part.

What we know, is that on 21st of August 2013, several canisters of gas opened in several suburbs of the Syrian capital Damascus, and within a short time approximately a thousand people were dead.

But after that the facts become hazy, because the UN inspectors weren’t given much time to gather evidence and didn’t take many of the local samples offered to them (see Section 3).

To my mind there is little doubt that the Syrian governement carried out this attack. Tony Blair said the same thing this morning. But where Blair still continues to get it wrong is that this is still very much about trust.

There is little trust in claims (by the US government and others) that chemical weapons were used.

There is little trust in announcements by US and UK governments that Bashar al-Assad is behind these chemical attacks.

There is hardly any trust in the ability of the United States government to intervene in the Syrian conflict constructively.

This lack of trust, built up in large part due to Iraq, is the reason why the public remains deeply unconvinced and our politicians so hesitant to act over Syria.

So, trust matters.

Which is why Tony Blair has it so wrong. And the aim of western government now should be to build up that trust again. Confirm use of chemical weapons with proper evidence for everyone to see, show evidence that Assad’s regime was behind it, make the case for intervention by explaining what exactly you want to do and the exit strategy. Only once that is done can there be any public trust in any decision to intervene in Syria.

It’s extraordinary that Tony Blair still thinks trust is irrelevant.

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Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments

You are correct to say that trust matters, and that Blair continues to pretend that it isn’t.

However, Blair had lost people’s trust, even before the actual invasion of Iraq, because he insisted that he was going through the UN while at the same time claiming that it was an established fact that Iraq had WMD. If he was going through the UN he would have waited until the inspectors reported before expressing an opinion as to whether Iraq had WMD. He wouldn’t have dodged the questions about what he would do if the inspectors found nothing in Iraq, or if Bush went to war while inspections were still in progress.

There is a similar problem today. There is a lack of trust in politicians who say that they are following the proper procedures but who claim that it is absurd to think that it wasn’t the Assad regime. There is a lack of trust in people who say that we have to deter people who use chemical weapons but who also appear to be saying that we should bomb Syria anyway, or who cannot answer the question “who should the UK bomb if it is found that the rebels used chemical weapons?” These are questions of logic, not about whether WMD were found in Iraq.

2. Man on Clapham Omnibus

‘And the aim of western government now should be to build up that trust again. Confirm use of chemical weapons with proper evidence for everyone to see, show evidence that Assad’s regime was behind it, make the case for intervention by explaining what exactly you want to do and the exit strategy. Only once that is done can there be any public trust in any decision to intervene in Syria’

This is a load of ‘Blue Peter’ styled condecension that seeks to treat the population like children. You conveniently ignore the fact that Iraq and Afganistan werent misjudgements or errors of fact. If they were just that Chilcott would have been out ages ago.
The west had a clear agenda,one that Cheney alluded to,and one that continues today. Moreover the downright lies of Iraq merely compound with those domestic deceptions which result in people quite righly distrusting anyone in power.
Remember,the people who you have charged with enlightening the people are the self same that are currently destroying the NHS,Care,Jobs,houses and impoverishing the population.

I am pretty sure that the majority of people in the UK think Assad did (on balance) use chemical weapons but they would also like to see more detail.

Where my trust breaks down is in the “rush to military action” that Cameron and Obama have concluded is the first response to this. I can think of other options before pressing the button on launching cruise missiles.

The answer to the dilemma, although I don’t see it as such, is simple. Whoever is behind the chemical weapon attack goes on the ICC wanted list, forever if necessary. And if it is the so-called ‘rebels’, then everyone in the supply chain needs to go on the ICC wanted list. And I would include any agents acting on behalf of a 3rd government; and then add also any secretary of state whose department may have acquiesced.

I would then declare that all users of Phosphorous and depleted uranium weapons go on the same list. Yes a handful of you can all argue about them not being on the CW list. But the issue of trust is about what global citizenry can and will accept, not what major powers contrive.

Further, I would demand an investigation by the UN of all funding that has been ploughed into this unsavoury war, it needs to be identified whether it was genuinely humanitarian or for weaponry.

The US and UK should then be asked to explain themselves as to why they are not letting the regional conference proposed by Putin proceed. They should also explain why they are working so hard to destablise and surround Iran with extensive war resources; and why non-state actors are being recruited to stoke anti-shia sentiment right across the region including from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Russia and China are right to draw their red-lines, to force the US and UK back to the UNSC. As they should have been back in 2003.

The fact that those red lines coincide with what the majority of people across the globe want is a very good thing. Putin gaining some respect for that, should not turn Blairites and Tories into faux-moralists.

