By Chris Ames
It is, to say the least, unfortunate that the tenth anniversary of the invasion will come and go without a report from the Inquiry and of course reflections have already begun ten years on from the biggest of the anti-war marches. The Inquiry website currently features a list of excuses as to why the report remains some way off, including:
When he announced in the House of Commons the setting-up of the Inquiry, Gordon Brown said, “It’s scope is unprecedented.”
There is some explanation of what is actually happening, including a statement that proposing thousands of documents for “declassification” is already under way, even if that does not mean the government’s consideration of such proposals is actually proceeding.
In the meantime, former Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell has written a piece in today’s Independent (on Sunday) asking “Have the lessons of Iraq really been learnt?” His summary of the effect of the war is:
We lost moral authority as a result of our engagement in Iraq and shed a great deal of blood. Coupled with our commitment to Afghanistan, where these costs have been even greater, the appetite of the British public for foreign engagements is dulled. In times of domestic austerity, it is tempting to look abroad for an assertion of our continued relevance. But Iraq changed the political imperative. No PM could now venture to go to war without the endorsement of a vote in the Commons, as British involvement in Libya showed. To obtain such support, the cause must be just, legal and winnable.
Meanwhile, in the New Statesman (and on the Huffington Post) Mehdi Hassan writes that “The hawks were wrong: Iraq is worse off now”. Looking at Iraq today, as opposed to rehearsing all the rights and wrongs of the invasion, he points out that polls have shown that Iraqis do not consider themselves to be better off as a result:
Should we be surprised? The post-Saddam government, observes the noted Iraqi novelist and activist Haifa Zangana, is “consumed by sectarian, ethnic division, but above all by corruption”. The Human Rights Watch 2012 report shows how the rights of the Iraqi people are “violated with impunity” by their new rulers. In his book Iraq: from War to a New Authoritarianism, Toby Dodge of the London School of Economics documents how the war has produced an Iraqi system of government not so different from the one it replaced. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Dodge argues, is leading his country towards “an incredibly destructive dictatorship”. The establishment of a liberal democracy on the banks of the Tigris remains a neocon pipe dream.
By contrast, Labour shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy, also writing on the New Statesman website about preventative intervention, can barely bring himself to say more than that the war was “controversial”, while in an interview with the Telegraph, he is quoted as saying that it:
was “not a lie but a mistake. If we had known then what we know now, there would have been no vote and no war. Tony wouldn’t have taken us to war on the basis of the information we have now.”
A strange claim to make, given that Blair told the Inquiry in January 2010:
… when I talked earlier about the calculus of risk changing after September 11th, it is really, really important, I think, to understand this, so far as understanding the decision I took, and, frankly, would take again: if there was any possibility that he could develop weapons of mass destruction, we should stop him. That was my view. That was my view then and it’s my view now.
Was this assertion in any way qualified by the suggestion that it was clear now that Saddam could not have developed WMD? Of course not. Blair later invited the Inquiry to consider “the 2010 question”:
Supposing we had backed off this military action, supposing we had left Saddam and his sons, who were going to follow him, in charge of Iraq, people who used chemical weapons, caused the death of over 1 million people, what we now know is that he retained absolutely the intent and the intellectual know-how to restart a nuclear and a chemical weapons programme when the inspectors were out and the sanctions changed, which they were going to be.
I think it is at least arguable that he was a threat and that, had we taken that decision to leave him there with the intent, with an oil price, not of $25, but of $100 a barrel, he would have had the intent, he would have had the financial means and we would have lost our nerve.
And asked whether he had any regrets Blair said:
In the end it was divisive, and I’m sorry about that and I tried my level best to bring people back together again, but if I’m asked whether I believe we are safer, more secure, that Iraq is better, our own security is better with Saddam and his two sons out of power and out of office than in office, I indeed believe that we are, and I think in time to come, if Iraq becomes, as I hope and believe that it will, the country that its people want to see, then we can look back, and particularly our armed forces can look back, with an immense sense of pride and achievement in what they did.
A year later, Blair raised the issue of Britain’s relationship with America, when asked for lessons learned:
I think one recurrent theme of this is, you know, this decision that we were going to stand shoulder to shoulder with America, we would be with America, this American partnership is tough to do. I mean, it is easy to say; it is tough to do.
That is particularly so in circumstances where in any operation of this size, I mean, America frankly is going to be in the lead and going to have the overwhelming amount of resources and assets.
So the question that people raise perfectly naturally is: Is it worth it? I mean, is the pain/gain ratio really worth it? I think you do have to consider that. My view obviously is clear that it is.
Blair is saying here, as was reported at the time, that he would do the same again, even with the information that he has now. So what is Jim Murphy talking about? He’s not just rewriting history from 2003 but from 2010 and 2011.