Leading article: The revelation has been in the detail

Share
Related Topics

Tomorrow, the Chilcot inquiry into Britain's decision to go to war on Iraq will have sat for a whole year. It has been a suprisingly worthwhile exercise, bringing to full public view a depressing picture of the way the country was led to war against the advice and warnings of most of the experts and officials at the time. But the steady drip-drip of its evidence has served largely to confirm what many people suspected, rather than revealing anything startlingly new.

George Bush and Tony Blair were set on regime change in Iraq from very early on, before July 2002. Mr Blair misrepresented the nature of the claim that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. There was no proof of any links between al-Qa'ida and Saddam Hussein. The British Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, was "leaned on" to change his opinion on the legality of the invasion. The Cabinet was kept in the dark on many details.

There have been some interesting shifts of nuance: the former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, who had been portrayed as believing that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction, testified that, though his doubts grew, he still advised Mr Blair fairly late in the day that Saddam probably did still have them. There have been attempts at back-covering and personal apologia. There have been differences of interpretation: the former top general Sir Richard Dannatt yesterday claimed that the army was close to seizing up in 2006 when Mr Blair intervened again in Afghanistan while British troops were still in Iraq; by contrast, Mr Blair told the inquiry that the generals advised him that fighting in two theatres of war was tenable.

Sir John Chilcot's brief is to examine the way decisions were made and actions taken and identify lessons for the future rather than apportion "blame". Some of that will be fairly detailed, as with General Dannatt's suggestion yesterday that Britain should probably have embedded trainers with Iraqi security forces much earlier than it did. But though Chilcot will provide a lot of primary source material for historians, it is hard to now see that it casts new light on the most basic political question of whether the war was a good idea. It has just not uncovered a new smoking gun.

Some have suggested the inquiry team are at fault in that. Carne Ross, the UK's Iraq expert at the United Nations from 1997 to 2002, has claimed that the Chilcot team have been insufficiently rigorous in grilling those called to give testimony. It has repeatedly failed to challenge witnesses on contradictions between their testimony and the evidence of documents it has uncovered. Moreover, Mr Ross claimed that the Foreign Office has withheld key documents he needed to give proper evidence to the inquiry.

For all that, Chilcot has been a useful platform in which witnesses like Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former director-general of MI5, could contradict the oft-repeated New Labour nonsense that the war in Iraq did not render a generation of young British Muslim men more susceptible to radicalisation. Whether much use will be served by Sir John Chilcot's decision earlier this month to extend the time for submissions from international lawyers – on the legal justification for the 2003 invasion – is another matter. What we want from Chilcot is new facts, not more lawyers' opinions.

The lack of decisive new evidence now severely constrains Sir John's options. If his final report broadly absolves Tony Blair from the charges of deliberately misleading Parliament and undertaking an "illegal" war, it will be considered a whitewash. If it does not, there will be those who will dismiss it as a kangaroo court. Unless there are further witnesses with something substantively new to say, it is probably now time for the inquiry to be drawn to a conclusion.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Technical Project Manager - Software and Infrastructure - Government Experience

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Central Lon...

Head of Business Studies

Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Head of Business Studies needed for a ...

Teaching Assistant in secondary school Manchester

£11280 - £14400 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Teaching a...

Primary teaching roles in Ipswich

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education re...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A homeless person sleeps in the streets  

This is why I am sleeping rough outside the party conferences

Max J Freeman
Strikes were carried out by manned air force and navy aircraft (File photo)  

Syria air strikes: President Assad now has the enemy he always wanted – Islamist terrorism

Kim Sengupta
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits