In the immediate reaction to the Chilcot Inquiry, a fundamental point is in danger of being lost. For while Sir John and his colleagues have provided a magisterial account of the functioning and malfunctioning of the official machine, they could not be expected to delve into the mind of Tony Blair and work out what went wrong there.
Why did the then Prime Minister so underestimate the dangers and difficulties of invading Iraq? The answer lies in the grotesque self-righteousness which had by that stage of his prime ministership corrupted his judgment and rendered him impervious to criticism.
In his pitifully protracted press conference yesterday afternoon, Mr Blair demonstrated that 13 years after the invasion of Iraq, this fatal flaw is as strong as ever.
He look like a man who is in the process of driving himself mad, because he will not confess that he is in error: the very freedom which his Christian faith ought to afford him.
The Blair “demon eyes” poster devised by the Tories for the 1997 general election campaign, and reproduced here, failed because it came too soon, at a time when the public declined to recognise this aspect of their upright, eloquent and well-mannered young leader.
Almost two decades later, the former Prime Minister is stuck fighting the battles of the last war. He still wants to persuade not only himself, but the rest of us, of his essential righteousness: “If I was back in the same place with the same information I would make the same decision.”
The problem with this vanity is that it renders him incapable of changing his mind, or even of letting the subject drop.
And he still has the mind of a liberal optimist. That in itself can be an advantage in politics, for it can help its possessor to spot opportunities where a gloomier person might see only obstacles.
Mr Blair was a London-based barrister who believed he could become MP for Sedgefield, in County Durham, and turned out to be right. He reckoned he was capable of leading the Labour Party, and here too he turned out to be right.
He and his New Labour cronies seized the commanding heights of the party, and dismissed their critics as benighted obscurantists who were stuck with an outdated conception of socialism.
From an electoral point of view, this was a marvellous thing to be able to say. For the more Mr Blair distressed the Lefties inside his own party, the more he convinced Middle England that his heart must be in the right place.
One may note in passing that Labour’s present troubles are a direct consequence of Mr Blair’s attacks, from the moment he became leader in 1994, on his own party. Before abolishing Clause Four – a vague but treasured statement of socialist belief – he confided to his ally, Philip Gould, that the time had come to give the Labour Party “some electric-shock treatment”.
The shocks went on being administered for year after year, with the result that the party eventually collapsed in Scotland, and in England took belated revenge by choosing Jeremy Corbyn, a man impervious to Blairism, as its leader.
Puffed up with his domestic triumphs, Mr Blair decided to expand his sphere of operations. He would become a liberal imperialist, who would bring the blessings of democracy and modernisation to the whole world.
Kipling long ago warned that this kind of work, though admirable, would bring “the blame of those ye better, the hate of those ye guard”. But Mr Blair’s first attempts at this kind of intervention, in Kosovo and Sierra Leone, were crowned with success.
The stage was set to back America, albeit as junior partner, in the noble work of bringing democracy to Iraq. Mr Blair believed by now that he would be welcomed as a liberator.
He could not believe that tyranny would be followed by a vacuum, which in turn would give way to a sectarian power struggle costing to the present day untold bloodshed. His self-righteous, liberal mind could not admit such harsh truths.
A statesman can make even inadequate machinery work well. Sir Robert Walpole, the man generally regarded as our first Prime Minister (though those words were coined as a term of abuse, to mean he had too much power), said of himself, “I am no saint, no Spartan, no reformer.”
Nor did his contemporaries regard him as a saint. They deeply resented the way he conferred on himself and on members of his family offices of enormous profit under the Crown. He controlled the Commons by distributing patronage with an acute eye for human greed.
But for the best part of 20 years, he kept the United Kingdom out of continental wars: “Madam, there are 50,000 men slain this year in Europe,and not one an Englishman,” as he put it to Queen Caroline, the wife of George II.
Mr Blair, by contrast, set out to be a saint, in aid of which vanity he dispatched our Armed Forces to Iraq and Afghanistan, and this without any understanding of how, during the imperial phase of our history, we controlled large areas with weak forces, by making local alliances which in strictly democratic terms were impossible to justify.
Yesterday saw much solemn talk about the need to learn the lessons of the Iraq War. But we also need to learn the lessons of Mr Blair. For he demonstrates with horrible clarity the truth that in foreign affairs, good intentions are nothing like enough.