British forces will have to remain in Iraq for "many, many years" to ensure its successful reconstruction, former British Prime John Major warned Sunday as a clutch of his ex-cabinet colleagues accused Tony Blair of misjudgment, error and even lies in the handling of the war and its aftermath.
In a rare public utterance, Major, who led Britain into the 1991 Gulf War after succeeding Margaret Thatcher during the prewar buildup, said: "I supported the war on the basis of what I believed to be the case, and I am not moving away from that now." But he used an interview on BBC-1's "Breakfast with Frost" to express dismay at the way the intelligence case for the 2003 invasion had crumbled and at the poor postwar planning. The result, he said, was a crisis of trust for his successor. "I do think that many people around this country would be very wary indeed of taking this government's word on another occasion if a further military adventure seemed likely, given the history of what has happened on this occasion. That is very worrying," Major said.
By what was almost certainly a coincidence, his three chief cabinet lieutenants, Lord Heseltine, Lord Hurd and Kenneth Clarke, all weighed in during interviews yesterday, with the former deputy premier being the most forceful. "I think [Blair] has lied about the situation in the Middle East," Lord Heseltine told ITV's Jonathan Dimbleby program. "We were told that there was a threat. We were told there were weapons of mass destruction. There were no weapons of mass destruction; there was no threat."
Lord Hurd, foreign secretary in 1991, was more cautious. "I don't think he [Blair] deliberately lied, because I think he's one of those people who deceived himself first. He persuaded himself that it was not necessary to ask all the awkward questions ... It was simply necessary to take up and echo and repeat the arguments that President Bush was making," he said.
Lord Hurd has long been an opponent of intervening in the internal affairs of failed states, saying honorable goals often result in "getting rid of a tyranny and replacing it with chaos, civil war and terrorism."
Clarke, chancellor under Major, predicted disaster in Iraq before the war. On the same program yesterday, he joined Lord Heseltine in mocking this week's U.K. deployment of 850 troops of the Black Watch into the U.S. zone as militarily ill-judged and politically motivated.
That is not a view shared by the current Tory defense spokesman and former cavalry officer, Nicholas Soames, who accepts it is a military decision, necessitated by the skills and armor at the regiment's disposal and eagerly accepted. Evidence emerged Sunday that the British generals, keen to prove they can police rebellious areas more skillfully than the Americans, virtually volunteered themselves for the move into the Sunni triangle. It is their partners and families who have been distraught.
Labor officials were also quick to point out that three of Sunday's Tory heavyweight critics are ardent pro-European proteges of the Edward Heath premiership -- instinctive critics of the U.S. across a range of policies and presidents. Under Major they were closely associated with the failures of the European Union to prevent the slaughter of up to 250,000 people in the former Yugoslavia in the mid-'90s.
Major also shared George Bush Sr.'s reluctance to invade Iraq after the liberation of Kuwait -- leaving the Kurds and Shiites who expected allied help to face Saddam Hussein's vengeance.
Sunday Major said there could be no question but that Britain must "do the job properly and not scuttle" in Iraq, however long it took. "We are not near the beginning of the end," he said.