Ed Milliband should use this Blair intervention to remind the country that it earns global respect when it respects global institutions and not kow-towing to mercantile interests of a tax-evading elite.

Ed should also let it be known that he would not stand in the way of any ICC investigations into Blair – that really would boost his standing immeasurably, everywhere.

My apologies, this needs to be corrected:

‘ and why non-state actors are being recruited to stoke anti-shia sentiment right across the region including from Pakistan and Afghanistan.’


‘ and why non-state actors are being recruited to *create* anti-shia sentiment right across the region including from Pakistan and Afghanistan.’

All those who seem to think this has anything to do with ideological differences between shia and sunni are completely wrong. Its a powerplay which is stirring up minor issues to take out Iran. Its the last throw of the dice to stop the irreversible shift of power from West to East.

Those that control the middle east will determine whether Asia will ever achieve enough growth to feed their people.

In the six years Blair has been Middle East Peace Envoy is there anywhere to which he has actually brought peace? Having him interfere in your country must be like spotting the grim reaper at the end of the garden sharpening his scythe

Trust has nothing to do with it. Those that don’t believe don’t want to.

And having lost the public’s trust, helpful suggestions that the Saudis and Qataris will pay the American military costs from intervening, are hardly likely to restore that trust.

9. Richard Carey

I trust the government … to lie, to cheat, to murder.

@6 Schmidt: “In the six years Blair has been Middle East Peace Envoy is there anywhere to which he has actually brought peace?”

Some of us concluded years back, even before 1997, that Blair is a charlatan. Try this assessment by Francis Wheen in the Guardian in 2000:

” . . . The only difference in Tony Blair’s case is how quickly the derangement has set in. The first sound of bats flapping in his belfry was heard even before the election, in December 1996, when he told Des O’Connor that as a 14-year-old he had run away to Newcastle airport and boarded a plane for the Bahamas: ‘I snuck onto the plane, and we were literally about to take off when the stewardess came up to me…’ Quite how he managed this without a boarding card or passport was not explained. It certainly came as a surprise to his father (‘The Bahamas? Who said that? Tony? Never’), and an even greater surprise to staff at the airport, who pointed out that there has never been a flight from Newcastle to the Bahamas.

“A couple of years later, he told an interviewer that his ‘teenage hero’ was the footballer Jackie Milburn, whom he would watch from the seats behind the goal at St James’s Park. In fact, Milburn played his last game for Newcastle United when Blair was just four years old, and there were no seats behind the goal at the time.

“Harmless enough, you may think: many of us romanticise or reinvent our childhoods. Even Blair’s friend Robert Harris – a writer of fiction, fittingly enough – admits that the PM has a penchant for “reinterpreting reality… retailoring himself and his history to suit the moment”. . . . ”

Compare the long successful career of Victor Lustig (1890-1947), a master con artist, who sold the Eiffel Tower in 1925 to a scrap metal merchant on the proviso that Lustig was paid a bribe.

Ted Honderich has a more charitable explanation. Try this from the Guardian:

Honderich is also a consequentialist, which partly explains his hatred towards Tony Blair. “He is always asking to be judged by the morality of his intentions,” he spits. “He doesn’t understand that no one cares about his fucking morality. We judge him by the consequences of his actions. In any case, his morality is so muddy and ill-considered. I’m increasingly coming to the opinion that Blair’s main problem is that he’s not very bright.” [Guardian website 22 March 2005]

Before he retired, Honderich was Grote professor of philosophy at UCL. He wasn’t the only one to conclude that Blair was rather dim. Roy Jenkins, who was Blair’s mentor for a time, came to a similar conclusion. So did Simon Jenkins.

I’m not sure how Assad is worse than Blair.

12. Tight Anneka

@Bob B #10
Ah, 10:49 am, August 20, 2010.

Tight Anneka

What initially put me off Blair was him prancing around in the lead up to the 1997 election saying that he believed the British people needed “strong leadership” with the implication that he was going to do the strong leadering. After the performance of John Major in government, that prospect could seem appealing but with a hazardous downside after that interview with Des O’Connor in December 1996.

Flitting about doing foreign affairs and promoting the vision of participating in European Monetary Union instead sorting out the management of public services at home was worrying but then came the reassuring keynote speech in Chicargo in April 1999 where Blair reaffirmed the importance of the UN in resolving conflict situations:

“If we want a world ruled by law and by international co-operation then we have to support the UN as its central pillar.”

As we have come to know, the government’s dossier on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, presented to Parliament on 24 September 2002, was a fiction.

