Adrian Hamilton: Civil servants intent on evading all responsibility

Chilcot has heard a litany of excuses. Officials are out to blame others

Share
Related Topics

Whatever else the Chilcot inquiry does – and I still believe it won't be much – it will at least have served to remind people just what a disastrous exercise the whole invasion of Iraq was and how Tony Blair must carry the personal responsibility for it. In overall terms the evidence so far has changed little of the picture we already knew. But in testimony after testimony of the players involved it has filled out the picture of war that was fought on the flimsiest of excuses, conducted with the minimum of preparation and pursued in blithe disregard for its consequences.

Which is why, of course, Tony Blair is apparently so furious that Chilcot has rained on his parade just as he was hoping to become President of Europe. And it is why presumably he has chosen to come out and say in a BBC interview last Sunday what we had all suspected but never quite believed would come out in the open – that he was determined on regime change in Baghdad come what may and that, if he hadn't had weapons of mass destruction as a reason, he would have found another.

Again it's not new exactly. Tony Blair said right from the start that he believed the removal of Saddam Hussein an end devoutly to be wished, whether or not WMD were discovered. He said that much in a speech in Glasgow in February 2003 at the height of the demonstrations against it. But that is not exactly how he sold it to the Commons or the people, when WMD were used as not just the proximate reason for war but its urgent necessity.

How did he get away with it? Much has been made of the "revelations" of the procession of officials and generals who have appeared before the Chilcot Committee to explain that they were concerned that the evidence that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD was so thin, that they were worried that there was so little planning for the post-invasion period and that they were taken back at the extent to which the Prime Minister was going along with Washington's plans without exacting anything in return.

Indeed they may have been. But if they were that concerned there is precious little evidence that they did anything about it. Senior officials from the Foreign Office turned up before Chilcot to whine about how they were kept out of the loop of Blair's planning, with the implication that somehow it might all have been different if they had been brought in. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, our representative to the UN before the invasion and in Baghdad after, even declared that he was prepared to resign if another UN resolution went against us.

Prepared to resign? Anyone who has ever worked in an organisation knows that the threat of future resignation isn't worth the paper it isn't written on. As for the suggestion that all these figures were against the invasion at the time, all one can ask is: "What did you do about it then?" (Not that Chilcot's committee ventured to ask.)

Major General Tim Cross, who liaised with the US on reconstruction, declared that he urged the Prime Minister in a private conversation two days before the invasion to delay it until post-war plans were better prepared. Two days before, with the troops already assembled and on the move, and a senior officer honestly thought some mildly expressed concerns would stop the ball from rolling? What kind of soldiers are we promoting to generalship these days.

The answer is the same kind of men (for they are all men) that we've witnessed throughout these hearings, masters of bureaucratic temporising with an eagerness to please their political masters matched by an equal desire to evade responsibility if things go wrong.

In all the evidence before Chilcot not once did we get a diplomat who said that the Foreign Office had so downgraded its Middle Eastern expertise that it no longer understood Iraq let alone could advise on what to do there. There was not one admission by the intelligence services that their competence in Iraq was virtually nil, although they claimed more to please their political masters. Instead we got a litany of excuses and pretences in which nothing was anybody's direct responsibility, it was all the fault of No.10 or the Pentagon or the White House, everybody was at fault except the officials before Chilcot.

The invasion of Iraq was one of the most damaging acts of post-war British politics. The decision to go in, the total lack of preparation for the aftermath and the insouciance to its consequences, was down to one man and his relationship with a US President bent on reshaping the world in America's own image. But that Blair was able to proceed for the weakest of reasons is also down to a Commons that allowed him to roll over them and a bureaucracy too supine and self-regarding to stand up for what they say now they believed in then.

a.hamilton@independent.co.uk

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
‘Would Gary Lineker depart if his pay were halved, and would it affect the quality of MoTD?’  

BBC Me – no Archers, and no Fiona Bruce

DJ Taylor
Feeling the heat: David Cameron last week in Lanzarote  

The parable of the PM and the jellyfish

Joan Smith
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit