Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Blair Asks Us to Trust Him.So Why Did He Duck Key Question?

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Blair Asks Us to Trust Him.So Why Did He Duck Key Question?

Article excerpt

Byline: JOE MURPHY

AT THE heart of Tony Blair's seeming inability to find "closure" on Iraq is the issue of trust. In his conference speech yesterday, he tried to argue the decision to invade was a matter of whether or not the world was better off with Saddam in prison rather than in power. If that were all, it would be easier for Labour voters to move and unite against the terrorist threat to the new state.

Likewise, tomorrow's conference debate has been stage-managed to focus on whether it is right to stick with the interim Iraqi government or leave the country to stew in its present quagmire. Of course, the Prime Minister should win in a vote on those terms.

Both events are designed to enable him to break free of the cloud of suspicion hanging over his motives for war. But the strategy is hamstrung because too many people still do not believe Mr Blair's account of when and why he decided to follow George Bush into military action. As his speech acknowledged, by implicitly linking trust over Iraq to trust in Labour's election promises, declining trust is the greatest danger to Labour's hopes of a third term with another landslide majority.

That is the significance of the Pentagon papers leaked to the Evening Standard's Andrew Gilligan today. The document, drawn up for the office of Donald Rumsfeld, raises more questions about Mr Blair's conduct during the period in summer 2002 when the notion of war was being dismissed by ministers as "hype".

The papers make clear that Britain attended a war planning meeting with the Americans in June 2002. No 10 points out that contingency planning does not mean a decision has been taken to attack. But that was not the position publicly admitted to at the time.

Mr Blair, giving evidence to a Commons committee three weeks after the meeting, was asked whether he was engaged in "preparing for possible military action". …

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