Understanding Tony Blair’s and the 2003 Iraq Invasion

Understanding Tony Blair’s and the 2003 Iraq Invasion

Just a few months ago, 20th March 2003 marked the 20th anniversary of the Iraq Invasion, in which the US and the UK accused the president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, of maintaining a stockpile of WMDs and funding “terrorist groups.” As a result, a US-led coalition started bombing Iraq on March 19, 2003, and a ground invasion became underway a day later.

We often focus on the atrocities that former president George W. Bush committed and justified, deceiving the world of the truth; I argue that a foreign policy analyst’s perspective can help understand the UK’s (mainly Tony Blair’s) [unnecessary] involvement in the War. 

Firstly, leadership qualities impact individual decision-making and may be utilised to examine foreign policy. According to Hermann (1980), leaders exhibit features like the “need for power, conceptual complexity… a belief that they have some control over the events, […] trusting of others,” and so forth (Hermann, 1980, p. 8).

On the most fundamental level, this indicates that Hermann’s leadership trait analysis framework (LTAF) provides a psychological viewpoint in understanding how leaders differ by the attributes outlined before. The traits imply that, for instance, leaders who eventually score well on their capacity to influence events (BACE) frequently favour action over inaction and have a sense of control throughout events. On the other hand, those who score highly on the desire for power (NP) like to play a significant role in decision-making and are less inclined to include a larger group of people in their choices.

Dyson (2006) developed Hermann’s LTAF as a foundation to study Tony Blair’s decision in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion. The results of their study quantify these characteristics and demonstrate that Blair performed well, scoring 0.45 in BACE and 0.3 for NP (Dyson, 2006, p. 293), illustrative of how Blair excels in two characteristics.

Numerous studies have discovered links between high or low scores on these attributes and conduct while making foreign policy decisions (Dyson, 2006, p. 294). Because Blair‘s qualities contributed to his choice to invade Iraq, Hermann and Dyson demonstrate that leadership attributes like BACE and NP impact individual decision-making.

Contradictions in the literature regarding whether the setting should influence trait scores are an important reminder that this method has fundamental problems. This discussion raises the idea that a leader’s position can affect results and that results can alter as people advance in their professions. For example, early in his career, a younger Blair might not have performed as well as the elder Blair in 2003. This supports the notion that heuristics and schemas can be used to explain how people make decisions while analysing foreign policy.

Foreign policy analysts discussed the debate around heuristics vicariously; these are multiple cognitive shortcuts known as heuristics that help them interpret aspects of the world around them. This term was coined by Tversky and Kahneman (1974) to argue that heuristics are pre-existing mental representations formed through training and experience that leaders replace for genuine facts about the environment. Although this allows leaders to make choices fast as “heuristics are quite useful, [they] sometimes lead to severe and systematic errors” (Tversky and Kahneman, 1974, p.1124).

One type of heuristic coined by Tversky and Kahneman was representativeness, which is “the degree to which A is representative of B, that is, by the degree to which A resembles B” (Tversky and Kahneman, 1974, p.1124); put, this new circumstance resembles a former one that a leader is already aware of. Blair had already had military interventions placed in Iraq five years before the infamous 2003.

Tony Blair´s Intention for the 1998 Military Intervention

Blair’s intention for the 1998 military involvement was to “degrade [Saddam’s] capability to build and use weapons of mass destruction and to diminish the military threat he poses to his neighbours” (Blair, 1998). It is fair to say that though it cannot be proven, Blair’s heuristics in his experience with Iraq in 1998 thus influenced his decision in 2003 and did so in the name of suppressing the enemy.

Much of the UK’s involvement with Iraq was due to individual decision-making, i.e., Blair. Harding discusses that Chilcot believed that Blair’s psychological dominance was vital in understanding the UK’s involvement in the Iraq War (Harding, 2016). He mentions that Chilcott called parliament at the time a “sofa government” in which ministers were not consulted on crucial decisions, which reached a high point under Blair” (Chilcott cited in Harding, 2016).

The lack of government discussion enabled Blair to make unjustifiable decisions solely. If something as simple as having more conversations to question Blair’s decision-making were brought in, there likely would have been a different outcome compared to what happened. For example, Robert Cook, “former foreign secretary, resigned from the government in protest over the prime minister’s stance on Iraq” (Tempest, 2003).

It had occurred in a statement Cooke made to parliament; he resigned because he could not accept “collective responsibility for the decision to commit Britain now to military action in Iraq without international agreement or domestic support.” (Cooke cited in Tempest,2003). Whilst group exclusion is difficult to notice, Cooke disagreed with Blair’s course of action, so if his opinion were valued and considered, it would likely change the discourse of what happened. What was truly needed in this was a group of people to bring their diverse perspectives to question Tony Blair and his decision-making.

Therefore, this account of heuristics in individual decision-making explains Blair’s decision-making in the war. 

Tony Blair and George W. Bush

It is sympathetic, at most, to argue that leaders are humans and simply that: humans! And as humans, we are prone to mistakes and misconceptions. For example, Jervis (1988) discusses how in war, “misperception often plays a large role.” (Jervis, 1988, p.675). In “War and Misperception” (1988), Jervis asserts the reasoning that individuals systematically misinterpret one another’s goals, intentions, and behaviours.

Misperception is partly caused by the complexity of the international environment and partly by the cognitive deficiencies that all humans have – no one can grasp everything pertinent about a foreign policy problem in the time required to make a choice (Jervis, 1988). One paramount reason for the UK’s advocacy for their involvement in the Iraq War was that Iraq supposedly had weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Borger reports how Tony Blair believed a US report revealed that Saddam Hussein was attempting to create WMD and had maintained key experts to do it when actually “Iraq had pesticide plants and other chemical facilities which could have been converted to the production of chemical weapons, the ISG found, but there was no clear evidence of such plans” (Borger, 2004).

Jervis’ assertion is easily reflected in the Iraq War; the misconception of these apparent “weapons of mass destruction” caused massive implications. A massive distrust in government, and thousands of civilian lives were lost, with at least “42,500 civilians reported wounded” in 2003. (Hamourtziadou, 2023).  A simple question of ‘What if Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction?’ could have altered the approach and eliminated the problems caused by Blair’s decision-making; however, a Western saviour complex was prevalent. 

Another reason provided to “justify” the Western intervention was to “bring democracy”. Tony Blair had emphasised that it was the morally correct thing to do and used it to muster up support and solidarity for the invasion as if the Iraqi people could not overthrow a leader, if necessary, ergo bringing a sense of a Western Saviour Complex into the War.

We often saw the West call Hussein a ruthless and barbaric dictator. By using this language, Iraq seemed to need a liberal, mighty saviour – and the West deemed themselves to be their saviour. Discussing neo-colonialism/imperialism and its racist implication now, as well as its impact, is essential and its discussion and not be shadowed by other factors discussed in this article.

I want to end this discussion by examining how Tony Blair’s psyche and decision-making influenced his decisions during the Iraq War, and we can understand his thought process and how the War came to be. But also note that this does not justify his actions but explains how things came out. Finally, I pay tribute to the lives lost, damaged and ruined by Western intervention because they thought they knew what was best.