Tony Blair decries "conspiracy theories" about Iraq

Where? On Fox News.

In a recent feature that I wrote for the New Statesman, on Tony Blair and the Chilcot inquiry, I quoted Sir Rodric Braithwaite, former chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), describing how our former PM "has lost all political credibility": "He sticks to the American right and media."

So imagine my (lack of) surprise to see ol' Tone running to his neocon friends at Fox News (Fox News!) to cry and complain about how horrid the beastly British people have been to him over Iraq:

Asked on US television why the UK had held a succession of such probes into the invasion, Mr Blair said: "I think it's partly because we have this curious habit -- I don't think this is confined to Britain actually -- where people find it hard to come to the point where they say: we disagree; you're a reasonable person, I'm a reasonable person, but we disagree.

"There's always got to be a scandal as to why you hold your view. There's got to be some conspiracy behind it, some great deceit that's gone on, and people just find it hard to understand that it's possible for people to have different points of view and hold them . . . for genuine reasons. There's a continual desire to sort of uncover some great conspiracy when actually there's a decision at the heart of it, but there it is," he told the Huckabee show on Fox News.

First, "deceit" has gone on. It doesn't matter if Alastair Campbell sheds tears on Marr, or Blair bleats on Huckabee; the evidence is overwhelming.

Second, conspiracy theories feed on secrecy -- Blair presided over one of the most secretive administrations in recent times. Even now, the Chilcot inquiry is prevented from making public key documents related to the build-up to war in 2002 and 2003.

Third, it's a bit rich for Blair to go on Fox News and complain about conspiracy theories when that network is the home of conspiracy theories, especially about President Obama -- from the Birther nonsense, to the Islamophobic fear-mongering about him being a Muslim, to the health-care "death panels".

David Hughes's take on Blair and his latest ridiculous comments is spot-on:

What a terrible disappointment we must be to our former prime minister. All this pretty straight kind of guy ever wanted to do was what was right, or at least what he believed to be right, which is not necessarily the same thing. Yet in his selfless quest to make the world a better place, he just kept coming up against the innate suspicion of an unworthy British people.

. . . has it dawned on him that his conduct of government that so outraged the Butler inquiry -- decisions taken by a clique of cronies, sensitive items never minuted, the cabinet (let alone parliament) kept out of the loop -- actually feeds into the idea that something fishy was going on? Apparently not. Blair is beginning to cut a rather pathetic figure, less the world statesman, more the lounge-bar bore who just cannot resist telling you what a raw deal he's had.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The most terrifying thing about Donald Trump's speech? What he didn't say

No politician uses official speeches to put across their most controversial ideas. But Donald Trump's are not hard to find. 

As Donald Trump took the podium on a cold Washington day to deliver his inauguration speech, the world held its breath. Viewers hunched over televisions or internet streaming services watched Trump mouth “thank you” to the camera, no doubt wondering how he could possibly live up to his deranged late-night Twitter persona. In newsrooms across America, reporters unsure when they might next get access to a president who seems to delight in denying them the right to ask questions got ready to parse his words for any clue as to what was to come. Some, deciding they couldn’t bear to watch, studiously busied themselves with other things.

But when the moment came, Trump’s speech was uncharacteristically professional – at least compared to his previous performances. The fractured, repetitive grammar that marks many of his off-the-cuff statements was missing, and so, too, were most of his most controversial policy ideas.

Trump told the crowd that his presidency would “determine the course of America, and the world, for many, many years to come” before expressing his gratefulness to President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama for their “gracious aid” during the transition. “They have been magnificent," Trump said, before leading applause of thanks from the crowd.

If this opening was innocent enough, however, it all changed in the next breath. The new president moved quickly to the “historic movement”, “the likes of which the world has never seen before”, that elected him President. Following the small-state rhetoric of his campaign, Trump promised to take power from the “establishment” and restore it to the American people. “This moment," he told them, “Is your moment. It belongs to you.”

A good deal of the speech was given over to re-iterating his nationalist positions while also making repeated references to the key issues – “Islamic terrorism” and families – that remain points of commonality within the fractured Republican GOP.

The loss of business to overseas producers was blamed for “destroying our jobs”. “Protection," Trump said, “Will lead to great strength." He promised to end what he called the “American carnage” caused by drugs and crime.

“From this day forward," Trump said, “It’s going to be only America first."

There was plenty in the speech, then, that should worry viewers, particularly if you read Trump’s promises to make America “unstoppable” so it can “win” again in light of his recent tweets about China

But it was the things Trump didn't mention that should worry us most. Trump, we know, doesn’t use official channels to communicate his most troubling ideas. From bizarre television interviews to his upsetting and offensive rallies and, of course, the infamous tweets, the new President is inclined to fling his thoughts into the world as and when he sees fit, not on the occasions when he’s required to address the nation (see, also, his anodyne acceptance speech).

It’s important to remember that Trump’s administration wins when it makes itself seem as innocent as possible. During the speech, I was reminded of my colleague Helen Lewis’ recent thoughts on the “gaslighter-in-chief”, reflecting on Trump’s lying claim that he never mocked a disabled reporter. “Now we can see," she wrote, “A false narrative being built in real time, tweet by tweet."

Saying things that are untrue isn’t the only way of lying – it is also possible to lie by omission.

There has been much discussion as to whether Trump will soften after he becomes president. All the things this speech did not mention were designed to keep us guessing about many of the President’s most controversial promises.

Trump did not mention his proposed ban on Muslims entering the US, nor the wall he insists he will erect between America and Mexico (which he maintains the latter will pay for). He maintained a polite coolness towards the former President and avoiding any discussion of alleged cuts to anti-domestic violence programs and abortion regulations. Why? Trump wanted to leave viewers unsure as to whether he actually intends to carry through on his election rhetoric.

To understand what Trump is capable of, therefore, it is best not to look to his speeches on a global stage, but to the promises he makes to his allies. So when the President’s personal website still insists he will build a wall, end catch-and-release, suspend immigration from “terror-prone regions” “where adequate screening cannot occur”; when, despite saying he understands only 3 per cent of Planned Parenthood services relate to abortion and that “millions” of women are helped by their cancer screening, he plans to defund Planned Parenthood; when the president says he will remove gun-free zones around schools “on his first day” - believe him.  

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland