UK's involvement in Iraq - Chilcot Inquiry reports today

In June 2009, Gordon Brown commissioned the Iraq Inquiry, also known as the Chilcot Inquiry after its chair, Sir John Chilcot. 7 years later, the Inquiry Report is about to be published.

The terms of reference are:

Note that this does not refer to war crimes: the inquiry has not considered the question of criminality and so we can be clear now that it will not make any conclusions one way or another on this point. It is expected that many people will be disappointed by this, but it was never going to happen.

The report is an enormous piece of work. It has reviewed over 150,000 government documents. The final version is 2.6 million words long. It will be published hereat 11am today. It will be quite some time before a clear picture emerges of what the report has included, who it has criticised or praised, and what lessons can be learned from the UK’s involvement in Iraq.

Naturally, much of this touches the question of how the US decided to enter the war. Much of the delay in the report has been due to the struggle between the Inquiry and the Cabinet Office over the question and whether the Inquiry could publish notes of converations between the UK and US governments, at the highest level. In the end, an agreement was reached that the Inquiry will publish the gist of these notes, but not include the views of President Bush.

The report would be newsworthy in any case, but comes at a particularly interesting time. The Labour party is split between (broadly) its leader Jeremy Corbyn and those members who elected him on the one hand, and its Parliamentary party on the other. After a crushing vote of no-confidence Corbyn is hanging on practically in a state of siege; the Parliamentary party have threatened to run a challenger but after almost 2 weeks have failed to do so, thus prolonging the crisis. In part, this failure is because of the Chilcot report. Iraq is a divisive issue in the party and any challenger who supported the war (as most of those who were MPs in 2003 did) already has a mark against them with many members. A critical report from the Inquiry will lend ammunition to the pro-Corbyn wing, and weaken the position of the challenger.

Currently, selected journalists are reading the report, having started at 8am. By 11.35 they will publish their first take on the report. Clearly, this isn’t enough time to read the whole 2.6 million words, but that’s journalism for you. Many people will be sharing their opinions by 11.01.

The report not being published yet, I can’t give a specific topic for debate but as this a fairly major political event I thought we should have a thread on it, and as it’s about Iraq I thought Great Debates was the best option. Broadly, the question will be whether the Report has done a good job of bringing to light how the decision to go to war was made, whether its criticisms are accurate and sufficiently robust, and what - if anything - we can learn for decision making in the future.

(Cynically, the debate positions are “This proves I was right all along”; “Establishment whitewash!”; “It’s all fine, and everything is fine, it’s fine”. But I’m sure we’re better than that.)

Watching Chilcot now. He started by saying the UK’s involvement was not right ir necessary, the decision was based on faulty intelligence and the preparations for the aftermath were inadequate. Much blunter than I expected so far.

And he’s being scathing about Lord Goldsmith’s legal opinion that war was legal. He shied away from saying the war was illegal, saying that determination requires a competent court to determine but savaged the process Blair relied on to say the Uk was acting legally.

Blair’s claim that the post invasion chaos could not have been forseen is rejected. Really stingingly at that.

There’s no way you could call this a whitewash. Massively criticised the way the decision was made, how the occupation proceeded and the way the UK left. Blair’s legacy is utterly trashed.

Yes, it seems very damning.

Chilcot’s statement is here.

On the post-victory occupation:

I think at this point it would actually be beneficial for Tony’s reputation if Robert Harris’s novel The Ghostwriter was found to be actually true and Tony was revealed to have been the unwitting dupe of Cherie the deep cover CIA agent.

Here is Blair’s full statement:

It would be interesting to know what he thinks “taking full responsibility” looks like. Just saying those words, or something more substantive?

And clearly, the advantage of being given an advance copy is that you get to go through it and highlight the bits that help your case before anyone else has a chance to read it. The bit about the report not making a finding on legality is particularly disingenuous and does him no favours.

Summarising Blair’s initial statement:

Chilcot to Blair: Judas!
Blair to Chilcot: I don’t believe you…You’re a liar.
Blair aside to his spin doctors: Play it fucking loud.

And The Band plays on.

So the report finds “that the Attorney General had concluded there was such a lawful basis by 13th March 2003” while also finding that the AG’s conclusions were, shall we say, a tad dubious. Nice.

My main regret is that Mandelson and Campbell aren’t getting tarred and feathered along with Blair. They were as key to selling this war to Parliament and the public as Tony was.

I think I could have completed this inquiry in 30 days.

Anyone want to bet that they could have conducted the inquiry in 29 days?

