I was hoping not to write about the Chilcot report again until it is published, on 6 July. Not least because I don’t know what is in it. But duty calls. Tim Shipman’s report, with which The Sunday Times led its front page, is actually a careful and well-sourced summary of what to expect, but it has triggered the usual regurgitation of ever more ill-informed and offensive ways of saying, “I didn’t agree with the war”.
Most notably from a spokesperson for Jeremy Corbyn, who confirmed that the Labour leader stood by his reply last year to the question, should Tony Blair be charged with war crimes, which was: “If he’s committed a war crime, yes. Everyone who’s committed a war crime should be.” Note the weasel “if”, which turns the insinuation into a statement with which, formally, no one could disagree.
The one thing that is clear, even if it wasn’t in Chilcot’s remit, is that the decision to join the US military action in Iraq was lawful. The short proof is that no legal action has even been started in 13 years. To use a term such as “war crime” about a leader of your party is wild, ignorant and illogical. If you believed that Blair was a war criminal, how on earth could you have remained a member of the Labour Party?
So what did The Sunday Times say? For those without a Times subscription, Shipman’s version of his story for the free Red Box email (which I recommend), is here. The first paragraph said:
Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Sir Richard Dearlove will face serious “damage to their reputations” from the Chilcot report into the Iraq War, which has delivered an “absolutely brutal” verdict on the mismanagement of the occupation.
The idea that Blair could suffer any further damage to his reputation is an alarming and frankly implausible idea, given the vitriol by which his critics discredit themselves already. But the important bit is not the “absolutely brutal”, a phrase which rings the Pavlov bell for the haters, but “the mismanagement of the occupation”.
The significance of the story is that most of the Chilcot report is devoted to what happened after the invasion of Iraq. “The section on the occupation will be longer than that on the build-up to it – even though that is where public attention is expected to focus,” Shipman reports.
No one disagrees that the planning for the aftermath of the invasion, mostly the Americans’ responsibility, was misconceived, and that the management of it, a joint responsibility, was disastrous. It will be interesting to see what the Iraq Inquiry report has to say about it.
The part of The Sunday Times report that puzzled me, however, was this:
A senior source who has discussed the report with two of its authors has revealed that Blair “won’t be let off the hook” over claims that he offered British military support to the American president at the time, George W Bush, a year before the 2003 invasion.
This looks like the old signed-in-blood nonsense, based on the fallacy that Blair could have committed the UK to military action in advance of a decision by the Cabinet and a vote in the House of Commons. It was not a secret that Blair supported Bush in confronting Saddam Hussein, by force if necessary. But Blair persuaded the President to take his case to the UN, where he secured a unanimous vote to offer Saddam a “final opportunity” to comply with previous UN resolutions. Again, it will be interesting to see what not being let off the hook means.
The one thing that should be no surprise whatsoever, though, is that Chilcot is not going to find that Blair “took us to war on a lie”, (a) because he didn’t and (b) because Shipman’s sources might have mentioned that bit if it were in there.
Even Tom Bower, author of the hostile, one-sided and selective Broken Vows, doesn’t think that Blair lied about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction (on BBC Daily Politics, 10 March 2016).
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