Dr Brian Jones was head of the branch in the Defence Intelligence Service tasked to assess incoming intelligence relating to weapons of mass destruction at the time of the events leading up to the invasion of Iraq on 20 March 2003.

He submitted this letter of 8 July 2003 to the Hutton inquiry into the death of Dr Kelly:

The letter includes this passage:

“Your records will show that as [blanked out] and probably the most senior and experienced intelligence community official working on ‘WMD,’ I was so concerned about the manner in which intelligence assessment for which I had some responsibility were being presented in the dossier of 24 September 2002, that I was moved to write formally to your predecessor, Tony Crag, recording and explaining my reservations.”

In the discrete language of the civil service, Dr Jones disowned responsibility for the claims made in the government’s dossier. But that didn’t deter Blair.

At the Evian Summit of the G8 in June 2003 Blair “rejected calls for an official inquiry into the government’s claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

Speaking at the G8 summit in Evian, Mr Blair said he stood ‘100%’ by the evidence shown to the public about Iraq’s alleged weapons programmes.

“Frankly, the idea that we doctored intelligence reports in order to invent some notion about a 45-minute capability for delivering weapons of mass destruction is completely and totally false,” he said. [BBC website 2 June 2003]

Would you buy a used car from Blair?

14. Richard Carey

I think we owe it to the world to have Blair arrested and put on trial. I’m sure some kind of conspiracy to murder charge could be put together.

Trust is, post Iraq, obviously an issue. However to exclude all other factors is nonsense. People don’t want more military adventuring having seen the consequences for too many years now.

Simply put, there is no type of military intervention in Syria that will clearly punish the sinners while not making everything else a lot worse for more people. As is all too common, the policy seems to be, “Do something, anything!”

Blair also apparently remains stuck to the notion of doing what the Americans want, no matter what.

16. Man on Clapham Omnibus

13. Bob B

It really is a testament to British democracy that such a fantacist got to the top.
It seems to me that his penchant for intervention and bombing maybe a desparate attempt to reaffirm his actions in Iraq. Normalisation through repetition!

If there was one clear, unequivocal political lesson from the 20th century, after Stalin and Hitler, it was to beware of anyone offering to provide “strong leadership”.

The fundamental trouble is that “strong leaders” are apt to believe they are necessarily correct about every issue because they are “strong leaders”. So it is with Blair.

There was and is no room for discussion about controversial issues because he has said all that needs to be said. We should have recognised the style at the early manifestations of New Labour governance when government ministers would begin BBC interviews with nauseating sycophantic utterances such as: “As our leader, Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, has so rightly pointed out . . . ” The like of that may seem normal in North Korea but not in Britain.

The electorate soon came to realise something was wrong. Between the elections of 1997 and 2005, with Blair’s leadership, Labour lost 4 million votes and at least half the party membership.

@ 14

I don’t often agree with you, but I for one would dance in the streets if Bliar was arrested for conspiracy to commit (mass) murder in a war of aggression. As I’ve stated before on other threads, can we have the ICC reconvened to Nuremberg too. I’m sure been held in Göerings cell would be a kindness though. After all how many of these indictments can he be charged with?

1: Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace
2: Planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace
3: War crimes
4: Crimes against humanity

Apologies, Bliar shouldn’t be in Göering’s cell. That should be reserved for Herr Busch 😉 question is, which cell to put Bliar in…

20. Tight Anneka

@Bob B. #13
I wouldn’t buy anything from Blair and consider Blair’s appointment as a peace negotiator to be sick.
@Man on Clapham Omnibus #16
Donald Rumsfeld was on Fox TV criticising Obama.
cue: You Again poster.
@Bob B. #17
If we elect a mediocre leader, people will wonder who’s behind them pulling the strings. See Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy for election rule 1. “anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”
What is needed is a truly independent free press and truly independent committees in government to provide checks and balances. Until then, at least we have people like Rachel Maddow.

Credit where credit is due. I do so luv listening to John Prescott airing his latest thoughts on what’s wrong with our times.

It does so remind me of Tracey Temple and New Labour:

The secret diary of Tracey Temple, aged 43¾

They combine the giddiness of Bridget Jones with the naivety of Adrian Mole and the ruthless honesty of Samuel Pepys. But what do the Temple diaries really tell us about that affair? Emily Wilson gets bizi

And recall how David Blunkett had to twice resign as a New Labour minister.

22. Paul peter Smith

Trust matters greatly what really shouldn’t matter is anything that comes out of Blair’s pie hole.

