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Jul 6, 2016

The Guardian | Opinion | Iraq War Inquiry - July 6, 2016: "Tony Blair's Epitaph Was Engraved Today" Verdicts on the Chilcot Report

theguardian.com

Anne Perkins


Giles Fraser: ‘With you, whatever’ should be chiselled on Blair’s grave

Giles Fraser
Inside the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Sir John Chilcot was picking apart every aspect of Tony Blair’s case for the invasion of Iraq. It was remarkable to hear the war so thoroughly condemned in the measured tones of the British establishment. And Chilcot confirmed what most people already knew – that Blair decided to follow Bush back at the Crawford ranch in 2002 and then worked on the rationale in a stunning exercise of reverse engineering. Morality and law were all retro-fitted to the Blair need to be alongside Bush looking strong and purposive. “With you, whatever” as Blair wrote to Bush in a memo, like some star-struck lover. It should be chiselled on his grave.
Outside, the bells of Westminster Abbey competed with the shouts of the protesters. Some of us had been asked to read out a list of the names of those who had died. My list contained the names of some of the Red Caps lynched by an insurgent crowd in southern Iraq in June 2003. Woefully under-equipped and unable to hold back the tide of anger, they were swamped by a mob out for revenge. I read the names slowly: Sergeant Simon Hamilton-Jewell, Corporal Russell Aston, Corporal Paul Long, Corporal Simon Miller, Lance Corporal Benjamin Hyde. I stood down from the podium and another took my place, reading name after name, British solders and Iraqis alike. And on a day of high politics, I was glad to stay at the level of the specific. Grief is specific.
It was all done “in good faith”, said Blair in response. I’m not really sure he should be making a faith reference today. The Chilcot report is three times the length of the Bible. And who knows yet whether the former provides the grounds to indict Blair with war crimes. But the Bible surely does. Here’s the executive summary: there is no immunity from prosecution, even when you’re dead.

Polly Toynbee: As mistrust worsens by the year, Tony Blair is its emblem

Polly Toynbee
Forensic and deadly, Chilcot’s judgments fall like tombstones. Every miserable deceit and failure of the Iraq war is stripped bare on how this never-ending conflagration was unleashed on the Middle East.
Worst blunder since Suez? Far, far worse. George W Bush and Tony Blair were intoxicated by self-belief, with fantastical visions of “lighting a beacon of democracy” as they doused the region in petrol and set it alight. And Blair still denied today that his Iraq escapade set off this region-wide eruption.
Never again, say all such inquiries, but there never is a replica. Next time the place, purpose, allies and enemies will be different. President Putin? Some of us condemned the Falklands adventure as an outrageous risk: like Blair, Thatcher disregarded most military advice, warships heading across the world despite dire warnings. She was lucky. Blair was lucky – and right – in the small Kosovo and Sierra Leone rescues that emboldened his military arrogance: interventions can do good.
At home Iraq ruptured trust between people and politicians. As mistrust worsens by the year, Tony Blair is its emblem. War criminal? In my view courts should stay out of most democratic politics, prosecuting politicians only for personal venality. The people are their judges – and they judge Blair with utmost severity.
He could have apologised and tried to atone long ago, devoting his life to reparation instead of earning fortunes from bloody dictators. How oddly reckless he has been with his own reputation. But his post-power behaviour has done more than self-harm. It’s not just his own legacy he has trashed: he has dragged down the Labour party with him. He has ruined the memory of all the considerable good the Blair/Brown Labour government did. The least he could do now is to bow out of all public pronouncements, as his every intervention twists the knife in Labour’s current paroxysms.
Jeremy Corbyn’s I-told-you-so no doubt set the majority of MPs behind him grinding their teeth, just as Tory MPs will have bristled at anti-war Ken Clarke’s call for collective cabinet government. One lesson Chilcot hammered home – we should never again have unchallenged obedience to a leader. But that’s all a sideshow in the great global Iraq war reverberations.

