Never has the word ‘honour’ meant less.
If he possessed a shred of it — or indeed a smidgeon of self-respect — Tony Blair would know that the knighthood announced in the New Year’s Honours List has already been rendered meaningless by the furious response of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Britons.
By last night, more than 740,000 people had signed a petition calling for the Queen to rescind his appointment to a knighthood as a member of the Royal Order of the Garter, England’s oldest and most senior order of chivalry.
The petition further demands that Blair be ‘held accountable for war crimes’. It is a mark of his narcissism that he will ignore the petition and I regard it as symbolic of his total disgrace.
No words are sufficient to express my disgust at the treatment of servicemen who did their duty in Northern Ireland, only to be accused of committing crimes by serving their country — while, at the Blair government’s instigation, republican terrorists were exonerated.
Many young soldiers died — or sustained terrible injuries — as a result of Blair’s disastrous, deceitful Iraq War venture.
The waste of such lives is shattering — for their comrades and commanding officers, but most of all for their families. I felt an intense sadness and frustration that has stayed with me ever since, and will haunt me to the end of my days.
The only thing those families wanted was the one thing that no one could give them — to have their youngster back with them.
Never has the word ‘honour’ meant less. If he possessed a shred of it, Tony Blair would know that the knighthood announced in the New Year’s Honours List has already been rendered meaningless by the furious response of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Britons, writes Colonel Tim Collins
Tony Blair must shoulder a great deal of the responsibility for their grief, but it is a responsibility he has always shirked.
Military invasion should always be a last resort. It is viable only when those involved in its planning and execution know precisely what they want to achieve.
In that way, the troops on the ground can achieve their objectives with a minimum of bloodshed.
That was not the case in Iraq in March 2003. British forces were sent in with no clear idea of the ultimate goal. It was a massive blunder, leading to an enormous loss of life among Iraqis and the death of 179 British troops. That is unforgivable.
The precursor for the invasion was the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. But the real roots of British complicity in the Iraq misadventure are buried deep in Blair’s psychology.
When he became prime minister in 1997, he took over the negotiations for a peace agreement in Northern Ireland, begun by John Major’s government.
Blair fiddled around the edges, desirous of putting his own celebrity spin on the accord.
Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, very quickly realised that this new PM was addicted to fame and was a man who believed every word generated by his own publicity machine.
The republican bomb-masters were able to manipulate him to their own advantage. The peace deal was much poorer as a result, but Blair was oblivious to this.
Military invasion should always be a last resort. It is viable only when those involved in its planning and execution know precisely what they want to achieve. That was not the case in Iraq in March 2003. British forces were sent in with no clear idea of the ultimate goal. Pictured: Lt Colonel Tim Collins speaks to troops in Iraq in 2004
By then he regarded himself as part pop star, part messiah — an international statesman greater even than Nelson Mandela. He started to worship at his own shrine.
I believe that Blair and his wife Cherie began to see themselves as a new royal family. It was obvious to anyone who saw their preening at the Millennium Dome on New Year’s Eve 1999, when they treated the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh as guests at a New Labour celebration.
But at the same time, there was a part of Blair that knew he was a D-list celebrity at best. He sought out reflected glory, hanging on the coat tails of U.S. presidents.
Thus, when Republican George W. Bush came to power in 2000, he was surprised to find that a British Labour PM was not merely willing but eager to do anything the Americans asked.
It was this greed for stardom that led to the catastrophic blunders in Iraq. Blair behaved as if it were his destiny to ‘save’ the Middle East. He seemed to think his blessing was a guarantee of success.
The bitter irony is that Iraq did need our help. If Britain had followed a wiser course, we could have brought great benefits to the region, and probably prevented the rise of fundamentalist terrorism in the shape of the Islamic State.
Our security services knew that the Iraqi military, a well-organised force that was effective and respected, could be encouraged to remove Saddam Hussein.
The Iraqi army might have maintained the peace, with British and U.S. backing, until democratic elections were held. That low-key policy would have ousted a dictator, maintained stability and saved hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives.
Instead, citing that infamous dodgy dossier and playing on fears of non-existent weapons of mass destruction, Britain joined a hopeless invasion.
The Roman philosopher Cicero warned 2,000 years ago: ‘Armed forces abroad are of little value unless there is prudent counsel at home.’
When Republican George W. Bush came to power in 2000, he was surprised to find that a British Labour PM was not merely willing but eager to do anything the Americans asked. Pictured: Tony Blair arrives at President Bush’s Prairie Chapel Ranch on April 5, 2002
Tony Blair and George Bush had no such vision or direction. They wanted to invade Iraq, would not be dissuaded and their advisers were ordered to make the facts appear to fit.
On the eve of battle in 2003, I gave an impromptu speech to my troops, urging them to remember they came as liberators, not as conquerors.
I concluded with the words: ‘Let’s bring everyone home and leave Iraq a better place for us having been there.’
We were not able to do either of those things.
Iraqi people were treated as refugees in their own country. Worse still, their army was disbanded, with the inevitable result that a disciplined and civilised fighting force became a disparate bunch of guerrilla units.
It is impossible to criticise that decision too strongly. I liken it to throwing a lighted box of matches into a petrol dump — incredibly stupid and destructive, a criminal act of murderous recklessness.
Many people this week have called for Tony Blair to be prosecuted. I regret to say that is mission impossible. He was part of a larger coalition, following without question the dictates of the White House.
Many people this week have called for Tony Blair to be prosecuted. I regret to say that is mission impossible. He was part of a larger coalition, following without question the dictates of the White House. Pictured: Tony Blair addressing soldiers in Basra in 2004
Ultimately, the UK was a minor player in the supporting cast, and the fault lay with the Bush administration. To prosecute Blair without laying charges against his master, the U.S. president, would be meaningless.
We can only wish his incompetence could be treated as a crime. If it were, Blair would be on trial, condemned by the evidence of his own arrogance and addiction to celebrity.
A decent man would realise this and even now turn down that tainted knighthood — ironically the personal gift of a monarch whose country he took to war on the premise of a lie.
Colonel Tim Collins OBE was Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment during the Iraq War.