by Chris Ames
On Wednesday, the Inquiry questioned Tom McKane, whose work at the Cabinet Office was central to drawing up the plan for war, including the July 2002 paper “IRAQ: CONDITIONS FOR MILITARY ACTION” which, farcically, has not been published by the Inquiry.
McKane was questioned about the purpose of the paper and in particular the reference to “creating the conditions necessary to justify government military action”. McKane insisted that at this point the policy is still one of containment:
SIR RODERIC LYNE: Yes. The paper invites Ministers to agree that the UK should engage the US on a realistic
political strategy, which includes identifying the succession to Saddam Hussein and creating the conditions necessary to justify government military action, which might include an ultimatum for the return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq.
What did the paper mean by the need to create the conditions necessary to justify military action?
MR TOM McKANE: I think that — it’s always a little bit difficult to parse sentences ten years later, but I think what it was saying was, as the Prime Minister had said, we needed to exhaust the UN process, and so we needed to be able to demonstrate that that had been done, and that unless one had gone through that step it would not be possible to say that one had created the conditions necessary.
It may have covered other aspects such as preparing public opinion, but I think that the key thing in the
sentence is this question of how the UN process was going to be handled.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: And I suppose this raises the question as to whether the UN process is intended to lead towards an end which is inspections that constrain or limit Saddam’s assumed programmes for weapons of mass destruction or whether the UN process is seen as a means towards an end, the end actually intended to be military action.
Now what do you think was in Ministers’ minds at this point?
MR TOM McKANE: Well, I can only speculate as to what was in Ministers’ minds. I think I can say what was in my mind and what I felt was the collective view, and that is that we were going to use the UN process and use it in a serious way.
In the event that that resulted in our achieving our policy objectives, then they would have been achieved. In the event that it didn’t result in compliance with the UN resolutions, then it would, if it had been shown to have exhausted all the possibilities of the UN have created the conditions that are talked about in that paper where military action might be justified.
So I don’t think it — at least for me — implies a pre-determination that this would end up one way rather than another, though clearly, as the papers show, it’s a further ratcheting up of the step towards the point where the government decides that it is going to commit British troops.
Lyne’s question about the aim of the policy is the key question of course. There is nothing in the paper to support McKane’s claim that the policy was still containment and witness after witness has said that containment had long been abandoned. McKane’s answer contains a lot of obfuscation and a substitution of the concept of “pre-determination that this would end up one way rather than another” for the concept of intention. Although he does admit that the paper brings military action closer, it is difficult to believe that he can deny that a paper that is explicitly about bringing about military action is seeking to achieve peaceful compliance.
As for the suggestion that the intention was to use the UN process in a serious way, the paper suggests that:
“It is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject (because he is unwilling to accept unfettered access) and which would not be regarded as unreasonable by the international community. However, failing that (or an Iraqi attack) we would be most unlikely to achieve a legal base for military action by January 2003.”
How stupid does McKane think the panel are? It’s a recurring question.