Blair and the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry

December 20, 2009     
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When the British government went to war in Iraq in 2003, was the intelligence supporting the war “fixed” ahead of time? Were weapons of mass destruction really considered the central threat? With former British Prime Minister Blair having taken the UK to war five times in six years, the question of why he entered into war so consistently is worthy of discussion. Mr Blair will appear in front of the Chicot Iraq Inquiry early in 2010 to explain his actions on the war.

The Chilcot Iraq Inquiry is intended to examine the role of the British government in the Iraq War from 2001 to 2009. However, appearances to date suggest that it will not address many of the truly contentious issues, such as the relationship between US President George W. Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Several things are clear. The intelligence that led to the war had been politicized. Sir Richard Dearlove, the then head of the British Secret Service (known popularly as MI-6) warned the government of the UK in the summer of 2002 that the “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” Many other voices were giving the same message, but they were ignored.

Additionally, it is quite certain that the weapons of mass destruction issue was a “red herring.” Paul Wolfowitz, one of the most influential neocons, stated it clearly in 2003 that WMD were not an agreed upon central issue. In a May 2003 interview he stated “The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the US government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason.” This clearly indicates that the man who wrote the now infamous “Wolfowitz Memo” in 1992, which advocated aggressive US military action in the Gulf, knew that the WMD issue consensus was reached for political rather than military or security reasons.

And what of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein? Was his removal really a key reason for the 2003 invasion of Iraq? Again, the answer is no. In a September 2000 report, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) report called for American forces to be installed in Iraq, regardless of whether or not Saddam Hussein was still in power. The PNAC was staffed by many of the most important figures of the Bush Administration that came to power in early 2001. Among noted PNAC affiliates were VP Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld, Lewis ‘Scooter” Libby, Richard Perle, Dov Zokheim, Ambassador John Bolton, and Paul Wolfowitz.

If the intelligence was knowingly fixed, the WMD issue was not a consensus and Saddam Hussein’s removal was merely a distraction, then the question has to arise as to why the British Primes Minister Tony Blair was so determined to enter into this ill fated American enterprise of invading Iraq. What drove Blair to do this in the face of such opposition from his own staff and intelligence community?

As noted above, Prime Minister Blair took the UK to war five times in six years, a statistic that would be impressive even in the days of British Imperialism. This in spite of the fact that he led the Labour Party and not the presumably more war like Conservative Party. Prime Minister Blair’s determination to fight these wars was deeply rooted in moral and religious beliefs. One of the most understudied aspects of Blair’s life, at least of the time of the invasion, was his strongly held evangelical Christian beliefs and his war-like attitude.

In April 2002, Bush and Blair met at the President’s private ranch in Crawford, Texas. According to many observers, including the UK Ambassador to the US at that time, it was at this meeting where the decision to invade Iraq was made. Prior to the meeting, Prime Minister Blair had been careful to avoid committing the UK to any military course of action in Iraq. However, the very next day after the secret summit, PM Blair began to speak of “regime change” in Iraq.

US President George Bush has openly stated he is a “born again” Christian and that God helps shape his decisions. According to former French President Chirac, Bush called him before the Iraq War and asked for the French military to assist in the invasion. According to Chirac, Bush stated that he was on a “mission from God” and that Gog and Magog (agents of the apocalypse) had to be defeated in the Middle East. This public account from Chirac does not differ widely from accounts provided by other political leaders who have met with President Bush and heard his views on his relationship with God.

As for Prime Minister Blair, he describes himself as an individual who took an interest in politics and religion at the same time. His public views on how God affects his decision making are less strident than those of President Bush. When asked in 2006 about his decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003, he responded that the ultimate judgement about his war decisions would be made by God. “If you believe in God (the judgement) is made by God.”

According to its own terms of reference, the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry is intended to “examine the United Kingdom’s involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish as accurately and reliably as possible what happened, and to identify lessons that can be learned.” Given the rather tepid questioning of witnesses to date, it appears unlikely that the Inquiry will seriously question Mr Blair about how he came to make his decisions. This is unfortunate, as thousands of lives have been lost and the total cost of the war make excedd one trillion dollars for just the US alone. And we will be none the wiser after the Chilcot Inquiry as to why the war war really started.

The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not reflect the views of Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.

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