Thursday, 7 July 2016

Chilcot, Blair and the rights of invasion


“Dictatorship nations are outlaws. Any free nation had the right to invade Nazi Germany and, today, has the right to invade Soviet Russia, Cuba or any other slave pen. Whether a free nation chooses to do so or not is a matter of its own self-interest, not of respect for the non-existent “rights” of gang rulers. It is not a free nation’s duty to liberate other nations at the price of self-sacrifice, but a free nation has the right to do it, when and if it so chooses."
~ Ayn Rand on ‘Self-Determination of Nations

Any decision to take men and women into war must be made with the utmost seriousness and sincerity.  Trying to peer beneath all the invective over the last decade about the decision taken to invade Iraq makes it almost impossible to see whether that was so in this case. “This rage over the Iraq war and inchoate desire for revenge has driven the collective political psyche in Britain and the West off the rails,” says Melanie Phillips in The Times.

I supported the war against Saddam and still do. I also think, though, that in many crucial respects it was misconceived from the start and subsequently managed with astounding incompetence, ignorance and cowardice.
    The Bush and Blair administrations failed to understand they were entering a tribal minefield. They failed to acknowledge the need to stop Iran fomenting sectarian strife in Iraq. They also failed to commit themselves to the long haul in order to defeat Islamist terror.

It was a job half-done, its reasons poorly explained; the plan for the end-game, tragically, was dismal – barely conceived, if it ever was.

So … “Blair lied, people died.” “No blood for oil.” “Bush’s lapdog.” “Where was the WMD?” Too much commentary has been little more than bumper-sticker lite, not the thoughtful analysis the subject demands. Seven years in the making, the 12-volumes-worth of Chilcot report, issued overnight, should be that document.

Its executive summary certainly makes former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who led the British push for war, look terrible. According to the report, Blair made statements about Iraq’s nonexistent chemical, biological, and nuclear programs based on “what Mr. Blair believed” rather than the intelligence he had been given. The U.K. went to war despite the fact that “diplomatic options had not been exhausted.” Blair was warned by British intelligence that terrorism would “increase in the event of war, reflecting intensified anti-US/anti-Western sentiment in the Muslim world, including among Muslim communities in the West.”
    On the other hand, the inquiry explicitly says that it is not “questioning Mr. Blair’s belief” in the case for war — i.e., it is not accusing him of conscious misrepresentations.

And after all those years being written, Julie Lenarz among others can still identify crucial omissions:

1) It's quite remarkable that Sir John failed to mention the attempt by the US and UK to resolve the conflict with Saddam peacefully by pushing new sanctions through the UNSCR, as the old sanctions regime was violated on a daily basis. That attempt was vetoed by Russia.
2) It's even more remarkable that Sir John made such bold statements about bad judgement on behalf of TB without acknowledging once the evidence he received from Hans Blix, the UN's chief weapons inspector and by no means a supporter of the war.
    a) “It seemed plausible to me at the time, and I also felt — I, like most people at the time, felt that Iraq retains weapons of mass destruction. I did not say so publicly. I said it perhaps to Mr Blair in September 2002 privately… I talked to Prime Minister Blair on 20 February 2002 and then I said I still thought that there were prohibited items in Iraq.”
    b) “I have never questioned the good faith of Mr Blair or Bush or anyone else. On some occasions when I talked to Blair on the telephone, 20 February, I certainly felt that he was absolutely sincere in his belief.”

It’s too easy now to forget that there was a case for war – a “legitimate case to be made for the removal of a genocidal regime.” Phillips reminds us of some of the selfish reasons for ending the regime, arguing that without the Iraq War Saddam would now be riding the tiger of .Islamist terror.

Saddam was a highly significant threat to the West. He was a godfather of international terrorism.
   He was behind the plot to murder George HW Bush. Audiotapes of his conversations with key officials revealed that al-Qa’ida had been in contact with Iraqi intelligence for sanctuary, training and planning acts of terrorism against the US.
    Saddam’s refusal to show that he had stopped developing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, as he was required to do by the UN, reinforced the belief among western intelligence services that he was still engaged in these programs.
   In 1998, the threat Saddam posed to the West had caused Bill Clinton to sign the Iraq Liberation Act, which called for Saddam’s removal and a forced end to his WMD programs. Clinton didn’t follow through.
    The events of 9/11, however, changed the calibration of risk, overnight. It wasn’t that Saddam was generally thought to be responsible for those attacks. It was rather that, with the new realisation Islamic terrorism breached all previously understood constraints of warfare, Saddam’s regional ambitions, sponsorship of terrorism and pursuit of WMD made the threat he posed no longer tolerable.

These reasons were made at the time, poorly heard, and now only dimly remembered, but they were made and understood. “The case for overthrowing Saddam,” argued Christopher Hitchens in 2005, “was unimpeachable”—and Blair “the only statesman from the nineties to emerge from the decade with any credit on this front.”

The man he helped depose, unquestionably, was a monster:



All known and understood at the time. But then suddenly, once the Coalition went to war, as Phillips recognises: “Saddam was said never to have been a threat at all, and logic, reason and proportion went out of the window.”

