Friday, July 08, 2016

Millions Of Us Knew The Iraq War Would Be A Catastrophe. Why Didn’t Tony Blair?

I composed my album The Blue Notebooks as a protest. And 13 years on, with the costs of the conflict clear, my fury at the man who took us there is unabated

BY MAX RITCHER
THE GUARDIAN


TONY BLAIR



On 15 February 2003, my partner and I packed our two young children into their pushchairs and travelled across London to take part in what has since become recognised as the single largest protest event in human history. Between six and 30 million people (depending on whom you believe) took part in about 600 cities worldwide, united by a belief that the proposed military intervention in Iraq was not justified by the facts. Sir John Chilcot has, in his newly published report, reinforced this view.

In the intervening years a gigantic political disaster, like some sort of all-consuming black hole, has devoured everything in its path including the credibility of our democratic process and any moral capital the west had. The human cost is staggering. The repercussions and aftershocks endless – international law, natural resources, political norms, the UN, religious tolerance, all irrevocably altered or destroyed, while, 13 years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, one of the oldest civilisations on our planet lies a shattered ruin; a destabilising presence in a fragile region, locked in a permanent civil war, with any prospects for a peaceful civil society decades in the future. Somehow, “We told you so” just doesn’t do it justice.

I am not a politician, civil servant, or journalist, and I have no military experience; I am a composer, and I remember thinking at the time: “How can it be blindingly obvious to me, and to millions of other ordinary people like me, that the invasion will be a disaster, while our political leadership fails to see it?” There was no question that Saddam’s brutality needed addressing – but not like this.

Prior to the decision to go to war being made – in the months the debates raged – I did the only thing I knew how which was to put my frustrations into a new piece.The Blue Notebooks would be a protest album about Iraq, a mediation on violence – both the violence that I had personally experienced around me as a child and the violence of war, at the utter futility of so much armed conflict. We recorded it in London about a week after the protests.

I structured the work around a series of readings by Tilda Swinton from the works of Franz Kafka. I think of Kafka as a sort of patron saint of doubt, and his writing spoke to the bleak absurdity of that political moment for me. Balancing the Kafka texts are extracts from Czeslaw Milosz, a sort of anti-Kafka, for whom the universe is redeemed by human creativity and compassion. I wrote the piece to meander through music history – quoting and recontextualising musical texts – the music I had run to as a child to escape my own reality.

Shadow Journal, one of the pieces, includes the following text by Miłosz, who, writing of another war at another time nonetheless seemed all too relevant to 2003:

“How enduring, how we need durability.

The sky before sunrise is soaked by light.

Rosy colour tints buildings, bridges, and the Seine.

I was here when she, with whom I walk, wasn’t born yet

And the cities on a distant plain stood intact

Before they rose in the air with the dust of sepulchral brick

And the people who lived there didn’t know.

Only this moment at dawn is real to me.

The bygone lives are like my own past life, uncertain.

I cast a spell on the city asking it to last.”

So why did he do it? Tony Blair even now attempts to evade responsibility for his actions, commenting on Wednesday on his decision to go to war: “I took it in good faith and in what I believed to be the best interests of country.” So typical of Blair, who increasingly resembles the Mad Hatter; who appears to think that believing a thing to be true is the same as it actually being true.

I’m reminded of something often said about another messianic figure, Steve Jobs, that he had a "reality distortion field" – the ability to invent his own version of reality, and to make others believe it. This points to one of the possible justifications for Blair’s actions, namely that he has a tenuous grip on reality. He convinced himself and then had to convince others. His wild-eyed prewar narrative of imminent direct threats to the civilian UK population (the infamous 45 minutes), supports this.

Blair’s creative way with the facts seems in retrospect to be the beginning of the sort of post-truth politics we have seen in the recent Brexit debate, where fiction and reality were treated by Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and their like as essentially interchangeable. Donald Trump does the same.

A second, less charitable, justification is that Blair deliberately ignored warnings from the Ministry of Defence and joint intelligence committee about the reliability of the intelligence, and in a striking example of confirmation bias, chose to engage with the facts only insofar as they supported the decision to go to war, a decision which we now know had been taken long before the other options to deal with Saddam had been exhausted. Chilcot agrees; Blair withheld information from the cabinet, misled parliament, the public, and the military. Thousands paid with their lives.

Looking more deeply into why he might do this leads inevitably to the peculiar bromance that developed between Bush and Blair, the cowboy and his poodle, united in some sort of shared crusade. Blair’s hubristic view of himself as a moderating influence on the imbecile Bush betrays a spectacular miscalculation of the power dynamics in play. A third scenario is that Blair was simply too dumb to see what was coming down the tracks.

But any of these justifications for Blair’s actions – mad, bad or stupid – disqualify him from political high office, and his pitiful attempts at rebuttal this week (“I took the decisions in good faith”), as well as his efforts to resurrect the long discredited theory that Saddam was in some way responsible for 9/11, insult the memory of those hundreds of thousands whose lives were taken.

When I perform The Blue Notebooks now, it seems at once familiar and strange. Time has passed; I am a different person but the events of 2003 and their aftermath still resonate daily. All of us were changed during that political moment, but I remain convinced that human creativity can influence the world, or at the very least our perception of it, in some small way.
Post a Comment