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Reflections on Chilcot

What should we make of the conclusions in the Chilcot Report?

Dan Peacock

Naked Politics Blogger 

“All warfare is based on deception” – Sun Tzu

Oh how time flies.

Some readers may not be young enough to remember the invasion of Iraq. I don’t mean that in a patronising way, it only serves to accentuate how old I’m getting, but it genuinely was a long time ago. Over half a lifetime for me in fact.

For those of us of whose political consciousness was just beginning to evolve enough to remember it however, the Iraq War, along with the events of 9/11 two years previously, was our ‘Leave’ moment – one of those rare occasions in political life when time appears to stand still, when the sheer magnitude and significance of the events that were unfolding was palpable even to the naïve mind of an impressionable ten year old like myself. We all remember those scenes; the millions marching down the Mall in opposition to the war, the first bombs raining down upon Baghdad and lighting up the gulf night sky, the regular reports of British casualties and that ahistorical image of a bronze statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down by a crane whilst liberated Iraqi’s kicked, spat and defaced it in disgust and disdain for the monster who had caused them nothing but misery for years.

For my ten year old self, it was like living in one of the heroic stories of the Old Testament, of a Godly and righteous nation conquering evil, liberating the oppressed and setting the captives free. It permeated everyday conversation, and saw year 4’s nationwide glued to BBC News rather than the gripping ‘Crush’ on CBBC.

But the euphoria soon turned to horror. The enormous civilian death toll emerged and began to permeate the moral psyche of the conflicts global audience, ubiquitous violations of international humanitarian law by UK and US troops were exposed, and the ensuing insurgency rumbled on for years and years and only intensified in its brutality and destruction. Then of course came the birth of ISIS, and with it the intractable feeling that the decision to invade Iraq was a gargantuan mistake.

First euphoria, then horror, and now, anger.

Now of course for many, these latter two emotions dominated the responses and feelings about the war right from the word go, and earlier this month these initial dissenters were vindicated in spectacular, incontrovertible fashion.

The ‘Chilcot Inquiry’ confirmed in approximately 2.6 million words what many have known for the last thirteen years. Namely, the Iraq War was all-but illegal, based on exaggerated and ultimately false intelligence and was not a last resort. These are but a selection of the headline criticisms the report has levelled at Tony Blair.

To keep it brief, the United Nations Charter – which is a vital source of international law – requires that all states resolve their conflicts by peaceful and diplomatic means. The report concluded that Tony Blair did exhaust the peaceful means available to him to reduce the instability and therefore the war was not a last resort. International law allows for only two situations in which force is permitted: in self-defence or with the permission of the Security Council. In the case of Iraq – neither of these were present. The UK did not face an imminent threat from Iraq and did not receive Security Council authorisation. Although the report refused to pronounce on the legality of the war, it brought its lawfulness into serious question.

Moreover, the report concluded that the intelligence that Tony Blair used to justify the war – namely the claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that could be launched in 45 minutes and was an imminent threat to the UK – was greatly and deliberately exaggerated in order to convince Parliament to go to war, and later transpired to be completely false and based on lies. Furthermore, it was revealed that Blair repeatedly ignored any information that contradicted his own beliefs and desires and ignored clear warnings as to the sectarian chaos that would ensue should the invasion proceed. It would appear that Blair’s mind was well and truly made up many months before the invasion. But why?

The report provides a conjecture as to the answer to this question. In particular it focusses on Blair’s somewhat intimate relationship with George Bush, and criticised Blair’s decision-making as being closely pursuant to the desires of his ‘friend’ the President, whom in a letter published by the report, Blair promised: “I will be with you whatever.” To use that old idiom, if George Bush had asked Tony Blair to jump off a cliff, Blair would have jumped off quicker than the launch of an Iraqi chemical warhead in 2003.

If we are to learn anything from Chilcot, it is that with great power comes great irresponsibility. It further underscores the need for citizens of a democratic society to question and scrutinise everything, from the information we receive to the relationships our leaders form, be they personal or political. History will look back upon the Iraq War as one of the greatest scandals to darken the doors of Westminster, and will cast an unforgiving eye on its orchestrators and advocates. The Chilcot report needs to serve as a political bulwark to ensure that mistakes like Iraq never happen again.

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