Archbishop Tutu is wrong, Tony Blair showed true moral leadership over Iraq

by Peter Watt

There has been an awful lot of noise again recently about Iraq.  This followed on from an article that Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote in the Observer about his decision to publicly “spurn” Tony Blair by not appearing at an event that they were both due at in South Africa.  Archbishop Tutu said:

“The immorality of the United States and Great Britain’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has destabilised and polarised the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history.

Instead of recognising that the world we lived in, with increasingly sophisticated communications, transportations and weapons systems necessitated sophisticated leadership that would bring the global family together, the then-leaders of the US and UK fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart. They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand – with the spectre of Syria and Iran before us.

If leaders may lie, then who should tell the truth?”

This then spawned a wave of articles from clever and eminent people who explained exactly why international law made it clear that Tony Blair was guilty of war crimes and should be dragged to the Hague.

Others wrote articles saying why this was nonsense and that international law said no such thing.

I read many of these articles with interest and increasing disquiet; but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.

And then I realised what was bothering me.  In all of this very clever argument and counter-argument there was one thing missing.

Those who wrote saying “Bliar” was a war criminal did so because they passionately felt that the war was wrong.  They felt a sense of moral outrage that shone through their demands that international law is invoked.

Conversely, those arguing that international laws were not an issue tended to argue in purely legal terms.  Their arguments somehow lacked the passion or moral outrage of Archbishop Tutu for instance in his Observer article.

The overall sense was that in deciding to commit British forces in the second Iraq war Tony Blair had unquestionably committed a grossly immoral act that might or might not be illegal.

And that was it, the thing that bothered me: the absence of the moral case for freeing Iraq.

I passionately believe that the decision made by Tony Blair was the right and moral response to the circumstances we faced.  It must have been an incredibly difficult decision and one that took huge amounts of leadership – and I respect him hugely for it.

I say this not for legal reasons relating to international law. Unsurprisingly I do not believe that international law was broken and find the claims that it was to be ridiculous.

But that for me is not the central issue.  The central issue was that invading Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do.

Millions of words have been written about the decisions over Iraq but for me it is pretty simple for five reasons: Saddam’s use of chemical weapons, the intelligence evidence on WMD, his obstruction of the weapons inspectors, Hussein’s track record of domestic brutality and his avowed aim of regional domination.

Firstly Saddam Hussein had had chemical weapons and had used them on his own people.  He had shown a willingness to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of lives  if necessary during the Iran – Iraq war.

Secondly there was a huge body of intelligence held by the intelligence services of multiple countries that strongly indicated that he still had active WMD programmes.  Such evidence is by its nature rarely fool proof; but ignoring it would have been a massive risk that I do not believe our prime minister had the right to do even if he wanted to.

Thirdly Saddam Hussein was refusing to allow the UN weapons inspectors to prove definitively that he no longer had any such weapons.  He said that he didn’t have them, but risking the security of the Middle East and therefore beyond on the say so of the word of Saddam would have been bonkers.

Fourthly Saddam Hussein was a brutal and murdering dictator who massacred thousands of Iraqis and used terror to maintain order.  The world is a better and safer place without him in power.

And fifthly his stated aim was to use force to dominate the entire region – a region that the world depends on for much of its oil supply.  Does that mean it was all about oil?  No; but of course this was a factor!  If Saddam managed to achieve his stated aim of taking over the oil fields in the Middle East (and if he had WMD it would have been easier) then that would be pretty devastating for our economy.

Those who get all moral about this should remember that they are pretty dependent on oil themselves!  Can you imagine any government stating that it actually wouldn’t protect our oil supplies?  They wouldn’t last long I suspect!  Just think of the panic even when the drivers of oil tankers threaten to go on strike.

To not have acted under these circumstances would have been a gross dereliction of duty by the British government.  To act was the right and moral thing to do.  Oh, and not forgetting that the UN had condemned him repeatedly and had found him in breach of its resolutions regarding cooperating with its inspectors.

