Live Blog – 21 January 2010

Thursday 21 January 2010


(There was one evidence session today, scheduled for 14:00 – 17:00.)

Topic: (The inquiry now only lists witnesses by relevant role, rather than by topic area.)

Jack Straw, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, 2001 – 2006
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This afternoon’s hearing, as it happened


Today’s only witness was Jack Straw, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

17.25 That’s it.

17.21 Lyne points out that Chirac’s remarks are certainly ambiguous. Did you go back to the French and check this out or just say “that’s it, game over”? I didn’t say the latter but we had a lot to do with Chirac. I watched Chirac make that statement. This was Chirac pronouncing to La France. If he had said this is difficult. He must have known the effect of the African states. The “whatever the circumstances” is not ambiguous. Disagreement on this. Lyne takes Straw’s answer as saying that he did not check.

17.15 Prashar quotes Omand from yesterday re greater care before threatening war and the danger of military timetables. Would you agree? Not completely. Gets in a bit of a muddle trying to quote Blix. Inspections could be short with active co-operation. Prashar says that was Blix’s view. Straw says I think we did take great care. The whole purpose of 1441 was an illustration of the care… Now saying that thought that Saddam was going to use wmd… Faced with a choice between military action and going on without a deadline, although no wmd were found…

17.11 Gilbert asks to what extent his advice to Blair was discussed in Cabinet? Not circulated to Cabinet. Minutes closely held. Wider issues were discussed at other meetings. Was there a Cabinet or cabinet committee where my alternatives were discussed? No. Gilbert: did other people know? Hoon, perhaps Brown. People might speak to press. Gilbert: with regard to those who did know, what was their response. I was putting contingency re failure to get through commons. As international situation moved one way, support in the commons went the other way.

17.05 Discussion of implications of getting second resolution. Might have avoided the war and got wider international support. Freedman asks whether Straw and colleagues ever stopped and thought: “do we need to take another course”. “Certainly I was profoundly concerned about anger of British public”. He is it seems trying to avoid answering the question, which is about whether he advised against war… “my effort were to keep on working to get a peaceful resolution…” Freedman brings him back to the point where they weren’t going to get it. Straw says we didn’t know we were not going to get it. Was there a plan B? I put forward alternatives and made submissions”. Freedman says one option was to give support without taking a full part. Straw agrees. How was that received? Straw waffles again. You need to ask Mr Blair. Freedman: was this discussed with other ministers? I submitted formal minutes. Thought a great deal prepared paper for Mr Blair. Fast-moving situation. Lots of time on the telephone. Freedman: so this was not discussed with Hoon, Short? No (waffle). Would I have discussed it with? In office. with Manning. C Powell. Freedman points out that Straw’s position was critical. Had he thought of resigning? “I never got to that point. I had been very anxious in all of this not to put a gloss on what I was thinking at the time.” A fundamental point was in respect of role of Commons. Supported Falklands but not enough debate… Difficult if no commitment to debate. Didn’t really think about resigning. Concluded to support government reluctantly on the basis of best evidence at the time…

16.59 Freedman points out that what Chirac actually said was not “never” but “not now”. In a sense it was the idea that this whole exercise was coming to a close that added to the drama. Straw refers to textual analysis and his “whatever the circumstances”, (which was actually a reference to the question of whether a resolution had majority support or not, not a threat to veto any resolution.

16.56 Straw again says that Blix did not say that Iraq was complying, which he wanted. Freedman points out that Blix’s failure to say that Iraq was not complying disillusioned the US. Freedman says that Blix could not give Iraq a clean bill of health at this stage but what about more time? Freedman says that the French working against a second resolution was already known.

16.48 Straw says that had Blix said that Iraq was complying that would have been the end of the matter. Perhaps that is why the war had to go ahead – before he said this. Discussion of lengthy Blix paper. 29 Separate chapters of disarmament questions. Straw says that Blix admitted not to have read the document before the UNSC meeting. The document was not available until the end of the meeting. Implies that it might have convinced the security council that there was a problem. Freedman comes back to the idea of time. Straw says that SH was [had been] adept at playing the international system. Freedman says it was clear that the UNSC was divided. Perhaps you are so irritated with Blix because our strategy had become dependent on him?

16.39 Freedman asks about conflict between military and diplomacy/disarmament timetables. Chilcot asks about importance of military pressure on Saddam. Straw: “I couldn’t for the life of me understand why the French and the Germans were not agreeing to a second resolution”. Straw claims that failure to allow external interviews was crucial. Freedman says that Blix never wanted that. Straw suggests that Blix is adding “gloss” to his position.

16.37 Discussion of decision to seek second resolution in context of Blix statement to UN in January 2003 and Blair’s subsequent meeting with Bush, which was quite critical. Freedman asks if the military timetable was important. Straw says he discussed this with Colin Powell, who said “late March early April”.

16.35 Back. Now discussing efforts to get a second UN resolution in early 2002. Straw thought new resolution would achieve compliance. Realised it wouldn’t work when he saw Chirac on the t.v. saying that France would veto a new resolution, under any circumstances, (which he did not say).

Chris Ames back on the blog. Thanks again to Andrew.

(Another 10 min break)

16.19 LF – lack of hard evidence – quotes Omand from yesterday. JS – Not as much intel, but I was happy with what I saw. Quotes Blix again – Straw states he had a perception that this was Blix’s view (re having weapons) all the way through.

16.16 LF – Blix was destroying the missiles. Political perception was the difficulty. JS – everyone was expecting to see more. No war party in Security Council (barring parts of US admin). I didn’t want war.

16.12 Discussion of smoking gun argument. JS – Inspectors did find things, esp missiles. Al Samouds/Fatahs – Iraqi’s were not telling the truth and capabilities (components?) were being imported. Iraq should have complied with interview process etc.

16.09 JS – Hard to get 1441, esp Syria, but Saddam had complied with first stage i.e. declaration. LF – talks of pressure on Saddam. Not inevitable that non-compliance would lead to war. JS – Saddam was given an ultimatum and he could have taken it. LF – What would constitute material breach? JS – As set out in OP4 (quotes) – no question that they were in anything other than material breach.

16.03 LF – on to negotiations – two points – delay in getting 1441 was due to hostile US influence? JS – Toss up between difficulties with US and other UN members. Bush spoke with clarity on Sept 12. Not a policy that UK could be involved with without UN mandate. LF – understanding of importance of second resolution? JS – Talk of resolution by French and Germans that would not need a second resolution but this was never tabled.

