It took a long time, but the report on Britain’s involvement in the planning and execution of the Iraq War was finally published on July 6th. It paints a damning picture of the role of former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Labour Party cabinet.
The Chilcot Report, as it is being called in the media, is the product of years of investigation, testimony and deliberations by a special commission, the Iraq Inquiry, composed of privy counsellors. In Britain’s quaint and archaic way of doing certain things, privy counsellors are supposed to be trusted advisors of the monarch.
The five members of the inquiry could hardly have been more “establishment.” There is not a labor union leader or radical intellectual among them, and at least one had been a supporter of the U.S.-British invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The head of the inquiry is Sir John Chilcot, a career civil servant. The inquiry was also advised by a retired top army general (Sir Roger Wheeler) and a former president of the International Court of Justice (Dame Rossalyn Higgins).
The witnesses called to testify were also an establishment lot, mostly military officers and civil servants.
The inquiry was set up in 2009 and the hearing of testimony finished three years later, but the publication of its results has been delayed until now for more or less obviously political reasons.
Under these circumstances, one might think that the result would be a whitewash. But even though the huge report does not specifically affix blame for the Iraq disaster or call for punishment of Tony Blair, former Foreign Minister Jack Straw and the other British officials who connived with U.S. President George Bush in going into Iraq, it is a damning report. It is embarrassing for Blair and the right wing of his Labour Party and for the British ruling class, as it should be also for former Pres. Bush and all the U.S. politicians and civil and military leaders who brought about the Iraq War and the massive destabilization and bloody conflict that ensued.
It is clear from what has been published so far (the report is 2.6 million words long) that Blair’s characterization by British cartoonists at the time as George Bush’s “pet poodle” was well justified. The plotting between Bush and Blair started by the summer of 2002, with Blair getting on board the war train in July of that year at the latest.
The only concern that Blair showed about Bush’s push toward war had to do with appearances. Blair showed contempt for leaders in Europe who opposed the war policy, saying that such people were acting “stupidly.” Blair clearly saw a policy of intervention and regime change as completely justified, not because of Saddam Hussein’s beastly behavior toward his own people, but because the Anglo-Saxon countries know best and have the right to do these things. But Blair did suggest mollifying world public opinion by action on the Middle East peace process and other issues. Bush paid no more attention to this than he would have to the yapping of a poodle.
Weapons of mass destruction were the pretext and not the reason for attacking Iraq, as Bush and Blair both knew perfectly well. The Chilcot Report shows that the British cabinet knew that diplomatic measures had not been exhausted, that resorting to arms had a big downside and that at any rate, the existence of weapons of mass destruction had not been demonstrated: At most Iraq had the capacity to create such weapons, which could be said of any country with a modern scientific and industrial setup. Under those circumstances, Blair’s claim that Saddam could attack the West with such weapons on short notice was an outright lie. And of course, once the U.S. and Britain invaded and took over Iraq, no such weapons were ever found.
Bush and Blair cynically used and undermined the United Nations by claiming to act on the basis of U.N. resolutions concerning the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, when in fact there was no evidence of such weapons, and, moreover, the U.N. had not voted to authorize the invasion.
But none of this stuff is exactly new. Years ago, British documents had been leaked which clearly indicated that Blair’s government was complicit with the Bush administration in faking a pretext for invading Iraq.
The “Downing Street Memo” of July 23, 2002, dated right when Blair was committing his country to the Iraq War, contained the memorable phrase by a British official: “But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” In other words, the British government knew perfectly well that the Bush administration was determined to invade Iraq and the “reasons” to be given – terrorism and weapons of mass destruction – were really only pretexts. Other memos showed that the Bush-Blair team were cynically dismissive of any U.N. role in the decision to intervene in Iraq.
In light of these findings, it is quite strange that Blair was, after leaving Number 10 Downing Street, appointed as “Special Middle East Envoy” for the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia. Less pleasing to Blair, no doubt, were demands by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others that he stand trial for war crimes in Iraq.
Upon the release of the Chilcot Report, Blair was “apologetic” but said he still thought it was good that Saddam had been removed from power.
This will not be the end of the matter, however. The Chilcot Report shows that the Bush-Blair team tried to pooh-pooh the issue of civilian and military casualties of the war, but this topic is not going to go away. Among British, U.S. and allied casualties, and casualties of Iraqi civilians and military, some estimates go as high as one million deaths, to which one must add the deaths caused by the sanctions imposed on Iraq before the war even started. And the destabilization of Iraq caused by the intervention has created a level of instability that involves continued massive violence, plus the rise of terrorist groups whose actions have now spread far beyond Iraq’s borders.
For Britain’s Labour Party, now in opposition, the Chilcot Report comes at a moment when the right wing of the party, i.e., Tony Blair’s faction, and Blair himself, have been pushing to oust leftist party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who had opposed the Iraq War from the start and has said that Blair should be investigated for war crimes. Whether the efforts to oust Corbyn will now fail because of the Chilcot revelations is yet to be seen.