On the consequences of trust – or, rather, the lack of it – Francis Fukuyama wrote: “people who do not trust one another will end up cooperating only under a system of formal rules and regulations, which have to be negotiated, agreed to, litigated and enforced, sometimes by coercive means. . . .Widespread distrust in a society . . . imposes a kind of tax on all forms of economic activity, a tax that high-trust societies do not have to pay.” Francis Fukuyama: Trust (Penguin 1996)p. 27.

24. Richard Carey

@ Dissident,

aye, war brings out the old one about politics and strange bedfellows. For me, there’s nothing more important in politics than war. As for Blair, I read a book some time ago about the Nigeria/Biafra War and there was so much that made me think about Iraq, and it occurred to me that if some of the politicans and mandarins in the British government had been held accountable for their role in that genocide (Biafra), maybe the politicians/mandarins of Blair’s generation would have acted differently.

Richard Carey, Bob B.,

To follow on from the points raised about consequences, there are three simple things we can get global citizenry behind:

1. Every death and incidents of brutality and torture in a war is accounted for, on all sides, by way of an inquest with the costs borne by the agressor.

2. We need a nomenclature for war such that aggressors are accorded credit deserved, without a constant reference to wikipedia or history books – as an example Gulf War II could be called US War72 GSA – where the aggressor, the US is in its 72nd war with a Gang paid for by Saudi Arabia.

We can agree to count from WW1. Unless Spain, Mexico, Phillipines etc object.

3. Leaders and cheerleaders should also be given due credit in a similar system to the one in 2 above. How many they plotted to kill, what monetary returned they sought and what they finally acquired should all be on their balance sheet.

Deliberate failure to count the civilian dead should be added to the Geneva Convention as a war crime.

26. Richard Carey

@ 25 Refresh,

I think your idea presupposes some kind of world authority, which is neither practical nor to be wished for, given how it is most likely to interpret matters (i.e. victor’s justice). What I think needs to be done is for the people in this country to take responsibility for the acts done in our name by our government. There’s a simple principle that we are all under the law. Those in government don’t seem to see it this way, nor will they until they are forced to do so. How this is to be achieved, I don’t know. I would like to see some kind of Grand Jury mechanism, that would be able to act like the tribunes of the Roman plebians and drag the high and mighty out of their thrones.

So the verdict of the LC War Crimes Tribunal is in.

Assad: Not Guilty
Blair: Guilty

Imagine my surprise.

28. Richard Carey

@ 27 Jimmy,

“Imagine my surprise”

I tried to imagine this, but all I could see was smug sarcasm.

“So the verdict of the LC War Crimes Tribunal is in.

Assad: Not Guilty
Blair: Guilty

Imagine my surprise.”

Actually, it is
Bliar: count 1 guilty, count 2 guilty, count 3 guilty, count 4 guilty.
Assad: ditto.

Hope that helps…

25 Refresh

I can but admire your unconstrained aspiration about developing a global consensus but remain continually sceptical.

America won’t join the International Criminal Court for fear of vexatious referrals. There is little prospect of “aggressors” agreeing to pay fines for aggression and how would fines be “enforced”?

Substantial land mine emplacements are the first line of defence by South Korea against an invasion by North Korea, an unfortunately highly credible contingency.

Recall that Nazi Germany supposedly invaded Poland in September 1939 to protect German speakers living in Poland – and there may have been evidence of harassment of German speakers resident in Poland following two-stage German annexation of Czecho-Slovakia.

The UN really did little to prevent genocide in Rwanda and the internal strife in DR Congo, Sudan and Somalia has continued for decades with the UN apparently impotent to act.

In 1985, the French secret service blew up a Greenpeace ship: Rainbow Warrior, at harbour in New Zealand territorial waters, killing two on board:

Mitterrand was the French president at the time. Reportedly, one of the French agents implicated is the brother of Ségolène Royal, the ex-wife of President Hollande and the Socialist Party contender in the French presidential election of 2007.

31. Man on Clapham Omnibus

23. Bob B

Trust is inversly proportional to the square root of the social distance between individuals. Which is why in social groups above 170, formal systems are the only systems capable of organizing social affairs.I suggest that’s why distrust is inherent in society.It provides for individuated responses to survival and by necessity is conservative in outlook.

32. the a&e charge nurse

[26] ‘I would like to see some kind of Grand Jury mechanism, that would be able to act like the tribunes of the Roman plebians and drag the high and mighty out of their thrones’ – well I hope they are a bit faster than Chilcot.

And didn’t some people say satire died the day Kissinger was awarded the nobel?