15.57 JS – influenced by NIE and dossier, and IISS paper – IISS set out more severe opinion. Talks about Hussein Kamal’s defection etc and the case that this revealed. All info pointed in one direction and nothing pointed the other way.

15.53 JC – re Evening Standard coverage etc – assessment should have been more precise. JS – It was an error and has haunted us ever since, but the intention was to set out the threat from Iraq.

15.50 JS – Gilligan described dossier as “dull”. Nothing new. Public assumption was prosaic.

15.46 LF – refers to Manning’s evidence – not so much about current WMD but what might happen in the future. JS – Regime was in open defiance – cared about UN authority and this was of fundamental importance. LF – re Omand – “is that all there is”, and Straw’s “thin”. JS – case was in no way based on intel alone – no reason to disbelieve intel. LF – context of dossier was to focus on WMD? JS – not a case for war, was a case to take this seriously.

15.39 LF – Back to UN process. Importance of UN mandate. JS – yes, this was vital. This strategy could have led to peaceful settlement. US was not so convinced of UN role. Talk of containment issues.

15.35 JS – The ‘roadmap’ was an important achievement. RL – we gave ourselves leverage but despite this we failed? JS – agrees with RL but never thought it was hopeless. RL – did this failure undermine the coalition? JS – doesn’t think so – but region is better of without Iraqi regime.

15.30 RL – Middle East peace process – pressing for progress – long quote re Israeli withdrawal from West Bank towns – Meyers evidence re US policy. Why no progress? JS – no European consensus – US only serious player in ME. Unique US/Israeli relationship – unambiguous. Coupled with Israeli political instability. Bush ’41 and James Baker were the last to face down the Israelis. Clinton was “merciless” about this. Difficult environment. Blair sought to raise this up the agenda.

(Andrew Mason taking over blogging)

15.10 Ten minute break. Discussion of Middle East to come

15.06 Lyne asks about unpublicised meeting (para 25 of Straw’s memorandum) with C Powell? How worried was Powell? Straw reluctant to quote Powell but agrees that he and Powell in same place. Not a neo-con. Lyne asks if Straw was worried after he saw Colin Powell? Straw says Bush was elected. That was a fact, as was 9/11. Our objective was to try to deflect US away from regime change but towards disarmament. That was an achievement for Powell and UK administration.

15.05 Lyne asks about the generality of what you were trying to achieve. You and Manning were insisting that a number of points were essential pre-conditions: legal; UN approval (also war last resort); international support; planning campaign and aftermath; progress on ME. Is that a fair summary? Straw says preconditions for what? Our approach was to secure disarmament. Objective of UK was not regime change. Lyne says US objective was regime change. Straw agrees, back to Clinton. Chilcot asks if Straw means that preconditions are for success, not participation. Straw largely agrees. Lyne asks about relationship with Powell. Straw talks about his view of handling the Americans. They operate in a completely different way. Political appointees all the way down the system. He is waffling and waffling and waffling.

14.57 Lyne brings up Blair letters to Bush. Did Straw see them before/in draft? Did he see them all? Depended on circumstances/physical proximity. May have been on plane when Blair wrote one. Not sure if he saw all of them. Agrees that he would have expected to see them. Has not come across any that he did not see. Lyne says that one letter text not on public record delivery by Manning July 2002 has been described. Does Straw recall. Yes. In that those letters, were you entirely comfortable with the way that he was expressing himself. Straw says better if in private session Lyne says better if in front of us, ie published. Straw says likes confidentiality. Lyne comes back to question. Straw says probably not. What we are dealing with is a personal relationship important to country. Goes back to closeness to Clinton. Suspicion by Bush administration… (he is making this up. It has been said by Meyer that Bush did not hold this against Blair).
Purpose was to get US down UN route. Lyne agrees that it may have been tactical but Meyer has said that commitment became an assumption in Washington that we were going to be with them.

14.51 Straw makes observation on intelligence re Falklands. The charge against Lord Carrington was that FCO had neglected to follow through intelligence. Lesson of Falklands follow intelligence.

14.50 Lyne sums up that there was a certain difference of view between you and the PM. Straw’s waffling is not working. Lyne refers to Blair bracketing wmd and terrorism as “twin threats”. Was Straw concerned that Blair was conflating the two issues? Would have been concerned as he said in the leaked memo if there was a suggestion that Iraq and 9/11 were leaked. The problem that rogue states like N Korea which might be a proliferator into other rogue states and international terrorists. Says that Pakistan was a state sponsor of terrorism. Lyne points out that Iraq was not involved in wmd linked terror. Straw agrees that – apart from vs Israel – Iraq was not widely supporting terrorism. Lyne says that Iraq was not likely to be linking with Al Qaeda or putting wmd in the hands of terrorism. Can’t speculate what would have happened if containment had failed. Lyne points out that containment was working. UNSCR 1409. Straw plays down usefulness of 1409. Difficult to argue that it was working spring 2002. Lyne says that SH had not broken out. Straw says intelligence did not say he has packed up on wmd.

14.40 Lyne asks if it was also Blair’s view that we were not seeking regime change. Straw waffles…. That was not on the menu. What was being talked about was question of military action by US with possibility of military action by UK. PM was aware that action for regime change could not be objective of British foreign policy or disguised as such. Lyne points out that Blair has advocated regime change from 1999 Chicago to Fern Britton. Did Blair have a different view from you. Straw ducks the question – you have to ask him. Waffle, waffle, my judgement… loyalty. Won’t say what Blair’s view was. Talks about wider implications of Chicago. Credit Blair. I know there has been huge textual analysis of Crawford speech. If you read the speech, he talks about regime change in general. Talks about Iraq later. Won’t say what Blair’s actual view was.

14.37 Lyne refers to Sunday Times letter. Straw said that “objectively” the risk had not changed. Straw accepts that this is wrong. Says the version in Sunday Times was leaked earlier. Says he has a different version. Lyne asks if quotation is accurate. Straw admits that it was. Lyne asks if No 10 had already pre-empted by private exchanges. Manning and Meyer. Line that No 10 was taking was that if US was going for regime change but prepared to build a coalition UK was prepared to be part of it. If that message was going to White House, were you not pre-empted. Straw says not pre-empted. There was a debate going on. The overall result was that we converged on to achieve the policy objective to get US to go down UN route not for regime change but re peace and security.

