Today the long awaited Chilcot enquiry was published. Obviously there are very few people who will have yet read the 2.6 million words in this report which covers the events surrounding the British involvement in an invasion of Iraq in 2003. I am dependent on newspaper and internet summaries of what has been written. It might thus seem a little previous to make any comment at this stage about the report. Also my readers might also wonder what possible relevance this report has to the concerns of our blog. What does concern us in this blog is the behaviour by men with power. This report has a great deal to say about how power was used and misused, particularly by our former prime minister Tony Blair. His actions and motivations have all come under intense scrutiny in the enquiry and there is material enough on which to offer some observations of our own
About a year ago I made some comments about an article written by Michael Owen, a prominent and much respected politician who also trained as a medical doctor. He was writing about what he described as ‘hubris syndrome’, an expression that he seemed to have invented himself, to describe the behaviour of powerful politicians when given access to enormous amounts of power. Hubris is a word that denotes a kind of pride which exists alongside the availability of great power. It allows the one so affected to be somehow above a need to be concerned with the dictates of morality and a concern for others. This hubris, as Michael Owen describes it, is not dissimilar to the personality disorder which we have often described, the narcissistic personality disorder or NPD. One of the words that is used to describe both these conditions is the interesting word, ‘messianic’. This is a word which, I would claim, links the behaviour of Tony Blair over Iraq to that of the religious leaders we have identified as abusive.
When we unpack this word ‘messianic’ we can see that it is a word that can raise an individual into a realm of behaviour that is exalted above ordinary people. The Messiah is one who it is believed will come to change the world. He will have, according to his followers, infallible access to truth together with a knowledge of what is right for other people. As a word with religious overtones, it has the implication that whatever is said by a messianic figure will be impossible to contradict or even discuss. Also when anyone is accused of hubris today, there is also this implication that they have raised themselves up through pride and reckless ambition to become a person who cannot be in any way contradicted. Both these words, messianic and hubristic, imply that an individual feels himself to be always right. Their convictions sweep all before them and no one dares stand in their way.
From the little I have read on the Chilcot report, it seems that Tony Blair can indeed be accused of hubristic behaviour and messianic pretensions. He made promises to President Bush and also committed himself to decisions which were not shared with any advisers nor were there prior discussions with others. He had, we would claim, a messianic conviction that the hand of history was on his shoulder. He and he alone had to put his decisions into effect. From the perspective of a religious commentator, such as myself, there was an almost religious fervour in the way he operated in the events of 2002 and 2003. Religious messianic fervour, as we all know, does not make for good and wise political decisions. It is never wise to make decisions without allowing them to be scrutinised by a trusted group of advisers and experts. On the eve of the Iraq war, a group of retired British ambassadors to the Middle East wrote to The Times and cautioned delay before going headlong into war. This was a group of people who between them had an enormous experience of the language, customs and political realities of that part of the world. Such men were surely worth listening to and their advice carefully heeded. The reasons for ignoring them can only be put down to a kind of recklessness and impetuosity that goes with hubris and messianic fanatic fervour.
The reality of religious leaders who behave in a similar way in imposing infallible truths on their followers, is familiar to readers of this blog. Heinz Kohut, the original describer of NPD, uses the word ‘messianic’ in his attempt to denote the nature of the condition. The sufferer of NPD has such a strong sense of his infallibility that he ceases to have any sensitivity to the thoughts and feelings of the people around him. He occupies a world which is above that of ordinary people and their opinions have long since ceased to matter. The other salient word in the narcissistic literature is ‘grandiosity’. Once again this is a word that captures well the detachment and remoteness of the person and his thinking when compared with ordinary people below him. Perhaps we all recognise individuals who fill this particular description. The irrational, as we would see it now, behaviour of Tony Blair has all the hallmarks of a rash impetuous religious leader as well as a politician who has lost his grounding. He has ceased to believe in a need to consult and exercise judgement with the help of others.
The Chilcot enquiry was set up with the knowledge of all that took place after the ill-fated invasion. It seems extraordinary in retrospect that preparations for the post-war situation in Iraq were so little thought through. The Iraqi people had been the victims of a cruel repressive regime. Also if we had to invade, much more work should have been done to allow them to feel that we were in their country as liberators and not as a new enemy. The number of convinced supporters of Saddam Hussein probably only numbered a few thousand. It should have been possible to have identified far more of the professional classes and the civil service, not to mention the military, who could have taken over the running of the country. Much ink will be spelt over the days and weeks that are ahead in examining this report. Here we have simply reflected on the way that a single individual, Tony Blair, seems to have taken over some of the worst aspects of a dysfunctional religious leader. May this situation never arise again.