33. Man on Clapham Omnibus

32. the a&e charge nurse

you should read Plato

On trust and New Labour, try this from the Guardian in August 1999 and ask what did Tony Blair and the trade unions do about regenerating trust by the local electorate?

New Labour and the curse of Donnygate

35. Richard Carey

@ 32,

“well I hope they are a bit faster than Chilcot”

Obviously I am referring to a mechanism that doesn’t exist now, not a white-wash committee made up of the same ruling class that committed the crimes. That’s why I mention the Roman tribunes.

Who are the Ruling Class?

“Public funds totalling £500 million a year are being spent on an army of at least 29,000 professional politicians in the UK, according to new figures.”

Compare that with the British electorate of about 45 million.

37. Man on Clapham Omnibus

36. Bob B

Thats all about to change if Moises Naim (End of Power)
is correct.

The question now is, does the Ruling class actually rule?

Chris @ 11:

“I’m not sure how Assad is worse than Blair.”

Well then your moral sense is stunted by your ideological preconceptions….Unlike Assad, Blair has not waged cruel war against his own people. Unlike Assad, Blair was never a tyrant and won a democratic mandate three times. Unlike Assad, Blair never sanctioned the use of WMDs against anyone. And, however mistaken or poorly executed his Iraq policy was, there is no evidence that he intended to cause the sectarian strife that resulted from his actions (unlike Assad).

MoCo @ 16:

“It really is a testament to British democracy that such a fantacist (sic) got to the top.”

I have little time for Tony Blair; but I think that anyone having your quasi-religious faith in a nebulous “socialism” is far more of a fantasist than Blair ever was and in no position to criticise Blair for being one. Socialism has not worked and there is no plausible evidence that it could ever work.

Man on the Clapham Omnibus

“The question now is, does the Ruling class actually rule?”

That’s a challenging question but the content of legislation and fiscal policy matter on the state of the economy, the persistence of the skew of income distribution and whether the monopoly power of some corporations is entrenched.

I don’t go with the claim that “capitalists”, as a class, have the same interests. The interests of the big pharmas and their shareholders are not congruent. The interest of Microsoft and its shareholders are not the same as those of Apple. As Greenspan pointed out, bankers were/are ripping off the shareholders of banks as well as the depositors of banks.

“The Financial Times has examined what has happened since the crisis to the payrolls of 13 global financial institutions – expressed as a proportion of pay plus net profits (including those distributed as dividends). This approach allows you to see how the ‘cake’ has been shared out between employees and shareholders.

“What the analysis shows is that the lion’s share has been taken home by the bankers in the form of pay and bonuses, rather than paid out to investors or left in the business to support lending activity. The part represented by payroll has on average gone up from 58 per cent in 2006 to 84 per cent last year. Meanwhile, the share accounted for by dividends has slumped by two-thirds – from 15 per cent to just 5 per cent. . . Banks’ return on assets – an unleveraged measure of performance – has barely changed in decades.” [Financial Times 5 June 2012]

Besides, pension funds are major holders of equity shares.

Man on Clapham Omnibus

OTOH try this in Monday’s FT:

Deloitte, one of the “Big Four” accountants, has been fined a record £14m for failing to manage conflicts of interest in relation to its work as corporate advisers for companies involved with collapsed British carmaker MG Rover Group.

The curious thing is that whenever I’ve clicked on the report about Deloitte on the BBC website, my computer locks down and I have to resort to the Windows Task Manager to disengage from the webpage. I wonder why that is?

41. Paul Peter Smith

@MOCO, Bob B
We are ruled in the same way that we are Policed, by consent. The ‘elites’ occupy a place that we created for them, it is us who require the security of a known quantity (better the devil you know). They just spotted the gap in the market and took on the role that WE require of them. We are ruled, but only because we’re too scared/lazy to take ownership of our destiny, easier to plod on and blame ‘whitey’ than risk anything personally. I’m often accused of being a Libertarian (when I’m not being called a Commie or a Tory) because I possess the political naivety to suggest that political and social responsibility start with taking the blame for your own poor decisions.
While ever we live in the world of the Agony Aunt telling us its not our fault, we will always be ruled.

Best quote ever “Mankind will never be free until the last King is strangled with the entrails of the last Priest” Denis Diderot
you could replace Priest with consensus based science – same thing.

“Best quote ever ‘Mankind will never be free until the last King is strangled with the entrails of the last Priest'”

That’s very sound advice even when the “monarchs” are elected and after we take note of what Catholic priests got up to. Blair made preparations for the invasion of Iraq on 20 March 2003 using the Royal Prerogatives. Parliament was only asked to approve on 18 March 2003.

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