14.33 Lyne refers to options paper. Looked at two alternatives. Toughened containment vs regime change!!! PM asked Straw and Hoon to offer views before Crawford. To what extent was there a real debate about strategic options and what advice you gave? Straw says there was a debate. My mind wasn’t made up. I was clear that regime change was off the agenda as a purpose of UK foreign policy. You could have an objective backed up by threat of force. Regime change as an objective wrong. Case stood or fell on Iraq’s obligations re wmd not how bad the regime was. Lyne asks if Straw’s view was containment rather than regime change. Straw says the route he recommended was not regime change. Problem with containment was it wasn’t going anywhere. Meanwhile the perception of the risk had completely changed. Lyne asks, had the risk changed? Straw says he sees no difference.

14.27 Straw refers back to Suez and impact on ME. Concerned to have progress on Israel/Palestine. Lyne again asks him about advice from FCO people in the area. Straw says we were all worried. I was concerned about the way Bush linked three different problems in axis of evil speech. Undermined possible rapprochement with Iran. Lot of discussions. Acknowledges that Lyne (former ambassador) was putting forward contrarian view. Expressed anxiety to PM about how difficult it might be to manage situation. Cherry-picks from evidence that he has reviewed. Anticipated Short period of welcome and calm. Thinks a lot of problems could have been avoided by better planning above all in Washington.

14.21 It is already clear that Straw is going to stick to the line that it was about wmd, even though the documents say otherwise. The Inquiry has allowed him to put a long self-justifying paper together and published it on its website but has not published real evidence.

14.19 Lyne asks the same question again. What did ambassadors generally think? Varied. Consistent theme. Concern that there would be real problems on the street in their own countries. Disruption. Straw says we didn’t share the policy of regime change.

14.18 Lyne asks what advice he was getting (e.g. from ME ambassadors) about the consequences of a new US policy. Straw says he does not remember much. Reminds that regime change was official US policy from 98. What changed was the beginnings of a decision that they should do something about it. There was anxiety from ME ambassadors about effects on region of policy.

14.15 I have skimmed Straw’s memorandum and it looks very much like an attempt to justify his own behaviour.

14.08 Lyne asks to what extent there was a debate before the UK government was set on a new strategy? Were you putting a range of different options to the PM? Straw says that before 9/11 it was about containing a drifting policy, ie containment. Came in June 2001 took over policy on smarter sanctions. Tried hard to get agreement at UN but not possible. Regime comfortable with situation. Lyne points out that sanctions had worked. Straw says up to a point. After 1998 increasing anxiety about what Iraq was up to and NFZs. Straw returns to the line that 9/11 significantly changed the US.

14.05 Lyne says he is going to ask about the evolution of policy, including regime change. Refers to government’s official policy originally being about containment. After 9/11 Washington’s approach changed.

14.04 They are off. Chilcot says that the objectives of the session are to take evidence from Straw to understand his role in the formulation of policy and his leadership of the FCO up to 2004. He will be back. He has given the Inquiry a memorandum of evidence. Legal advice to be covered later.

14.00 The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow is also blogging live and as usual has an interesting and informative introduction.

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Archived Comments


By Iain Paton

Submitted on 2010/01/21 at 2:32pm

Quick point. Memo shifts emphasis from intel to judgement.

By Stan Rosenthal

Submitted on 2010/01/21 at 4:25pm

No the memo pointed out that intelligence was just part of the assessment and that it all pointed in the same direction.

By Iain Paton

Submitted on 2010/01/21 at 5:16pm

No.

The memo shifts emphasis from intelligence – upon which the emphasis has been almost entirely placed until this inquiry – to the judgement of Blair that – independent of the nuances and detail of intelligence – there was a WMD threat.

The memo is not the only instance of realigning the argument and sets the stage for Blair next week.

The argument of judgement vs intelligence has its own merits which can be debated, but there are two critical factors:

1. The judging party (ie Blair) bears responsibility which cannot be shifted (ie to the intelligence).

2. This is an entirely new argument and justification and – until this month – the argument was that intelligence demonstrated that Saddam was a threat. The consequence is that the public has been misled through a number of inquiries and in the government’s commentary for the last seven years.

Straw’s argument that the Blair-Bush correspondence should be confidential or private is not tenable. This is not correspondence between crowned kings or princes, this is correspondence between elected members of governments accountable to their electorate. Clearly there should be routine confidentiality but not seven years after the event in the course of an inquiry.

By Stan Rosenthal

Submitted on 2010/01/21 at 5:52pm

Clutching at straws again?

By Stan Rosenthal

Submitted on 2010/01/21 at 5:56pm

Chris, how about this headline for any piece on Straw’s memo?

STRAW SAYS THIS WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT DECISION HE HAS TAKEN – WAS HE TORTURED?

Your new-found pals in the Mail might take it up.

By John Bone

Submitted on 2010/01/21 at 6:14pm

As Iain points out, up until this Inquiry the government line has been that the intelligence was clear. There has been a subtle re-alignment, and Straw’s memo is part of it: the line now is that it was a judgement. This of course calls into question the decisions that were taken in March 2003, which were justified by the claim that WMD in Iraq were an established fact.

BTW: at 16.48, I think that Straw is referring to the “cluster document” being produced by Blix. This was a document that was still being worked on by Blix, and the Security Council had asked for it at a later date, which is why it wasn’t available at the meeting Straw was talking about. (Straw probably had a leaked copy from the College of Commissioners.) The document was a list of outstanding issues and how they might be dealt with in following phases of the inspections: it is unlikely that it contained anything new and it is unlikely that it would have changed the minds of the Security Council.

By chris lamb

Submitted on 2010/01/21 at 9:19pm

Rather than just accept at face vale Straw’s current rejections of “regime change”, the Chilcot Inquiry should examine his letter to Blair of 25 March 2003 which- in discussing ways to transcend obstacles to military force- makes the cunning distinction between regime change as “objective” and as “method”.

As “objective” it would fall foul of international law, but as “method”, with the intention concealed by a more “acceptable” goal- eg. eliminating the “imminent” WMD threat, it could be pursued with legal impunity.

Never mind that the determination to remove the regime was reduced not a jot by the legal nicety of “objective” and “method”.

Issues that Straw has not resolved, for the Inquiry to further investigate;

a) that “containment” would have been a better and safer strategy to pursue. The threat of WMD being used- if such had existed- would have been multiplied and greatly enhanced by the replacement of a single state-regime (notwithstanding its oppressive nature) by a fragmented series of new hostile non-state groups fervently opposing the invasion and occupation and the introduction of a serious terrorist threat into the country with al-Qaeda.

b) the very weak case made in his Inquiry dossier from extracted UNMOVIC and IAEA reports for an imminent and growing Iraq weapons threat and increased non-compliance. Even after omitting the 07 March UNMOVIC report in an attempt to boost his case, the progress made and failure to find evidence of WMD evidence could not be concealed from even the earlier weapons inspector reports. The Chilcot Inquiry should come to an assessment of whether outstanding issues of disarmament could have been resolved by extending the weapons inspectorate timetable;

c) the “automaticity” doctrine that Straw was involved in distorted and abused UN Security Council processes to achieve its purposes. It did this by spuriously delegating powers to individual Member States without proper authorization from UNSCR1441 Operational Paragraphs or Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.

