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London - The weather was cold and damp and so were the protests outside the QEII Centre as Tony Blair began his testimony before the Iraq Inquiry this morning. This was the big news event of the week in Britain and a major demonstration had been expected but in the end nothing much happened.
It was similar inside the hearing room. Over the years Blair has appeared before four major inquiries into Iraq. He's been asked every question you could think of and his story has always been the same. Today's questions were more thorough but rarely broke new ground and Blair himself after a few minutes seemed to relish being on familiar ground, justifying the decision by which history will judge him.
The man came prepared. He frequently referred to several thick stacks of paper with tabs marking subjects by section. The most interesting thing to come out of the morning session was when Blair was pressed by one of the inquisitors, Baroness Prashar, about a one-to-one meeting he had with U.S. President George Bush in Crawford, Texas in April 2002. Blair has always said that a decision about going to war had not been made by then and was not made there. I try hard not to go "bollocks" when I write the previous sentence, but I digress.
She asked him if he had given a private undertaking then to overthrow Saddam. Blair avoided a direct answer, she interrupted and asked him again. "I said nothing in private that I wouldn't say in public." She pressed him again. "Look," Blair said. "This is an alliance we have with the U.S. not a contract," with everything clearly delineated by lawyers. When he finished that answer he nodded his head firmly ... it was the one moment so far when the certainty and self-righteousness that makes him so unshakeable really bubbled up.
I hope that after the break for lunch the other members of the Iraq Inquiry panel get personal about his relationship with Bush ... this is one story he hasn't told and it would seem that it is the only window into the emotional core of the man who carries the weight of the failure in Iraq on his shoulders not just for the rest of his life ... but for as long as the history of Britain is studied.