[audience]“Conduct that inquiry!”[/audience]

And the Labour party with it I fear too.

There’s a couple of things I feel I need to get off my chest, with respect to Blair, on this having done a bit of diligent reading of summaries of the report and then the fall out from the press conferences, etc. (I’d love to say I am going to read the whole thing so as I can draw my own conclusions but there’s no chance of that).

Firstly, in his presser, Blair repeatedly makes the claim that Chilcot confirms that he did not lie. Chilcot does say that the case was exaggerated though, specifically with respect to the WMD claim. This seems like playing semantics to me. Lying, exaggerating. It’s all essentially the same when it comes to this, it seems to me. Just because the L word isn’t used, doesn’t mean that the case wasn’t false. This type of dancing around the issue, playing “you can’t catch me” is amongst the reasons why trust in politicians is so low at the moment in the UK and, in this, for the sake of my blood pressure, I wish Blair had just shut the fuck up about this (though I accept that was never a realistic option - if wishes were horses and all that).

Second, the Q&A section of the presser can, in large part, be condensed to this:

Journalist notes apology and asks what Blair is apologising for.
Blair states for mistakes made around Iraq War.
Journalist asks which mistakes are those, which are you responsible for and for which you are thus apologising.
Blair - waffle, obfuscation, brick wall, silence.

Call me old fashioned but an apology doesn’t mean much to me when you don’t mean it. Blair doesn’t give the impression of being sorry. Not even a little bit. Not really at all.

If it weren’t for the fact that Cameron may well have set in course the dissolution of the Union, Blair would be the worst PM since Eden. It is cold, cold comfort indeed to know that he now has to live with the fact that his reputation is trashed. Some historians will doubtless eventually dust off some of his domestic achievements in time, to provide a counterpoint to what the weight of opinion will be - but all of this will be the sentence following “Anthony Charles Lynton Blair (born 6 May 1953 - died XXXXX), former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, passed away today”. And rightly so.

I think worst since Eden is being generous. Blair deserves to be ranked behind the Quislings and Petains. They were collaborators, Blair was an accomplice.

Quisling and Petain not being British helped in my not including them.

Eden is generally the benchmark in the UK, for what it’s worth. I could definitely be persuaded that Blair is worse than him - though I’d have to go back over my studies in UK politics to be sure (my university course on British Politics ran from 1906 to the present day and my Middle Eastern Politics was a general course). Suez less immediately deadly than Iraq obviously - but I’d need to revisit my opinions of the long range consequences of Eden’s fuck up on that to give a rounded analysis.

Betcha wish you guys had not sent John Major packing now eh? Could anyone have imagined in 1997-2001 that Blair would be seen as a worse PM than Major was?

As for his domestic accomplishments, since those include constitutional reforms which ultimately led to the Union itself being threatened,I doubt it.

N Ireland was pretty much Major’s groundwork (as admittedly Blair was generous enough to admit back in 1998 anyway).

Fair enough. At least Eden had some autonomy though. Blair appears to have simply done his master’s bidding.

I suspect 2003 will be viewed as the high water mark of the American hegemony. Suez proved that Britain was no longer a great power.

That might be an interesting counterfactual exercise to think about at some point. Major was committed to Europe and a failure by Blair in 1997 would almost certainly have meant the end of him as a viable PM, given the lead that Labour had in the polls and the weakness of that Tory government. Cameron is very much a post-Blair politician, so may not have had the pull in the Conservative party to get into position to be PM himself. Politics in the UK would likely be very different - there’s a good chance the blocks for Brexit, to pick the most recent example, may never have fallen in to place (though a 5th term, weak, Tory government would doubtless have torn itself apart on Europe in any case).

Of course, the major problem with it as a counterfactual exercise is that Blair’s electoral strategy, re: positioning of his party, was so effective that they won back to back landslides, so what would have needed to happen for the Tories to stay in power is likely extremely improbably.

Very, very occasionally I see John Major down at The Oval. I wonder what he makes of all this. If I had any balls, I’d ask him.

Eh…Major was running the country into the ground. He needed to go. The sad thing is that Blair could have been a good PM if he hadn’t decided to join this fucking war. I used to think he agreed to get involved in order to temper the excesses of Bush, but subsequent statements suggest that he was a True Believer for reasons I cannot fathom.

Oh, and Major was absolutely thrilled to be able to retire from Number 10 and spend his days at the Oval instead. He’s probably grateful he didn’t have to deal with the Iraq shitshow himself.