Straw’s statement of Iraqi non-compliance (15 March 2003) breached the requirement for an UNMOVIC and IAEA report to go to the Security Council for assessment under OPs 4,11 and 12 of the resolution.

It also paved the way for Blair to take personal powers on 14-15 March 2003 for declaring Iraq in “further material breach” (thus breaching the ceasefire), against Article 39 clauses that only the Security Council could make such a determination.

By Iain Paton

Submitted on 2010/01/21 at 9:41pm

Blair’s speech on the eve of war only mentions the word ‘intelligence’ twice.

Had he moved on by that stage?

– In November, Sir William Ehrman revealed that last-minute intelligence on the eve of war indicated no WMD. This was effectively ignored.

– No ’smoking gun’ was unearthed – which might have prompted a second UN resolution or justification for action. In fact, the UK dossiers were entirely counterproductive.

My own guess is that Blair pledged unconditional support to Bush in early 2002, in the expectation that either a clear UN resolution as a mandate for war or a ’smoking gun’ in the form of compelling intelligence would come along in due course to justify a resolution and/or military action. They didn’t.

And, at some point, both intelligence and the UN resolution fell by the wayside. At some point Blair took the judgement that the UK would go to war regardless of either, in the hope and expectation that WMD would be found. A big gamble. This happened seven years ago, but it has taken that long for the truth to emerge, hence this subtle realignment (which might have started on the Fern Britton sofa). Not surprising really, as a mea culpa at the time would have brought down the government.

It’s a tangled web to unpick, all the way back, rather than the genuine pursuit of the UN process and reliance on intelligence (on the one hand) and construction of a UN and intelligence smokescreen (on the other hand). At some point, one led to the other. And George W Bush had a much more pragmatic outlook all along.

The question is twofold: can Blair’s “judgement” or “assumption” or “assessment” be justified in the context of the time – given what we now know – and can the UK government’s narrative until now that ‘the war was based on intelligence regarding WMD’ (which ‘turned out to be wrong’) be justified?

Some difficult circles to square.

By Iain Paton

Submitted on 2010/01/21 at 9:50pm

Another issue regards the declassification and publication of documents. This is in the gift of the government and the Inquiry appears to be straining at the leash.

As Chris points out on CiF, this allows witnesses to play certain games based on their one-sided knowledge.

I wonder what will happen if a Conservative government decides to declassify and issue the documents. This might place public record testimony at odds with documentary evidence. I’m assuming that Hoon and Straw in particular have considered this, and may be walking a very thin tightrope.

By Stan Rosenthal

Submitted on 2010/01/21 at 9:53pm

And how many angels can be fitted on the head of a pin?

By Iain Paton

Submitted on 2010/01/21 at 10:16pm

Someone said that very same thing at the Inquiry this week….

By Mike Davies

Submitted on 2010/01/21 at 10:52pm

Iain –

What is your basis for saying that “In November, Sir William Ehrman revealed that last-minute intelligence on the eve of war indicated no WMD”?

The only bit I can find is p.193 where Ehrman says “…we were not getting contrary intelligence to what we had had previously. We did, at the very end, I think, on 10 March, get a report that chemical weapons might have remained disassembled and Saddam hadn’t yet ordered their assembly, and there was also a suggestion that Iraq might lack warheads capable of the effective dispersal of agents.”

If this is an accurate portrayal of the report, then it seems to say that CW did exist, but might at that time be disassembled (possibly to hide them from inspectors?) – and, by context, could be reassembled (although order not yet given). It also does not say that (BW?) “agent” did not exist, only that Iraq might lack effective dispersal mechanisms. This seems pretty equivocal (a couple of “mights”), and a bit different from “last-minute intelligence on the eve of war indicated no WMD”.

Am I missing another passage?

Mike

By andrewsimon

Submitted on 2010/01/21 at 11:02pm

Iain –

My own guess is that Blair pledged unconditional support to Bush in early 2002…

My own view is that it was at first full support for the deposing of Saddam conditionally dependent on a UN route being followed. Later the opposition from the other permanent members of the UN threw a spanner into the works, and an alternative justification had to be found when it became clear that forceful regime change by military means would not be supported or permitted by international consensus and mandate. I think that Blair then found it impossible (for whatever reason) to divorce himself from the overall US Bush/Republican/Neo-con strategy for the removal of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist party regime, and hence the retrospective reasoning that R.1441 allowed for legitimate military action all along (when this was never intended when it was first adopted at the UN).

By Michael Ayton

Submitted on 2010/01/21 at 11:03pm

Poor hapless Straw! My main memory of him at the time is an article he wrote in The Sunday Independent on 23 February 2003 presenting, with typical disingenuousness, as the supposed ‘main’ counter-argument to war the claim that Saddam simply did not have WMDs when of course he knew full well that the real argument was that he was not clearly proven TO have them — as if there were no legal or moral difference. Of course, the other part of Honest Jack’s ’strategy’ was to avoid so much as mentioning the arguments against war that he couldn’t answer at all. I enjoyed having the opportunity to refute the slippery so-and-so in the following week’s paper, and was certainly not the only one to do so …

By John Bone

Submitted on 2010/01/22 at 9:25am

In January 2003, Jack Straw told the Foreign Affairs Committee that he had told France and Russia not to oppose the USA in the Security Council “because the USA would be angry”. This struck me as bizarre at the time; members of the Security Council have the right to express their opinions and are presumably quite aware that other members who disagree might be angry. Straw’s comment to the FAC seems to suggest that Britain avoids giving its opinion to the USA and cannot understand that other countries aren’t so afraid of making their own opinions known.

It may well be the case, as Andrew Simon suggests, that Blair did not factor in the possible opposition from the SC to US policy. The rather odd discussions that crop up occasionally about “more time for a UN resolution” also suggest that the UK government had this idea that the SC would eventually come around whatever Blix found or said.

Now that the WMD justification has been disposed of, perhaps the Inquiry could start examining what deeper factors were at work. Why did Blair make a promise of support to Bush that he felt unable to back out of later when the conditions weren’t met?