Were mistakes made?  Yes they were, particularly in planning the situation after the war was over.  But the result is a democracy that’s beginning to work where there was dictatorship; and an Iraq has a growing economy and falling infant mortality.  It certainly isn’t perfect – but it’s getting better.  And you certainly don’t hear many Iraqis condemning the invasion and removal of Saddam.

Were WMD found?  No; but that doesn’t mean that the belief, based on evidence, that they existed was a lie.  If we have a defence strategy that requires 100% definitive proof that a serious threat exists before acting then I for one wouldn’t feel very safe.

So to be clear; Tony Blair made the right and indeed the moral decision on Iraq.  And I feel this every bit as passionately as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and those who agree with him feel that he made the wrong one.

Peter Watt was general secretary of the Labour party

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28 Responses to “Archbishop Tutu is wrong, Tony Blair showed true moral leadership over Iraq”

  1. Nick says:

    Tony Blair. Supplying Paralympic athletes to Team GB since 1979.

    Just how many wars do you have to get involved in?

    How many lies about WMD?

    Remember the dossier was tarted up. Spun. Lies to everyone else.

    Why should you go to war on the basis of a ‘belief’? Facts matter, and it was pure spin.

    The man should be in jail for a long time.

    1. For going to war illegally.
    2. For fraud. Why isn’t the state pension a debt?

  2. Dave Hollins says:

    The only reason for British involvement in Iraq was to fall into line with Bush. There was an equal moral argument – good or bad – about many of the other vicious dictators around the world – often people put in place by the USA. But Bush wanted Iraq, probably for oil. Peter has to explain why we intervened in Iraq and not everywhere else as well? There was a justification for Afghanistan, but not Iraq. Indeed, Iraq ruined the possibility of being effective in Afghanistan. Bush is the real war criminal and Blair just his lacky. Peter’s desperation to defend the record of Blair knows no bounds, and the divisions this causes damage the Labour Party when we need to move on and get Ed Miliband elected.

  3. Blair Supporter says:

    Well said, Peter. Some of us have been saying this, like you have, for years.

    As we all know, as far as some are concerned, the facts are twisted to suit the story – when the bit is between the teeth.

  4. Patrick Whitten says:

    Well stated. Amazing thing is that such a common sense view based on all that’s known about this episode should be so badly needed. But you sure wouldn’t get on the BBC with this heresy! Many people who would never go near the Guardian or Independent share some sort of conspiratorial approach of the ‘war criminal’ variety. Now where might they have absorbed this over the past 10 years?

  5. Tris says:

    I agree with Dave Hollis.

    Why didn’t Blair wait for the Blix Report as President Chirac did?

    Why was the sophisticated British secret service convinced by a 10 year old, biased doctoral thesis?

    Sorry. I believe that Blair simple didn’t have the nerve to stand up to the Neo-cons in Washington. Cheney was just too strong for him.

  6. Iain says:

    If it was such a justifiably moral decision why did Blair have to twist, spin and mispresent the evidence to present a case? IMO This is just trying to defend the indefensible also by twisting the evidence.

  7. MTB1 says:

    What a poorly argued article.

    All the reasons stated as to why this war was …”the right and indeed the moral decision”… could be applied to any dictator, anywhere. There is no indication here as to why Iraq and Saddam were targeted when any number of other regimes could have been chosen.

    This just reads like some tub thumping nonsense. Economical with the facts and slippery with words and arguments, just like, ehm… better not…

  8. Gerard says:

    A very good piece.

    My favourite conspiracies are that we went in for the oil (not to stabilise the region but to get it for ourselves), that Blair lied and that the lack of WMDs somehow proves this.

    The oil conspiracy first – we wanted Iraq’s oil. The strange thing about the whole argument here is that it was the countries who benefitted most from Iraq’s oil who said no to bringing down the regime. Also most of the large oil fields have been taken over by Chinese companies and any company that wishes to take control of an oil field must get the approval of the Iraqi parliament. If the USA wanted the oil so badly that they went to war for it do you not think they would have just claimed the fileds under some murky ‘security’ reasoning?

    Secondly the ‘fact’ that Blair lied. Do some people out there honsetly believe it was Blair who gathered the intelligence? No it was the people who do that job day in and day out: the intelligence experts. Now if I were the PM and there was consensus across the world that Saddam had WMDs and the experts brought forward a dossier like they did I would be tempted to listen to the experts.

    It’s a bit like me going to the doctor with a tumour. I had one before and it was malignant but it has grown back and I don;t know if it’s benign or malignant once more. Should I refuse the operation to remove the lump against the advice of my oncologist and what I know from the past? OK so I get the operation and the lump is removed and after the biopsy I find that it was a benign polyp that had the potential to turn cancerous. Am I still better for having the tumour removed?

  9. MickleMas says:

    I agree entirely with your excellent article, Peter. It is common knowledge that Desmond Tutu is a populist who plays to the crowds. I do not think people of sense take notice of his outbursts.
    Your argument for a moral case is compelling and one, I believe, is too often lacking in modern politics. Perhaps, if Ed Miliband had rooted his policies in the moral case as opposed to his ‘responsible economics’ argument he might be enjoying much greater public support (and Ed Balls would not have been roundly and justifiably booed at the TUC).

  10. John Dore says:

    Peter you speak a massive amount of sense usually, but this is absolute shi…..

  11. David Bradley says:

    The one thing you’ve got wrong is this you say
    “Those who wrote saying “Bliar” was a war criminal did so because they passionately felt that the war was wrong. They felt a sense of moral outrage that shone through their demands that international law is invoked.”
    There are many reasons why a country should go to war lies are not one of them
    the intelligence evidence on WMD was based on a document it contained a number of allegations that Iraq possessed WMD all of the allegations included within the Dossier have been since proven to be false
    When Tony Blair opened the debate in the house of commons he talk up the bits that would grab headlines so the Sun then carried the headline “Brits 45 Mins from Doom” and the Star “Mad Saddam Ready to Attack: 45 Minutes from a Chemical War” helping to create the impression among the British public that Iraq was a threat to Britain
    Bush wanted to go to war but needed others go along so it looks like a international response and Bliar wanted to look good on the international stage so he went along with Bush
    but the really sicking thing is this 197 british servicemen and women died in Iraq and god knows how many iraq casualties there was yet Blair couldn’t give a damn

  12. martin sewell says:

    As so often the case Peter starts thinking where most others have stopped.

    I doubt many will follow my suggestion, but reading George Bush’s book ” Decision Points” explains his thinking and it is of genuine interest.

    If we are trading moral paragons, let me say that Tutu is not himself an untainted figure. The Dalai Lama who is not, regards George Bush as the Statesman he most admires after Mandela.

  13. Mouth of the Umber says:

    The fact of the matter is that ALL leaders took their eye off the ball when it came to Iraq. They completely forgot the existing UN resolution to overfly the southern marshland was going to soon run out and it was unlikely that the Security Council could get it renewed due to one party or another blocking such a resolution.
    If they had acted sooner and quicker they could have had Blix in their a lot sooner to do a far better investigation.
    We know that there were WMDs after the first Gulf Conflict. So where did they disappear? Why no signs of their destruction? Why wasn’t their better satalite monitoring?
    The method they used to make the invasion legal was of similar proportions to the Suez invasion. There was conivance to make it legal.
    For those who do not believe me let me explain. The existing UN Resolution said that is planes overflying the southern marshes were attacked or targetted by radar the forces could take whatever action was necessary. All the missiles and radars had been turned off and not used for many months, so a jet buzzed a radar station until they turned on their radar. The rest is history.
    Personally I still think that invading Iraq was wrong. There are other places where human rights and other things are ignored by the west. And we hadn’t done a very good job in Afghanistan, we should have sorted that out properly first. But as I mentioned, time was running out on the UN Resolution.

  14. PinkPolitika says:

    Good to see a more balanced discussion of Blair and Iraq; Saddam was a monstrous man, albeit Western powers’ planning for the aftermath of the war was dealt with very poorly.

    I would like to see Archbishop Tutu (and all the other vocal people in this debate) spend as much energy stopping the atrocities of female genital mutilation [FGM], as they have on Iraq.

    The horrendous FGM ‘war on women’ in some parts of the world continues, and has damaged (not infrequently killed) many millions…. if you don’t believe it, just look up the WHO reports on FGM. And it continues.

    When Archbishop Tutu and the rest speak out as frequently and forcefully on FGM – a continuing cruel and barbaric assault on the lives of women who need protection even now – as they do on their views about recent history in Iraq, we will be more easily able to accept what they say about violence.

  15. Robert says:

    There was no justification for the war once Saddam let the inspectors back into Iraq. That was when I knew Straw and Blair were lying when they said that war could be avoided if Iraq disarmed. It was clear that Blair and Bush had already decided that there would be an invasion several months earlier. The pathetic attempts to get a second resolution just added to my utter contempt for Blair and Straw.

    Saddam was an awful dictator but does that justify us using violence to overthrow him? That was a decision for the Iraqis.

  16. Paul Mitchell says:

    Well said Peter. There always was a strong left wing argument for helping to remove a fascist dictator.

  17. Les Abbey says:

    Let’s for the sake of argument accept all of Peter’s excuses for going to war. Then let’s ask a question based on what I would hope would be in common agreement, ‘Was there any other options available rather than the final one of going to war?’

    Once we asked that question Peter’s arguments start to fall down. The rush to war was led by the American neo-cons, who were going to do it whether Britain joined in or not. Blair made the decision, rightly or wrongly, that he needed Britain to be seen in America and among American politicians as their supporter.

    Of course once we look back into history we can a similar situation facing a Labour prime minister. Wilson was asked by a LBJ, a far more likely Labour friend, to join in the war in Vietnam. Wilson declined. I will leave it to you to decide which Labour prime minister made the correct decision. Wilson made his without the benefit of such a fitting example he gave Blair.

  18. stephen eales says:

    I agree completely with this article. I have always found the assumption that those of us who supported the war did so for amoral reasons, such as the Iraqi oil or a desire to kowtow to the Americans, massively annoying.

  19. michael cronogue says:

    Another example of the bull***t cooked up by Blair apologists. Bush made it clear he regarded Iraq as unfinished family business and like the rest of the neocons was determined to hold Saddam responsible for anything and everything happening in the region.
    Peter, you talk about upholding International Law in which case why have UN Resolutions 241 & 242 not been enforced? Oh silly me, the US won’t do anything that’ll upset the Israelis and who is the Middle East Peace Envoy? That’s right, Tony Blair – haven’t those people suffered enough!

  20. Mark2 says:

    David Bradley says

    “but the really sicking thing is this 197 british servicemen and women died in Iraq and god knows how many iraq casualties there was yet Blair couldn’t give a damn” –

    and you know he “couldn’t give a damn” because – well, why exactly?

    And Robert says

    “Saddam was an awful dictator but does that justify us using violence to overthrow him? That was a decision for the Iraqis.”

    Maybe – but will you recognise that a revolution followed perhaps by a civil war would probably have led to as many deaths as the war (and probably more in the terrorist aftermath given the absence of Western troops).

    PS do the idiots who mis-spell “Blair” get past the current anti spam question?

  21. Gerard says:


    Sorry but that is pure fantasy. The UN Resolution leading to the conflict explicitly stated that it was a final warning and that Saddam had to do a number of things to comply with the resolution. Things like allow the inspectors back in was only one part with other measures such as giving full access to ANY government facility the inspectors wished to enter and providing all the documents that showed the decomissioning of WMDs so that they complied with all previous resolutions.

