Like some aging pop star, Blair is on his “Farewell Tour”. This week he is in Africa. On Thursday he goes to South Africa and on Tuesday dropped in to Libya to sell some arms to his old mate Gaddafi, in the name of the War on Terra you understand.
It is his Wednesday stopover that should be noted tho as it goes towards understanding why he got involved in Iraq. It is in Sierra Leone where he has his greatest popularity, wildly so. He was installed with the honorary title of Paramount Chief and was greeted with the sort of welcome that Rumsfeld must have imagined Bush would have in a “liberated” Iraq
A quick word about Sierra Leone history. Freetown, the capital, was established as a colony for liberated slaves by British philanthropists in 1787, a bit like the American establishing of Liberia.
The current President, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, was elected in 1992 but there followed a series of coups and a bloody civil war. Kabbah was ousted from power by any army revolt in 1997 but was reinstated a year later by a West African intervention force. By 2000, the civil war had still not finished and many had been disabled by punishment amputations of limbs. The rebellions were financed in part by illegal diamond sales – the so-called blood diamonds. A BBC correspondent based in the country continues the story.
When Britain sent a battalion of paratroops – just 800 men – to Sierra Leone in May 2000, they came not as peacekeepers but, in effect, as combatants.
They backed the democratically elected government, whose army had fallen into decay and disarray, against a rebel army with a record of recruiting child soldiers, terrorising civilians and chopping off limbs.
British troops were welcomed in the capital, Freetown, and given popular credit for saving the city from another brutal rebel invasion.
Prime Minister Tony Blair remains wildly popular here.
For the British rebuilt the government armed forces, bringing discipline, guns, and expertise – sufficient to end the war not by negotiating a peace, but by winning it; by driving rebel forces out.
The British are still here, though in radically reduced numbers, and their guiding hand remains vital.
The Department for International Development remains the biggest single foreign donor.
It is an irony not lost on generations of Sierra Leoneans that the country, nearly 50 years after independence, is now looking to the old colonial master for leadership and protection.
There was even at one stage a political movement to return to the status of a British colony, even 50 years after independence.
Here then we can see the third in a series, after Bosnia and Kosovo, of successful military interventions where limited fighting had brought relative peace and stability. We then see the multi-national forces going into Afghanistan with again very little military opposition. Here though was perhaps the start of the delusion as that victory was effectively gained by the US buying off the warlords who anyway controlled most of the country outside the capital.
With these apparent successes behind him, what more natural for Blair to believe that once more the formula could be used to rescue the benighted people of Iraq from the yoke of Saddam’s oppression?
Which raises the question of whether he ever did believe that there were WMD there. To be honest, my own view is that he was, indeed convinced that Saddam had those stocks or at least the intent of building them. I am pretty sure this belief was only “faith based” and that it was not based on any convincing evidence. In any case, the removal of Saddam was the main motivation, despite having to present a case for regime change which, on its own, was neither a legal cause for war not likely to convince Parliament or the UN to sanction one.