By John Bone

Submitted on 2010/01/22 at 9:54am

Just after 17.00 hours there is some mention of the debates in the House of Commons. Is there some hint here that Blair tried to avoid having debates in the Commons on the invasion, and that Straw had to argue you with him about this? I have wondered about this in the past because I have seen remarks from Straw which suggest that the Commons ought to be grateful that they were allowed to vote.

By andrewsimon

Submitted on 2010/01/22 at 11:45am

John –

The rather odd discussions that crop up occasionally about “more time for a UN resolution” also suggest that the UK government had this idea that the SC would eventually come around whatever Blix found or said.

I think that this whole notion of ‘more time’ revolves around the fact that the second resolution was drafted and circulated to the SC far too early. The original intention had been to seek the second resolution (to authorise military action) in the event of non-compliance being declared by either Hans Blix or Mohamed ElBaradei. This did not happen, and also looked increasingly unlikely to occur in the near or distant future given that Iraq did in fact comply with R.1441 to the best of its ability and was living up to the requirements of R.1284, which had established the ground rules (and timetable) for the expected final phase of the weapons inspection process.

The French ‘veto’ issue is a bit of a red herring because this circumstance only arises in the situation of a majority vote being cast, which in reality was extremely unlikely given the opposition across the SC to military action against Iraq.

It was not about whether or not the SC would “eventually come around”. Blair found himself in the unique position of still trying to justify military action through the UN when his initial expectation of (early) Iraqi condemnation because of a further breach of R.1441 didn’t happen. The military build up had proceeded on the basis that this would be the case, and once there they couldn’t be held back for too long. I think the real point is that the US was going to act when it did in any case, to characterise this from Blair’s point of view I would suggest that this process was very much like being on long one-way train journey – you’ve gone a vast distance already and there is an overnight stop. You’ve either got to get back on (along with all your baggage) for the next stage of the adventure or be left standing on the platform wondering where the hell to go next and equally how on earth do you get back home again?

By John Bone

Submitted on 2010/01/22 at 12:36pm

Read again Blix’s book, Blix seems to be saying that the real sticking point for the majority of the UNSC was the American insistence that the USA could decide whether Iraq was in material breach. The UNSC might have agreed on some tough benchmarks in a short time-scale, which Iraq might not have been able to meet; but it wasn’t going to give up the right of the UNSC collectively to decide whether the benchmarks had been achieved. Giving this up would blow a big hole in international law. British politicians don’t seem to be able to see the issue here.

By Iain Paton

Submitted on 2010/01/22 at 7:20pm

Fair point about the loose words on Ehrman’s evidence regarding WMD….I’ll be writing dossiers next!

There is actually more from the session that is of interest. Ehrman was referring to battlefield weapons and warheads. I won’t go as far as to suggest these could should considered WMD…unlike the September dossier!

There’s also discussion in that session regarding the patchy nature of available intelligence and the shift in emphasis to terrorism from September 2002 onwards.

So, at some point, it is likely that the hunt for compelling evidence of WMD was given up and the emphasis moved onto a search for a second resolution and noncompliance with 1441 (and preceding resolutions.

This is reflected in the disastrous February Dossier which focused less on WMD and more on concealment and the evil nature of the Saddam regime. Perhaps a window into Blair’s mind at the time, moving the narrative from the threat from WMD to the nature of Saddam’s regime as obstructive, deceitful and evil. Chilcot has made a telling point about the “criticality” and the timing of items and actions. The September dossier’s criticality had passed by early 2003….it had failed in its aim.

Here’s the transcript extracts.

SIR WILLIAM EHRMAN:In terms of chemical and biological, particularly through the spring and summer of 2002, we were getting intelligence, much of which was subsequently withdrawn as invalid, but at the time it was seen as valid, that gave us cause for concern, One was that, until March 2003, we were not receiving contradictory intelligence to what we got up to then. We did, in the very final days before military action, receive some on CBW use that it was disassembled, that you might not have the munitions to deliver it. But up to then, we were not getting contradictory intelligence.
Just to give you just a few of the things that were said, April 2000: the picture was limited on chemical weapons. May 2001: the knowledge of WMD and ballistic missile programmes was patchy. March 2002: the intelligence on Iraqi WMD and ballistic missiles is sporadic and patchy. The interdepartmental advice to Ministers in March 2002: Iraq continues to develop WMD although the intelligence is poor. August 2002: there is little intelligence on Iraq’s BCW doctrine, and we know little about Iraq’s CBW work since late 1998. The assessment of the 9 September 2002: intelligence remains limited.
We did, at the very end, I think, on 10 1March, get a report that chemical weapons might have remained disassembled and Saddam hadn’t yet ordered their assembly, and there [HMG later confirmed that the report was issued on 17 March 2003. The witness subsequently confirmed that the report was issued on 17 March 2003.] was also a suggestion that Iraq might lack warheads capable of the effective dispersal of agents.
SIR LAWRENCE FREEDMAN: Can I just have two follow-ups from the interesting things you have just said? The first, going back to this new intelligence of 10 March, I think you said, was this intelligence shared with the Americans?
SIR WILLIAM EHRMAN: I would have to check. I don’t know.
SIR LAWRENCE FREEDMAN: What sort of pause did it give you? Did it make you wonder whether, at this late stage, more care and attention might be given and maybe it wasn’t too late to stop the –
SIR WILLIAM EHRMAN: It was essentially battlefield intelligence because the JIC had been assessing whether Saddam would use chemical and biological weapons against forces coming into Iraq. So it was important in that context. But I don’t think it was — since there was contradictory intelligence, I don’t think it invalidated the point about what the programmes were that he had, it was more about use.
SIR LAWRENCE FREEDMAN: So it gave you pause that — not to seriously question the broad assumptions upon which policy had been working for some time?
SIR WILLIAM EHRMAN: As I say, it was more about use than about what he possessed.
SIR LAWRENCE FREEDMAN: But given, going back to our discussion earlier this morning, that the most likely thing that they had to show that this was more than a projection that war might happen should sanctions fail, should sanctions be abandoned, was a battlefield chemical capability, it wasn’t a trivial bit of
information.
SIR WILLIAM EHRMAN: No, but in a sense the two bits of intelligence we had got almost confirmed that he did have this. It said that CW remained disassembled. Well, there must be some there to remain disassembled, and that, also, he might not have the munitions for the effective dispersal of agents. It wasn’t questioning
whether agents existed.

By Mike Davies

Submitted on 2010/01/22 at 8:24pm

Thanks Iain, that’s very helpful.

