In twenty short but utterly devastating minutes Sir John Chilcot laid bare the errors of judgement, the errors of policy and errors of implementation that led to what I am now content to say was Britain’s biggest foreign policy misjudgement since Suez.
At the time, I believed in it. I supported the invasion of Iraq. Like many others, I was duped. I was duped because I chose to believe my Prime Minister when he said that he had access to intelligence that I did not. I believe his assessment of that intelligence. Call me a fool if you like, but if we have reached a stage in our public discourse when I, as a citizen of this country, can’t believe the word of our prime minister on matters of intelligence, then we have reached a pretty pass.
Sir John tells us that Tony Blair told George Bush 8 months before the invasion that he would be with him “whatever”. That one small word is a word which a responsible British prime minister would never utter. I am a strong supporter of the transatlantic alliance but the only way a politician utters such a word is when he is a supplicant.
Staying close to a US president to influence him is maybe a good thing. But when that influence translates into supplicancy it leads to the kind of report we have heard today. We also learnt that the UK government went to war without exploring all peaceful means for resolving the conflict. Perhaps Margaret Thatcher could have been accused of that in the Falklands, but that was a war protecting the interests of British people. Was this? Not when we are told that Mr Blair was warned about the terrorist consequences of military action.
Chilcot maintains that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed assessments of intelligence – the intelligence services weren’t challenged and they should have been. Members of the cabinet did not even question Blair, according to Sir John Chilcot. What kind of supplicant cabinet did we have if they didn’t even question the intelligence of Blair’s conclusions? Sir John accuses Blair of claiming Saddam Hussein had WMD with a certainty that was not justified. That’s the closes he came to accusing Blair of lying.
No one can accuse Sir John Chilcot’s report of being a whitewash. No one can say it’s an establishment stitch up. It is neither of these things. It is a devastating analysis of the failure of the entire British government system and British foreign policy. And I say this only knowing the main conclusions it draws. I say this without having read the executive summary let alone the full 2.6 million words. Those responsible for these failures – and I am talking primarily about Tony Blair and Jack Straw – need to acknowledge their failures and give sincere apologies for their actions. Perhaps then the families of the 179 servicemen and women who died can find it in themselves, maybe not to forgive them, but to have a better understanding of why the politicians acted in the way that they did.