    However my main argument for the war was moral. The man was a mass murderer and had his own people tortured, raped, imprisoned and killed simply to control the masses by fear. Your simplistic suggestion that it was for the Iraqis to remove him is absurd. There was no way the people of Iraq qould have done that as they also believed he had WMDs and wouldn’t want to be targetted with those weapons if they started to rise up. Perhaps if Saddam was still in power during the Arab spring people would have started to rise up against him but what’s to say we wouldn’t have another situation like Syria where the international community are doing nothing and letting people die?

    I work with Iraqi and Iranian Kurds, some who fled during the war and before it too, they are all happy with the removal of Saddam and say it was 100% the right thing to do for the international community to step in and protect them.

    It can sound nice to say we don’t want war, which of course we don’t, but sometimes there is no other option once dimplomacy has failed. If anyone thinks over a decade of flaunting UN resolutions is an example of diplomacy working then we need to improve our diplomatic processes I suggest.

  22. Robert the cripple says:

    The real question of course is Iraq now any better, has the lives of the people improved is the area more stable, did it work, we will know in about ten or twenty more years, but already the elections look rigged, life is still very hard, and whom made the money out of this.

  23. Gerard says:


    I wouldn’t say the elections look rigged. There are some problems but remember this is a fledgeling democracy and things will settle down.

    Life is of course still very hard but GDP per head of the population is now at it’s highest level ever. Infant mortality has dropped considerably too.

    There are many improvements still to be made but we haven’t reached 10 years of freedom for Iraq yet. Things are already moving in the right direction and as more wealth comes into the country and people, hopefully, see the full benefits of this increase in wealth they will also see a drop in violence and improvements in education, health and jobs.

    The big task for Iraq is to reduce the dependency on oil. Yes there is massive wealth to be generated from the oil fields but it currently makes up over 90% of GDP so as security improves the chances of improving industry and farming will grow. Also as education provision improves there will be the opportunity to start to bring in highly skilled jobs.

    I hope the politicians take full advantage of the potential of their countries natural resources (including its people) and drives up living standards without leaving people behind. It would be disappointing if inequality grew as wealth grows in the country.

  24. Roy Robart says:

    Forget about the moral justification – focus on the lie. And, if the lie has now been watered down to a considered ‘belief’, establish the TRUTH before acting. And can ‘Blair Supporter’ not see the hypocrisy of his statement: “the facts are twisted to suit the story”? This from the biggest spin merchants in our political history? Good grief. We were lied to, plain and simple – we might have understood if the case had been built on the regime’s humanitarian record, but we were lied to. Did I say we were lied to? Not sure if I got that across.

  25. Mike Homfray says:

    Blair lied. Nothing more needs to be said. if he had told the truth he wouldn’t have been supported by party or parliament. That’s why he is not respected and his only legacy will be lying to enforce an illegal war, as well as making himself a lot of money. Utterly untrustworthy man.

  26. swatantra says:

    Have to strongly disagree. It was morally right to go into Afghanistan and take out the Taliban and Bin Laden, but it was wrong to o into Iraq which posed no real threat to anyobne but their own citizens. We were all misled.
    Unfortunately things didn’t turn out as planned in Afghanistan, it should have been a short and sharp manoevre; the blame lies with the Military.

  27. Lisa Lovell says:

    No Prime Minister in modern times has led Britain into as many wars as Tony Blair. In 7 years in office, he has sent soldiers Kosovo, in Operation Desert Fox against Iraq, in Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. Finally he invaded Iraq.

    If he were still in power, he’s made it clear in a recent interview, he would have decalred wars with Syria and Iran as well!

    All the money he had squandered on wars we could have avoided so many A&E closures around the country.

    He says the wars are worth it! Why? because it’s not his life or his money to lose. What a selfish man.

    The people who support Tony Blair really need their heads examined! Stupid beyond belief.

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