It seems to me that Jonathan Powell’s point about the pre-existing “assumption” that Saddam had WMD – and the reasons for that – explains a lot. He said:

“we had that assumption because Saddam had used weapons of mass destruction. We had that assumption because he had lied about getting rid of it. We had that assumption because he had got rid of the weapons inspectors when we bombed him in 1998. So it would have taken some quite strong intelligence saying he had got rid of them to convince us he had indeed got rid of
them”

I wonder if we can find a useful analogy with criminal law. The following isn’t perfect but you’ll see the idea: a heroin producer is caught having produced 10 tonnes of heroin. Police and forensic evidence confirm that there were 10 tonnes, but are only able to locate and destroy 9. The producer fails to produce evidence of destroying the final tonne, and will not let the police examine his properties unhindered – or interview his associates – to satisfy themselves that he has got rid of the final tonne and is not making more. In such a case the logical possibility remains that he is “not guilty” of additional crimes (other than the original one). But I imagine prosecutors would stand a strong chance of convincing a jury that his continued law-breaking was “beyond reasonable doubt” on the circumstantial evidence of his conduct and (proved) prior possession.

So perhaps you could build a pretty strong case that Saddam was still “guilty” and the consensus appears to be that very few people or countries seriously contested that at the time (although level of “threat” and appropriate response clearly need separate arguments).

However, while this case might be quite strong as an argument, it does not appear to be an intelligence case. As you point out, witnesses describe the intelligence as “patchy, sporadic” etc. But even the dossier was not just about intelligence as it cites the historical evidence of what Iraq /had/ possessed and points to the circumstantial case that UNSCOM etc had been unable to confirm that it had all gone.

So maybe there were good arguments that Saddam had WMD, and a case that could be put strongly and implicitly seems to have convinced a lot of people in the government. But it does not appear to rest on the intelligence – the intelligence was simply taken to confirm the circumstantial case that had already convinced most senior people.

By andrewsimon

Submitted on 2010/01/22 at 8:48pm

Iain/Mike –

In November, Sir William Ehrman revealed that last-minute intelligence on the eve of war indicated no WMD?

In actual fact this statement is probably correct. The supporting evidence isn’t in Ehrman’s testimony, it came from John Scarlett a few days later:

41 25 SIR RODERIC LYNE: Just before I hand back to Sir John Chilcot, if we now move forward to March 2003, we heard last week from Sir William Ehrman that some late intelligence had come in relating to Saddam’s capabilities. Can you say what new intelligence arrived in the days running up to the conflict and how and when this was reported to the Prime Minister and other ministers?

SIR JOHN SCARLETT: Yes, of course I can. If I can just pick up one point in a sense from what I have just said, I said that the judgments, the firm judgments, as I set them out in the autumn of 2002, remained in place in the period following, and a key point there was that no contradictory intelligence was received during that time. And I think that’s a point that William Ehrman made himself and then he talked about the intelligence which came in in March 2003. This needs to be seen in the context of the policy of dispersal and concealment. Throughout 2002 and early 2003, the assessments and the updates drew attention to Iraqi plans for dispersal as part the policy of concealment from the inspectors. Actually, we highlighted that as an issue in March 2002 and it was mentioned in a September assessment and also in a December assessment, which was done on the declaration to the UN under 1441. It was emphasised that that kind of policy would have consequences for the ability to deploy chemical and biological warheads or the necessary delivery systems. Now, an update, an assessment staff update on 10 March noted the report, which in fact was issued on 7 March — yes, intelligence, which was issued on 7 March actually it was, I think, two reports that — it was essentially saying there were two versions of the same report, that Iraq had no missiles which could reach Israel and none which could carry germ or biological weapons. The leadership had ordered the dismantlement of the missiles known Al Hussein, 650-kilometre range missiles, to avoid discovery and they thought that they could be quickly reassembled. The JIC had over many months throughout this period reported the assessed existence of these missiles, up to 20 was the expectation. But all along, it had been reported that they had been disassembled and concealed. And DIS advised — and this was noted in the update –

SIR RODERIC LYNE: DIS being –

SIR JOHN SCARLETT: Defence Intelligence Staff advised, and this was noted in the update, that depending on the method of disassembly used, it might be possible to reassemble in one or two days. But if it was very complex disassembly, then it would be longer. SIS advised that the reference to “germ and biological” might also refer to chemical, just from the context, although that was speculative. So that was what the 10 March reference was about. On 17 March, intelligence was received that chemical weapons had been disassembled and dispersed and would be difficult to reassemble. Saddam had not yet ordered reassembly nor, indeed, asked about chemical weapons. Now, that report was referred to in a JIC note of 19 March, which was discussed the same day in a JIC meeting of 19 March, which was the last meeting, of course, before the conflict actually began. The reports were assessed in the context of the policy of dispersal and concealment. They were not understood to be an indication that chemical and biological weapons did not exist. Indeed, they didn’t say that but, of course, it was clear from the reports that they might be difficult to find. Previous reporting and updates had already reported separately on the difficulty that Iraq was having or was reported to have in developing or redeveloping chemical warfare warheads for ballistic missiles. And so that issue, which was referred to in a 7 March report was noted in the update on 10 March, about not having warheads capable of dispersal was already a feature of reporting from the end of 2002 and had been noted in updates. An update at the end of December had noted that — had noted that point, but had also noted the intelligence had said that chemical warheads were still available for short-range artillery, rockets and so on. So that was the picture that was being presented both through the reporting and through the updates. Those reports, I understand, went — the ones I have just been referring to — went directly to the Prime Minister’s office. And the updates were certainly available to him too. So this information was definitely available.

SIR RODERIC LYNE: So your assumption is that on 10 and 19 March respectively, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Defence Secretary, the Chiefs of Staff, would have actually seen the update and then the JIC note of 19 March?

SIR JOHN SCARLETT: They would also have seen – assumption, that’s a slightly loose word. I was certainly working absolutely on the basis that these updates by this stage, that they were being read carefully.

SIR RODERIC LYNE: Did you get any feedback, any questions about them?

SIR JOHN SCARLETT: About that particular point?

SIR RODERIC LYNE: Yes, did somebody after 10 March ring you up and want to ask you about it?

SIR JOHN SCARLETT: No.

SIR RODERIC LYNE: There was no visible reaction to it?

SIR JOHN SCARLETT: Of course, as I have said, it wasn’t new information and the disassembly was a longstanding item –

SIR RODERIC LYNE: So it was presented as confirming a existing –

SIR JOHN SCARLETT: It wasn’t actually presented as that at the time. It was just reported in the update as being intelligence which had been received. But the intelligence reports themselves, as I have said, went through independently to the Prime Minister and, I’m sure, to senior ministers, because that’s the way the system worked.

SIR RODERIC LYNE: So did the JIC consider revising its assessment in the light of these reports or not?

