Blair's Wars is a highly detailed book about the foreign policy of Prime Minister Tony Blair. The book is based on sixty five interviews with numerous senior figures, both inside the government (at Cabinet level and also senior aides and advisors) and with various Whitehall departments, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the intelligence services. Writing the book also took the author John Kampfner to interview senior people at the United Nations in New York, inside the George W. Bush's Whitehouse, as well as in France, Germany and the Middle East.
This book is a fine example of instant political history, that covers a complex issue in a readable and yet informative style. The story starts by looking at Blair's approach to foreign policy when he was in Opposition. Then, as he took the reigns of power, Kampfner shows how Blair rebranded war as `humanitarian intervention' and sold the concept to the New Labour establishment, resulting in the bombing of Kosovo and the British military involvement in Sierra Leone.
The book really hits its stride when the neoconservatives occupy the Whitehouse - how Bush's `compassionate conservatism' marketing technique was rapidly dropped once in power, in favour of a strategy of United States primacy and pre-emptive action, especially after the attacks of 11th September, 2001. Up to this point, Tony Blair believed that on the world stage, he was personally influential and could diplomatically punch above his weight. Self-delusion or not, after 9/11, Blair was effectively sidelined and could act as no more than a pillion-passenger to Bush's foreign policy - a pillion-passenger being one who rides behind the driver of a motorbike but has no control over speed or direction. Kampfner's book then lays out the road to war against Iraq, the talking-up then playing-down of Saddam Hussein's Weapons of Mass Destruction (some of which could be active within 45 minutes of an order being given yadda yadda yadda), the internal debate within government, the conflict with the BBC and Andrew Gilligan, the Hutton enquiry, dodgy dossiers and all the rest of the unmitigated shambles.
John Kampfner's book provides an excellent snapshot of a government engaged in its most serious activity - committing military personnel to combat situations. The result does not inspire confidence: a tight cabal surrounds the power center, key decisions are then made and put to as little discussion at Cabinet level as possible; the public seems to be viewed as something close to the `enemy', to be won over with concerted propaganda campaigns involving highly dubious claims, claims which are then quietly discarded once they have served their purpose.
What makes this excellent book rise above the level of a cut-and-paste job from recent newspaper archives, is that the numerous interviews with key players give a distinct impression of how these events transpired from the perspective of those at the heart of government; how Tony Blair became increasingly frustrated by his lack of influence either with those in continental Europe or across the Atlantic. If the war against Iraq is to be Blair's lasting legacy, then John Kampfner's book provides us with the best, most detailed account so far, of the thought-processes that took this country into that most controversial of foreign affairs.