Chilcot Can Never Bring Closure
Sadly the Chilcot inquiry with or without the full content of any letters between Tony Blair and George W Bush will never bring closure. No enquiry of this sort ever has. The Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday has never healed the wound of the unarmed Derry citizens shot in the back by British soldiers. The Dardenelles inquiry into the disastrous 1915 campaigned that cost the lives of 35,000 British men and left a further 70,000 maimed for life sat for three years and produced no answers.
The idea that one man was responsible for duping a nation and tricking it into war in order to please his pal in the White House is a reductio ad absurdum that dishonours the lives lost. It is almost beyond parody that Sir John Major, the prime minister, who sat on his hands as 8,000 Europeans were taken out and murdered in cold blood, in the worst massacre in Europe since 1945 and whose diplomats were ordered to resist at the UN any intervention in Rwanda should now be on airwaves whining about his successor.
There are criticisms a-plenty that can be leveled at Tony Blair. But they need to be levelled at 416 other men and women who representing the nation decided that the Brtiish soldiers already deployed on Iraq’s borders should move in and dislodge the Iraqi dictator who had been successfully defying UN resolutions for 12 years.
History will judge that all the interventions by northern military powers in majority Muslim nations since 1979 beginning with Moscow’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 turned out to be strategic catastrophes. Davis Cameron has sustained a pointless war in Helmand costing the lives of nearly 500 British soldiers since 2010 long after other loyal American allies like Canada brought their troops home. Even the smaller conflicts like the Cameron-Sarkozy ousting of Gadafi has turned Libya into a charnel house, a Jihadi central with endless arms to sell and use.
In the 2002 debate in the Commons on the so-called dodgy dossier, William Hague told MPs that Saddam Hussain had 400 secret installations where weapons of mas destruction were being concealed.
Robin Cook had used similar language in 1998 when telling the Commons about the hidden reserves of Sarin gas and chemical weapons that justified, he told MPs, British military action against Saddam in the form of no-fly zones and attacks on Iraqi military installations.
To be sure, Cook resigned during the debate in 2003 but if he harboued such doubts why wait so long? One of the most important aspects of the Iraq war was the extent to which it was fully endorsed by the Conservative Party in the Commons. Have David Cameron or William Hague ever said they were wrong?
Another puzzle is why did not a single civil servant resign other than one FCO lawyer? I worked as No 2 in the Foreign Office at the time and I never heard Jack Straw or any minister express concern that we were heading for a disaster. Since then there has been much distancing by former ministers and diplomats but their courage after the event and their wisdom once it was clear Iraq had become a disaster is rather cheap. Had the invasion been a success as the Kuwait conflict was they would have all proudly claimed some credit.
There was a generational problem that should be explored. The MPs elected in 1997 and many of the key commentators had been sickened by the non-interventionism of the 1990s which had seen Srebrenica and Rwanda take place without opposition from the democracies.
The concepts of le droit d’ingérence (right to intervene) and R2P (Right to Protect) were developed by political scientist and philosophers and lawyers argued for the creation of an International Criminal Court.
Britain intervened in Sierra Leone, in Indonesia and in Kosovo – the latter without UN approval but with strong backing as the world finally rose up in disgust to stop the next Milosevic genocidal murders. 250 Kosovan bodies have just been discovered at a mass grave in South East Serbia as a reminder of why Britain intervened.
Was there a feeling that Saddam was another Slobodan and a few cruise missiles and cold steel on the ground would knock him off and usher in a better Iraq? Almost certainly yes. Were there high-level warnings it would turn into a disaster? No or at least none that changed the minds of the 417 MPs who voted for war.
Chilcot has been on mission impossible. A retired anti-Blair ambassador criticized the Commission because it had two Jews on it, a reminder of the latent anti-semitism in the English establishment. The Commission ignored the wider European context, the pressure from many EU governments to back intervention and the havering of Chirac who only made up his mind at the last moment to say Non after endless equivocations.
Whitehall as the permanent guardian of state interests is concerned that to publish communications between the US president and the UK prime minister means that confidentiality flies out of the window. Why would any future American president trust the word of a British prime minister that their exchanges rest private if a media campaign can overturn that?
Whitehall may be wrong but the idea that there is a magic X file of letters which will bring closure is infantile. History will deliver its verdict. But all 417 of us who voted for war are guilty not one man.
Denis MacShane was Minister of State at the Foreign Office in 2003.