SIR JOHN SCARLETT: Well, the JIC looked again at the issue and recorded its view in the minute of 19 March and judged then that Iraq had a usable chemical and biological warfare capability, deliverable by artillery shells and possibly by unmanned aerial vehicles. It also said that missiles might be available to deliver CBW, but Iraq might lack the necessary warheads, which was a reference to the difficulty I have just referred to. What did not happen was that the JIC said, right, we have received these reports, this requires a review of our assessment on possession because that’s not what the reports said. The reports referred to disassembly and, in one case, of equipment which we had assessed to be disassembled for a very long time. So that wasn’t, in fact, new. And disassembly of the chemical weapons, the report which came in on 17 March, so quite a few days later, was not saying that they didn’t have it. They were saying that they were concealing it and, of course, the consequence of concealing it was that it would be difficult to use. And, of course, it was highly relevant because that meant they would be difficult to use against US military forces or UK military forces. So I am quite sure that it was taken on board in that context.

SIR RODERIC LYNE: Just to be absolutely clear about this, these two reports were not a game changing moment?

SIR JOHN SCARLETT: No, they were not.

SIR RODERIC LYNE: Sir John?

THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you…

So Ehrman was plainly talking about Scud missiles alone, something he completely failed to mention. He dressed these up to suggest that they were ‘chemical weapons’, which in their own right they also plainly are not. Given that he didn’t mention any other types of chemical weapon or information to suggest any existed it is fairly safe to assume that there was no specific intelligence to suggest that there was. He stretches the point well beyond breaking point to suggest there must have been CW on the basis that it remained dismantled because he also conflates munitions with warheads.

Just for the record, this information actually seems to be a reprint of what was known from long before the dossier was published, being as Lord Butler refers to:

(P52 – 204)

We have also noted information from one intelligence source in 1998 suggesting that Iraq retained sufficient complete missiles and components to allow it to assemble up to 16 missiles in total.

By Mike Davies

Submitted on 2010/01/22 at 10:18pm

Thanks Andrew.

I’m not sure Ehrman was talking about Scud missiles. I’ve looked again at the transcript; there is a footnote to the relevant section of evidence as follows:

“HMG later confirmed that the report was issued on 17 March 2003. The witness subsequently confirmed that the report was issued on 17 March 2003.”

If so, then this matches what Scarlett said about a 17 March report about disassembly of chemical weapons. Scarlett mentions an additional report of 10 March, which as you say was about scud missiles (is this the same as Al Hussein missiles?).

So there appear to be two reports: one (10 March) said that missiles were disassembled, and one (17 March) that chemical weapons were disassembled. But neither said they didn’t exist. And, according to Scarlett, “the JIC looked again at the issue and recorded its view in the minute of 19 March and judged then that Iraq had a usable chemical and biological warfare capability, deliverable by artillery shells and possibly by unmanned aerial vehicles. It also said that missiles might be available to deliver CBW, but Iraq might lack the necessary warheads…”

So again I do note see how the passages you quote support the statement that “last-minute intelligence on the eve of war indicated no WMD”; both Ehrman and Scarlett seem to explicitly deny this.

By andrewsimon

Submitted on 2010/01/23 at 1:03am

Mike –

(Yes, Al Husseins are Iraqi modified Soviet SS-1 Scud missiles, having increased range as a trade off against a smaller payload.)

I think that it’s quite difficult to unpick exactly what was being said by these two witnesses. I agree with you on the appearance of there being two distinct reports, but Ehrman confuses (or was confused by) the exact date of the reporting he was referring to:

We did, at the very end, I think, on 10 March, get a report that chemical weapons might have remained disassembled and Saddam hadn’t yet ordered their assembly, and there [HMG later confirmed that the report was issued on 17 March 2003. The witness subsequently confirmed that the report was issued on 17 March 2003.] was also a suggestion that Iraq might lack warheads capable of the effective dispersal of agents.

Because he mentions warheads here, I think he must be talking about missiles of one kind or another, at least in that part of the statement. (There doesn’t seem to be any suggestion anywhere that Iraq possessed any other variety of potentially WMD-capable missile other than possibly their Al Husseins, so this is at least indicative of what he’s talking about.) It’s not altogether clear whether he is talking about just one report here or is actually referring to both. If there were two reports why didn’t he report this to Chilcot as being the straight fact of the matter?

John Scarlett, as you say, seems to be referring to two separate lines of reporting, 10 March, (Scuds) and 17 March (disassembled CW). You have highlighted the relevant passage:

And, according to Scarlett, “the JIC looked again at the issue and recorded its view in the minute of 19 March and judged then that Iraq had a usable chemical and biological warfare capability, deliverable by artillery shells and possibly by unmanned aerial vehicles. It also said that missiles might be available to deliver CBW, but Iraq might lack the necessary warheads…”

The problems that I see with this (assuming the 17 March report referred to these specific delivery systems) are :

1) I can’t understand why artillery shells would be disassembled in any way, the Iraq CW doctrine had been to fill munitions ready for use and only mustard gas shells would have been capable of long term storage, I understand that in routine use they may not have been fused until just before firing so as to allow for safer transportation and handling but does this constitute them being ‘disassembled’?

2) My understanding is that the UAVs were suspected of being capable of spraying CBW agent, rather than delivering a warhead.

Why then, when Scarlett says: “On 17 March, intelligence was received that chemical weapons had been disassembled and dispersed and would be difficult to reassemble. Saddam had not yet ordered reassembly… ” would artillery shells (in particular) or UAV’s (which are fairly simple machines in any case) be difficult to reassemble or require an order for reassembly?

OK – on your last point – I agree that Iain’s statement isn’t perfect. I’d stick with the idea that the 10 March intel, in its own right, did not really indicate the presence of WMD. As far as 17 March is concerned I’m still not convinced that the reporting hasn’t been conflated in some way. In any case it probably came from now suspect INC/INA sources (possibly second-hand from the CIA?), otherwise we would have likely heard about it before now, and both Ehrman and Scarlett would fairly obviously not wish to highlight exactly how sparse the real intelligence actually was.