The apparent over-egging of questionable intelligence about Saddam’s WMD programs was held to prove that they had long been junked altogether. The failure to find any stocks of WMD was held to prove that Saddam was no longer trying to produce the stuff. Absence of evidence was held to be evidence of absence.
    The Iraq Survey Group’s interim report saying Saddam was pursuing biological weapons programs up to the start of the war was brushed aside. The Israelis who said WMD stocks may have been moved to Syria were brusquely dismissed. Former US general James Clapper, the present director of national intelligence, and ex-general Thomas McInerney, who said the same thing in 2003 and 2006, were ignored.
    In 2004, an American defence official, John Shaw, claimed that Saddam’s WMD stockpiles had been moved to Syria by the Russians. In 2006, I interviewed Georges Sada, Saddam’s former air vice-marshal. He told me Saddam had transported chemical and biological stockpiles by air and road to Syria in late 2002.
    The legacy of the Iraq war has been toxic. The British people now seem reluctant to believe warnings by politicians or intelligence officials about threats from the Islamic world and even less willing to countenance any military action to counter any such threat.
    If Saddam were still around today, he would be riding the tiger of Islamist terror, as he always did, and the threat to us all would be even greater.

Chilcot is supposed to suggest lessons we must learn from the Iraq war. This is the main one: the core reason the war was botched was the West’s failure to acknowledge the nature, scale and complexity of the threat from the Arab and Islamic world.
    The persecution of Tony Blair shows that this failure remains just as true today.

Perhaps that makes Chilcot’s Report the worst kind of whitewash.

The important, humane task of understanding the history and politics of that calamity in 2003 has been sacrificed at the altar of allowing a needy elite the space in which to say: ‘Blair is evil, and I am good.’



  1. I mightily enjoyed that article Peter. Seven years to come up with a whitewash? That's offering succour to the scumbag enemies of the West.

  2. Freedom Foundation Viewpoint
    It is interesting to read libertarian Jacob Hornberger,of Future of Freedom Foundation, with his isolationist approach. His is quite the opposite to Rand's position (which I agree with [her])
    On "Breaking Views" a conservative blogosphere, there is a Dutch bloke who blames USA's military incursions for much of the woes in the "Middle East"/ rise of militant Islam ~ similar views to Hornberger. Trouble is that there is a smidgen of truth in both

  3. Let's not forget what else is behind this. Pure political tribalism.

    The Labour left and far-left (the latter now leading the Party) is out to "get its party back" from Blair and Blairites, who they haven't forgiven for embracing private sector delivery of health care and school academies, as well as privatisation and a refusal to seriously overturn Thatcher's reforms. Blair's alliance with the great imperialist USA put him beyond the pale, and so the current Labour leader - a man who has supported the IRA and Hamas, who never utters a peep about Russian intervention in Syria, Ukraine or Georgia, talks of "stopping war", when he and the far-left really mean "stop the West engaging in military action ever". Bear in mind George Galloway, who has saluted Saddam Hussein and told Assad how lucky Syrians were to have him as leader, now sees Labour as being back with its roots. Seamus Milne, Jeremy Corbyn's most trusted advisor, has written about all the good the USSR did "despite the horrors and the killings".

    Yet also look at the other side. The weasels in the Conservative Party who SUPPORTED the Iraqi war and voted for it in large numbers. They would have done exactly the same thing and are attacking Blair because... he won three elections against them and led a profligate government that hiked up public debt and spending that left a bomb for them to clear up once Gordon Brown lost power.

    There are honourable people who argue, fairly, that the intervention was never justified given the price of blood and money, and that Saddam wasn't really the threat envisaged. However, my view is the biggest flaw was the unwillingness of the Bush Administration to honestly commit to the scale of occupation needed to secure the borders and establish law and order. The cost to do that would have probably been seen to be too much, but it would have delivered, although it would have needed a decade of occupation and a willingness to impose a high degree of control and order that would have been difficult to sustain politically in an age of 24/7 media.

    Of course the opposite has happened in Syria, with the worst of all options. A "red line" crossed and ignored. Half-arsed backing of an opposition that has a mix of motives, and so ISIS has taken off and Assad has gassed civilians on a grand scale, and Russia has jumped in to back Assad. That's Obama's great legacy. It would have been better to just be neutral on the Syrian civil war, and dealt with whoever from Syria waged war on your allies. Better yet to back up words with deeds, but we can blame Obama being gutless, and he blames it on David Cameron being gutless (after the useless Ed Miliband opposed intervention after indicating he would support it to win virtue signalling points with his party).

    The lesson is simple. If you are going to overthrow a dictatorship (which is moral), be prepared to take responsibility for what happens next, the cost and the blood needed to make it work. The question is whether any government nowadays can tolerate this and whether the intervention is worth it.

  4. oh and one other thing, there has been one success out of Iraq.

    Iraqi Kurdistan. Freed from genocidal maniacs, peacefully managing their own affairs. Ignored and neglected for decades.


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