Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Chilcot Inquiry

16 December 2009 
The UK’s ongoing Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war has very broad terms of reference: to examine the UK’s involvement in Iraq both during the run up to the conflict and the military action and its aftermath – how decisions were made and actions taken over the period from the summer of 2001 to July 2009. 

We may find out why Mr. Blair did not follow Harold Wilson’s precedent over Vietnam and refuse British involvement in Iraq. But this is an inquiry by UK "Mandarins" - the cream of the UK's bureaucracy. So there is much concern that two vital questions will be dodged :- what were the real reasons for the invasion? And why did both US presidential democracy and UK parliamentary democracy fail so spectacularly by voting for war without considering the consequences? Answers are essential if, as is claimed, the purpose of Chilcot is to draw lessons for the future.

How was it that UK and US elected representatives in Parliament and Congress – Labour and Conservative, Republican and Democrat – came to authorise the war (House of Commons, 18 March 2003, 412-149, House of Representatives 10 October 2002, 296-133, Senate next day 77-23). How did such overwhelming majorities ignore the equally overwhelming non-secret evidence of the unacceptably severe worldwide repercussions almost certain to follow an invasion not approved by the UN Security Council?

Yet there were several top “establishment” figures, on both right and left, warning against an “unapproved” invasion. To cite just three: Brent Scowcroft, widely respected Republican top security guru, warned on 4 August 2002 that an invasion “could turn the whole region into a cauldron and thus destroy the ‘war on terrorism’”,.and Robin Cook, former British Labour Foreign Secretary, in his resignation speech on 17 March 2003, stressed the dire consequences for the West of losing the extraordinary worldwide backing the US had achieved after “9/11”. Veteran Senator Byrd’s even more forceful and prescient speeches of 12 February 2003 and 19 March 2003 set out the principal reasons against giving war powers to President G.W. Bush. How was it that these and many other distinguished voices went all but unheard by major media and by elected representatives in the UK and the US?

We are not talking rocket science – just a basic knowledge of foreign affairs and a dose of common sense! My own piece in The Independent on 10 September 2002, six months before the invasion, merely voiced what many well qualified observers had warned several more months earlier – that 9/11 was clearly designed to provoke a unilateral disproportionate and ill-directed response from the United States to destabilise the Middle East, provoke a clash of civilisations, and create worldwide economic and political havoc to Al Qaeda’s advantage; President G. W. Bush’s occupation of Afghanistan had won all but unanimous support worldwide, and 9/11 had not succeeded - but an invasion of Iraq could well prove exactly what Al Qaeda had sought to trigger.  

In 2002 any elected representative could have done as Senator Byrd did and gather their own cogent reasons for opposing an Iraq war. Among those circulating at the time:-
1. It would be folly to start a pre-emptive war in Iraq while Afghanistan was still unfinished business. It would inevitably lose to Iraq top priority for troops and reconstruction – so putting in jeopardy success in Afghanistan.

2.  An invasion would much help Al Qaeda in stirring up anti-Western and anti-Israeli bitterness when what was needed was to undercut Al Qaeda’s appeal with a major effort to cure the running sore of Israel/Palestine - never had the chances of success been greater.

3.  An invasion not approved by the UN Security Council would split the West and gravely weaken NATO given French and German opposition.

4.  A weakened UN would inhibit the emergence after the Cold War of a new     era of cooperation indispensable for confronting, not only terrorism, but other great issues from genocide to existential challenges, like climate change.  

5.  Occupying a second Muslim country would greatly assist Al Qaeda in provoking the“clash of civilisations” it needed to expand terrorism from Pakistan to Morocco and within the Western countries themselves.

6.  Putting US forces in Iraq to its west as well as in Afghanistan to its east would surely end Iran’s tentative co-operation in 2002 over the removal of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The reformists would lose out to the hard-liners. And Iran would use all means to exert maximum influence not just in Iraq but in the whole region.

7.  Because Iraq is fissiparous – replete with ethnic and religious divides -. serious civil disturbance must be anticipated unless Saddam Hussein were immediately replaced by a firm interim governor. But the projected troop levels would be too low to cope. Even more ominously, Britain was known to have complained to the US of a lack of planning for the occupation and eventual withdrawal.            

8.  Saddam Hussein’s fascist style secular government was doing the West’s work – preventing Al Qaeda from getting a foothold in Iraq. So Iraq could wait at least while the French plan for beefed up inspections ran its course.

9.  Independent experts were agreed that Iraq was far from obtaining nuclear weapons and had no means of effective delivery abroad of chemical or biological weapons. Invading Iraq would impede the urgent international effort required to deal with North Korea’s then imminent nuclear weapons capability, thus dissuading others, such as Iran, from proliferating. 

And what we most need the truth about:- 

10. There was compelling circumstantial evidence that Vice President Cheney and his fellow neo-conservatives in top positions in the Bush administration saw the occupation of Iraq as the key to clinching US dominance in a uni-polar world – so ensuring success for their much publicised Project for New American Century. A dazzling prospect for the G. W. Bush presidency, but one doomed to failure because so obviously based on ignorance of the realities of the Middle East and so heedless of the determined opposition to US global hegemony of Russia, China and even of some allies.

With such compelling arguments around - what prevented a cross-party refusal to follow Bush and Blair? Party loyalty on such a crucial issue should not have choked debate in the UK parliament just because the party leaders, Mr. Blair and Mr. Duncan Smith, were pro-war. Or do backbench MPs and members of Congress no longer perceive themselves as watchdogs for their constituents and their country? Were many simply beguiled by the intelligence that was so obviously being manipulated?  How many naive humanitarians voted primarily to end a cruel tyranny? How many mistakenly believed Iraq would be a cake-walk? How many failed to seek independent advice on foreign affairs? How many – particularly in Congress but also some UK MPs – were influenced by electoral considerations?

While the UK and the US commend the virtues of democracy to the world we need to ask with Senator Byrd at that fateful Senate Debate why was the Senate – and equally the UK Parliament – “silent - ominously, dreadfully silent”. Why was there “no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out to the nation the pros and cons of this particular war“? This is all the more extraordinary when the British people, usually so un-demonstrative - were manifesting widespread opposition to the proposed invasion (e.g. the “March of the Million” through London) and polls suggested that a majority of Americans did not want an invasion without the British.

This grave failure of democracy in both the UK and the US must be explained and the facts faced if the political and media “establishments” of both countries are to make the fundamental readjustments needed to move on from the G. W. Bush era of confrontation and its dire worldwide consequences, into a long overdue era of international cooperation made possible by the end of the Cold War.

To claim “we were tricked into war” is no excuse, rather it is an admission of culpable negligence if pleaded by our elected representatives. And to try to hide the full reasons for the invasion - especially the ill-conceived attempt to clinch US global hegemony via Iraq - will leave the unattainable dream of a uni-polar world alive for the far right and the neo-cons to brandish in an effort to wreck the Obama administration's efforts to bring in a new era of international cooperation after the self-destructive years of G.W. Bush confrontation. 

Can Chilcot - an Inquiry by those closest to the UK government apparatus, and the US/UK media - so tainted by majority support for the invasion - now bring themselves to face the truth about Iraq and give it to the British and American people? Or will the lessons of "Iraq" never be learned?                                                                                                          

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