Mary Dejevsky: Inflated ideas about the UK’s clout did not stop with Blair

Mary Dejevsky
So now we have the evidence. Tony Blair joined George W Bush in his plan to overthrow Saddam Hussein a good eight months before the prospect was put to the UK parliament, and claims that the intelligence was made to fit around the plan, rather than vice versa, turn out – scandalously – to be close to the truth. Behind this collaboration, however, lay something else, which also emerges as a theme of Chilcot’s report: an inflated sense of the UK’s power and influence, which did not stop with Blair.
According to Chilcot, Blair overestimated the extent to which he could influence the US president. His sole achievement, it would appear, was persuading him – even as the “day-after scenario” was falling apart – that UN authorisation should be sought for post-invasion operations. This is all. But inflated ideas about the UK’s clout infected officialdom pretty much across the board.
The military gravely overestimated its ability to run two major military interventions simultaneously, and found itself in circumstances that Chilcot described as “humiliating” – negotiating with the very militias it was supposed to be fighting – when it was responsible for the occupation in Iraq’s south-east. The UK, whether Downing Street or the Foreign Office, overestimated the UK’s persuasive powers at the UN, ultimately “undermining” the authority of the UN security council, by accusing the majority of being in the wrong, when the very opposite was true. The scale of the supposed threat from Iraq was vastly overestimated by the intelligence services, and inflated again by Blair in his foreword to the infamous dossier. There was an “ingrained belief” that should have been challenged.
What emerges is the UK establishment’s view of itself and its reach as extending further and carrying more international weight, especially with the US, than it actually did – or does.
In so bullishly defending the decision to intervene in Libya and the judgments, in other matters, of the intelligence services, David Cameron suggested that there are still elements of the political establishment that fail to understand the limits on UK power in the 21st century. On Iraq, at least, Jeremy Corbyn’s judgment – as articulated in the Commons – was both humbler and more realistic.

Anne Perkins: Tony Blair broke politics

Anne Perkins
“My son died in vain.” Reg Keys’s sombre reaction gave Sir John Chilcot’s long, cool appraisal of the Iraq tragedy a raw and sombre reality. It was a jolting reminder of the human consequences, shared by hundreds of British families, thousands of Americans, and millions of Iraqis, of the terrible misjudgment that Tony Blair made when he took Britain to war in 2003.
Chilcot has stripped away the space for prevarication or obfuscation. He has stopped the foxholes where the politicians, the security services or the – so far unnamed – military chiefs who failed to halt Blair might hide. There is, or there should be, shame for the former prime minister, who drove through a policy that was entirely without proper justification, reliant on his own overweening self-belief.

But we knew this already. So now what? Well, maybe legal action, say the families, if the evidence is there when the report’s 2.6m words have been digested. Reforms to government process, says the ex-mandarin Chilcot, to ensure better decision-making. Never again, they all agree.
This is what isn’t said by Chilcot:
Tony Blair broke politics. He was a politician with a self-belief that went far beyond the normal confidence and determination of a successful politician. It was allied with an extraordinary capacity to charm and persuade.
Thus armed, he ripped up the fragile bonds of custom and practice that stand in for checks and balances in the arrangements by which Britain is governed.
In his urgent need to fulfil his own personal convictions, he accelerated the destruction that Margaret Thatcher began of the unspoken contract between people and politicians that depends on politicians never taking the permission of the voters for granted. He ignored the march by a million protesters and, shored up by Tory votes, ignored the 139 Labour rebels, the 53 Lib Dems and the small band of Conservatives.
All those who might have stopped him, but didn’t, share responsibility, as Margaret Beckett, one of his cabinet ministers, acknowledged.
David Cameron, who has done nothing to try to restore that relationship between voter and voted for, was right about one thing today: military intervention is occasionally necessary and planning is never good enough. But that makes it all the more important to be sure that you do it right.


Rafael Behr: The wrong war, the wrong reason, the wrong plan

Rafael Behr
Ponderous understatement that manages to do more violence than any hyperbole is the special stylistic gift of authors of inquiry reports. It is that laconic judicial caution that Sir John Chilcot deployed to annihilate any residual doubt that the decision to take Britain to war in Iraq in 2003 was a calamitous failure and a monstrous mistake.
“We do not agree that hindsight is required,” said Chilcot at the launch. In that short, seemingly anodyne sentence is encapsulated more than two million words of blame. It says that all the evidence required by Tony Blair to understand that Britain’s interests were not served by joining a rash US enterprise for regime change in Iraq was available from the start. The intelligence could be interpreted to show that Saddam Hussein had WMD and was ready to use them, but the opposite interpretation was not “properly identified or examined” (that soft-spoken stiletto jab, again).
In his parliamentary response to the report, Jeremy Corbyn was right to praise the late Robin Cook, who saw things more clearly and resigned from Blair’s government to express what Chilcot confirms to be the truth. His posthumous vindication is complete.
The nominal objective of the report is to set out lessons to be learned, of which there will be thousands, many of which were obvious long ago. David Cameron pre-emptively cautioned against a reaction that turns anger at one foreign policy calamity into an ideological tilt towards isolationism and anti-Americanism – a sensible caveat that is sure to be lost in the coming days.
It felt at times that Cameron was summarising Chilcot with half an eye on his own legacy and with a sympathetic ear to Blair’s tired self-exculpation – the claim to have acted in good faith; not to have wilfully deceived the nation. But just as Cameron’s epitaph was written overnight on 23 June – the man who lost Europe by mistake – so was Blair’s engraved today: the man who took Britain into the wrong war, for the wrong reason, with the wrong plan.