He is sorry, but would do it again – that is, take Britain to war in Iraq.
That was the message from former prime minister Tony Blair during an over two-hour mea culpa on live television soon after the Chilcot report was released on Wednesday, piling more flak on his legacy.
Front pages of newspapers added to his agony on Thursday. “Weapon of mass deception,” splashed The Sun, while Daily Mail called him a “Monster of delusion.”
Other newspapers used his now-famous 2002 quote to former US president George Bush: “I will be with you, whatever.”
Noting that Blair looked a broken man on live television – gaunt, hoarse and haunted – columnists wrote that for all his defence over the years and particularly after the Chilcot report, Blair will not be able to shake off his Iraq war legacy for the rest of his life.
As relatives of British soldiers called the television performance a carefully choreographed act and one called Blair the “world’s worst terrorist,” he went on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday to admit that not many believed his expressions of regret over Iraq.
He said: “I can regret the mistakes and I can regret many things about it but I genuinely believe, not just that we acted out of good motives, and I did what I did out of good faith, but I sincerely believe that we would be in a worse position if we hadn't acted that way. I may be completely wrong about that.”
Blair, however, acknowledged the Chilcot report’s critical assessment of intelligence during the build-up to the 2003 war.
"It would have been far better to have challenged them more clearly.”
The House of Commons is to have a two-day debate on the Chilcot report next week, while families of British soldiers killed are considering launching legal action against Blair.
In his defence, Blair said: “I wanted to make sure that America did not feel alone, that it did not feel compelled to go it alone. I wanted to build as big a coalition as possible.
And frankly I did want the UK to be their partner of choice, to be the first telephone call they made on these issues.
“It is true that I took a decision, and I stand by that decision, that we should be right alongside America in dealing with these decisions post-9/11 and that included the issue of Iraq.
But it isn’t correct to say we had made some irrevocable commitment to war,” he said.
Blair pointed out that a lot of people in the American administration wanted to take military action immediately.
“In the end, partly because of the closeness of the relationship, we persuaded the Americans to go back to the United Nations and get that resolution. When people say we were irrevocably committed in July, we weren’t of course.”