by Chris Ames
As I’ve said before, the fundamental problem with the Inquiry report is its completely untenable claim, in spite of a mass of evidence to the contrary, that Tony Blair was seeking a resolution of the issue of Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, with a threat of regime changes as a lever, rather than the other way round.
This assessment, which the panel must know to have been untrue, seems to be based on nothing more than a succession of witnesses lying through their teeth and despite Blair himself declaring in evidence that he chose to “confront and change” (ie regime change) rather than to toughened containment, which was how the March 2002 Options Paper described the policy that he was publicly articulating.
Thus, the report concluded:
12. In Mr Blair’s view, the decision to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US was an essential demonstration of solidarity with the UK’s principal ally as well as being in the
UK’s long‑term national interests.
13. To do so required the UK to reconcile its objective of disarming Iraq, if possible by peaceful means, with the US goal of regime change. That was achieved by the development of an ultimatum strategy threatening the use of force if Saddam Hussein did not comply with the demands of the international community, and by seeking to persuade the US to adopt that strategy and pursue it through the UN.
Among the documents released by the Inquiry that show that the objective of disarming Iraq “if possible by peaceful means” was ditched as incompatible with the US objective of regime change is Jonathan Powell’s note to Blair of 19 July 2002.
This document talks about (providing George Bush with) “a roadmap to getting rid of Saddam”, by issuing an ultimatum and finding a legal base through WMD rather than through regime change. Blair wrote across the top of the document “I agree with this entirely”.
Given how clearly this document sets out the way that the WMD ploy would be a part of the regime change plan to justifiy overthrowing Saddam and Blair’s express agreement, I was astonished at the weekend to read an article by the Institute for Government’s Daniel Thornton (a former private secretatry to Blair) describing the document as
the most important internal advice makes clear that the UK had specific objectives that it was trying to achieve by influencing the US, such as using the UN to encourage Iraq to give up its weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
I’m not sure which bit of a roadmap to getting rid of Saddam via an ultimatum, Chilcot and Thornton didn’t understand.
Another of the Inquiry’s conclusions that is contradicted by the Powell note is the claim that:
523. By late August 2002, the Government was troubled by intense speculation about whether a decision had already been taken to use military force. In Mr Blair’s words, the US and UK had been “outed” as having taken a decision when no such decision had been taken.
524. Mr Blair’s decision on 3 September to announce that the dossier would be published was a response to that pressure.
525. The dossier was designed to “make the case” and secure Parliamentary (and public) support for the Government’s position that action was urgently required to secure Iraq’s disarmament.
The Powell note also includes in its routemap to getting rid of Saddam:
We need to make the case. We need a plan and a timetable for releasing the papers we have prepared on human rights abuses, WMD etc.
These papers are of course the dossier and Powell and Blair are proactively planning in July 2002 to release them. The assertion that the dossier was a reactive measure is a straightforward lie and that the Butler Inquiry, on which Chilcot sat, was told and accepted at face value. Chilcot accepted it all over again, although the must have known it wasn’t true.
On the bright side, in an excellent article for the London Review of Books, A Grand and Disastrous Deceit, Philppe Sands both catalogues the report’s criticisms of Blair and points to its failings:
Yet the inquiry has chosen to hold back on what caused the multitude of errors: was it negligence, or recklessness, or something else? In so doing it has created a space for Blair and the others who stood with him to protest that they acted in good faith, without deceit or lies. To get a sense of how this space was created requires a very thorough reading of the report. But two techniques can be identified immediately.
First, the inquiry has engaged in salami-slicing, assessing cause and motive in individual moments without stepping back and examining the whole. The whole makes clear that the decision to remove Saddam Hussein and wage war in Iraq was taken early, and that intelligence and law were then fixed to facilitate the desired outcome. On legal matters, Blair manipulated the process, forcing the attorney general to give legal advice at the last possible moment, with troops already massed and a coalition ready to roll. He would have known that Goldsmith was less likely at that stage to have said that war would be illegal. […]
Second, on the basis of material I have seen but isn’t in the public domain, I believe the inquiry may have been excessively generous in its characterisation of evidence.