By Mike Davies

Submitted on 2010/01/23 at 1:55am

Thanks Andrew, really useful points. Not much further that I can go on the technical issues you make as I lack the expertise, but two points stand out for me:

i) If the JIC did indeed judge on 19 March that “Iraq had a usable chemical and biological warfare capability, deliverable by artillery shells and possibly by unmanned aerial vehicles”, and that “missiles might be available to deliver CBW, but Iraq might lack the necessary warheads”, this is presumably the most authoritative advice available to ministers. In which case, from their point of view, a belief at (prime) ministerial level in the current existence of a usable Iraqi CBW capability was entirely justified and reasonable at that point in time. Is this fair?

ii) Your points above are really addressing the competency of the JIC itself in reaching these conclusions. You question how coherent the concept of “disassembly” is in this context, and the details of UAVs, as well as the sourcing of the reports. It seems to me that from here we cannot get any further on this question without knowing the full set of reports and reasoning that the JIC based its conclusions on, as well as having a full understanding of the technical side. Perhaps the Inquiry will look at this in private? I wonder if Brian Jones might be able to comment.

By andrewsimon

Submitted on 2010/01/23 at 2:25am

Mike –

Very quickly before I hit the hay –

two points stand out for me:

i) a usable capability perhaps but a very slender one. Not necessarily one with which you could threaten the neighbours. Proportionality is relevant to the argument about response. The ‘judgment’ may have only been based on the belief that pre-’91 stocks still remained extant, in reality very few were actually located and were only found as a result of conventional stockpile destruction, being as this type of munition was never (allegedly) individually marked as to precise (explosive vs chemical) content.

ii) I agree with this synopsis. The Inquiry may well (and should in my view) look deeply at these issues during its Summer session. Anything else will be seen as neglectful colouration.

By andrewsimon

Submitted on 2010/01/23 at 7:56am

Mike –

(The hay was nice but didn’t last quite as long as I would have liked!)

Just reading our comments through again I think I’d like to add a bit more about point i).

I think the idea about biological weapon delivery by artillery shell is a bit extreme. I can see that the UAV idea is, whilst at least caveated with a “possibly”, vaguely plausible. Whether Saddam actually had such a capability is another question. I think there was some sort of fear that he would order the sailing of a ship over to mainland USA and launch the UAVs from there, giving him at least a suggested capability of global reach. In reality his UAVs were extremely crude and the likelihood of such use was in all probability completely imaginary.

When it comes to BW delivery by artillery shell, this I find very hard to accept. It’s hard to imagine BW use at such close range (c. maybe just over 20 miles?). The military expediency of such action is very doubtful. You wouldn’t want to do this if you were trying to force an advance, because you’d be moving into an area you had just contaminated. If you were retreating hard you might be forced to do this, particularly if you had no other means to slow your enemies advance, but it would be pretty much a last ditch effort. Other than this you could only try to enforce area denial, but virtually every modern army would have no problem deploying standard NBC defences and would not be significantly deterred by such usage. (Another point is that your enemy could clearly be able to detect such action, perhaps not quite immediately, but would thereafter have such evidence as was required to punish you severely for your defiance at a later date.)

By John Bone

Submitted on 2010/01/23 at 11:30am

There was, by this time, another source of information: the inspections. I get no sense that they were used as a source of information, though; more reliance seems to have been placed on scraps of information from unknown sources. Is there any sign at all that intelligence was re-evaluated in the light of the inspections?

I agree with the point (7.20 pm yesterday) that the Feb 2003 dossier was an attempt to shift the narrative away from WMD. The problem is that WMD had been an attempt to shift the narrative away from the nature of Saddam’s regime back in mid-2002 when people asked whether Blair was buying into Bush’s fairly vague reasons for attacking Iraq! It was a bit too obvious that the goalposts were being shifted. A lot of “working for the second resolution” was also an attempt to shift the narrative, but I think that the other members of the UNSC got irritated by the inability of the UK envoys to focus on whether the problem was WMD or the nature of the regime.

By Mike Davies

Submitted on 2010/01/23 at 2:43pm

John – I think you are right about the inspections not being used as a source of information – witnesses seem to have admitted that failure by the inspections to turn up stuff simply fed into the mindset that Saddam was continuing with his track record of deception and concealment. There seems to be a general admission now that they did not step back and re-examine their assumptions to the extent that perhaps they should. Against this of course witnesses have also argued that Blix never said he was getting full, active co-operation (although he did start to talk about improved co-operation), and nothing short of full co-operation was ever likely to be able to shift the mindset and assumptions.

I often wonder whether the regime change/WMD dichotomy is over-played. Surely it was simply both all along. If it was just a nasty regime but we did not think it was any kind of proliferation threat, no one would have got so excited. And if it was just WMD, but was a more reasonable regime that engaged constructively with the international community and did not have a track record of aggressive action and deception, then other options short of force would clearly have been available. It was the combination of WMD with the nature of the regime that led people to believe he was an ongoing, strategic threat to “international peace and stability”, combined with the reduced tolerance of potential threats (espec. WMD programmes) following 9/11.

So – it must be a combination of both in terms of the argument for action over all. But the legal case had to rest on disarmament obligations from outstanding UN resolutions, which by itself was only one half of the logical (policy?) argument; hence some of the apparent inconsistencies in “what it was about”.

Andrew – I’m not qualified on the technical side but I like your points. The assessed capability does not sound all that dramatic. But presumably the argument was that – as of mid-March 2003 – this indicated lack of transparency, even in the circumstances of inspections backed by threat of overwhelming force. And without transparency, no one would feel confident that the threat had gone. In 1991 everyone had dramatically underestimated the true threat, and were mindful of Saddam’s prior ability to deceive. They erred the other way, did not re-examine assumptions, and were not prepared to take the risk that he might indeed have what they thought or even worse.

By John Bone

Submitted on 2010/01/25 at 6:01pm

My difficulty with the argument that the problem was the combination of WMD with the nature of the regime is that it implies that it is OK for some countries to have WMD and not others. While this may in practice be UK Government policy, it’s not something that they like to admit in public and is difficult to square with international agreements.

The oft-used phrase “Saddam gassed his own people” seems to be designed to avoid saying that Iraq also used chemical weapons against Iran, at a time when western policy was tilted towards Iraq. What the West was willing to tolerate in the early 1980s became a problem 10 years later, but really the West should not have been tolerating it in the first place. I wonder when we will really start worrying about the WMD of Israel, Pakistan and India.

By Mike Davies

Submitted on 2010/01/26 at 7:09pm

I see your point, John. However, even if we agreed that it was equally bad for countries to have WMD, we would still have to consider:

i) Which cases were more urgent to address. Here the consideration of the regime is relevant to assessing the scale of the security problem they may pose.

ii) Which cases can we do anything about? There are many countries where we have no practical or realistic option to address the WMD problem. But that does not mean that we should not attempt to address it where we can. And with Iraq, the track record of the regime (on usage and concealment) and the history of UN resolutions offered us more of a possibility of achieving disarmament than elsewhere.
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