Saturday, 30 January 2010

Chilcott misses Blair's two big lies

There is a very good precis of Tony Blair's evidence yesterday to the Chilcott Inquiry on the Iraq War from Paul Reynolds at the BBC. It points out succinctly the two lies told to the British people by Blair and, by association, Gordon Brown:

Lie 1: that Iraq in 2003 had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The UN weapons inspectors were quite clear that there was no evidence before the war and none were found after the war. Yes, Saddam made the inspectors' life difficult and gave them the runaround, but this was just standard awkward behaviour. The professional opinion was that his WMD capacity was destroyed in the Gulf War in 1991. He therefore posed no threat (in this respect) to his neighbours or his own people by 2003. There is also the outstanding question of who gave him the WMD capacity in the first place... the US and UK, perhaps?

Lie 2: that Iraq, Saddam and Al Qaeda were linked. There was never any evidence that Al Qaeda operated in any meaningful way in Iraq prior to the war. It is a rather ludricrous proposition given the extreme religious motivation for Al Qaeda and the rather secular form of Islam found in Iraq, as well as Saddam's intolerent attitude to dissidents of all flavours. I don't believe there has ever been any suggestion that Osama bin Laden was in Iraq prior to 2003. This was classic bogeyman stuff - "Osama is a bad man and a Muslim, Saddam is a bad man and a Muslim, so all these Muslims must be in cahoots and so it's ok to invade Muslim countries, right?" It all smacks a little too much of the Crusades for my liking.

Like Reynolds, I don't understand how Blair escaped being pushed futher on these points. He seems to have been allowed to portray himself as some sort of righteous champion, saving people's lives, beating up bad guys and making us safer. But 9:11, dreadful as it was (and nothing to do with Saddam or Iraq), claimed 3,000 lives. The Iraq War and its aftermath has claimed over 100,000 lives. How is that noble?

The Iraq War did nothing to make the UK safer either. Race relations have suffered, taking extreme form with the 7:7 bombings, which I firmly believe would not have happened if the UK had not been involved in the war. Furthermore, there is no doubt that Al Qaeda now operate in Iraq, taking advantage of the political instability, anger and loss that the war caused.

Blair and Brown's war killed more people than Al Qaeda have in total and made both Iraq and UK much less safe than they were. The increased risk of terrorism, which was relatively low prior to 2003, has also been used as a premise to restrict civil liberties and introduce some of the most draconian laws ever seen in this country.

So why did Blair get let off on his two big lies?


The Bristol Blogger said...

As someone who watched the whole Blair testimony I don't think Reynold's precis is that good.

In 2003 UN weapons inspectors were never "quite clear that there was no evidence [of WMD] before the war".

Where did you get this from?

The reverse is true. It was a complex and evolving situation - never cut and dried as you claim.

The Inquiry covered Blair's dealings with Hans Blix - and the difficulties and complexities Blix faced in doing his job - in some detail

I personally found this to be some of the most interesting testimony Blair gave.

Besides, if there was no evidence of WMD before the war, can you point me to the Lib Dem speeches and articles in 2002-03 telling us this?

My memory is that the Lib Dems opposed the war on legal grounds over Resolution 1441 not because Saddam didn't have a WMD programme.

Feel free to correct me on this point.

As for Saddam's "standard awkward behaviour", we're not talking about the Bristol Labour Group at full council here Neil.

We're talking about a psychopathic dictator who's alleged to have killed a million of his own population and did for another million when he started the Iran-Iraq war, the terms "standard" and "awkward" are ridiculous in this context, there's nothing "standard" about trying to assess the risk someone like this poses.

"He therefore posed no threat (in this respect [of WMD]) to his neighbours or his own people by 2003."

The 2004 Iraq Survey Report found that Saddam maintained 1,000 weapons scientists on his payroll and maintained both the capability and the intent to produce and use WMD. That's not "no threat", where did you get this claim from?

"That Iraq, Saddam and Al Qaeda were linked"

Blair never made this claim at Chilcot. He openly admitted that Saddam posed no more threat before 9/11 than after.

What he said changed was the "calculus of risk" post-9/11. That is, the kind of containment policies we were using toward Iran/Iraq/Libya/N. Korea/Afghanistan etc. were probably not sustainable going into the long term.

The rest of your post on this subject is in fact the "bogeyman" stuff. Crusades FFS?

Neil Harrison said...

I'm afraid these are just standard Blair-apologist lines.

- On the lack of evidence for WMDs before the war, see Hans Blix's book, Disarming Iraq. Lots of rumours of potential weapons programmes, but no hard evidence, which he repeatedly said at the time. I was deliberate in what I said: no evidence of WMDs, not evidence for no WMDs. The 45 minute claim apparently came from a taxi driver! Blix was also very critical of the UK's use of his work in the famous 'dodgy dossier' :

(from February 2004)

- On the Lib Dem position prior to the war, which was "no war without evidence of WMDs and current threat" :

(from September 2002)

- The "standard awkward behaviour" I was referring to was his willful obstruction of the weapons inspectors. I have no doubts about the evil of Saddam's regime, but there are plenty of others we haven't invaded. Like North Korea, where millions are estimated to have been killed through institutionalised starvation and oppression.

- On weapons scientists, the UK has far far more than this! I've never defended Saddam's regime, but your can't go around invading sovereign states because they are researching weapon technology. That is regime change and that isn't within international law. The ISR also says no evidence of deployable weapons systems were ever found despite years of the US military being there poking around.

- On Al Qaeda links, the line that somehow the the risk posed by the Axis of Evil because of an attack by a fundamentalist terror group that was hostile to most of those states is completely specious.

Clare Short MP thinks so too, speaking today : "His great big argument that, after 11 September and the attack on the twin towers, there was a danger that rogue states would give weapons of mass destructions to organisations like al-Qaeda, and that's the reason for going to Iraq - he never argued at the time. And it is ludicrous. There was no link of any kind... between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. So there was no such threat."

A more plausible threat would be from rogue elements in places like Pakistan where the religious politics are more in tune with Al Qaeda than what they would see as debased Muslim states like Iraq or Libya.

The Bristol Blogger said...

Blix has always said that he thought Saddam had WMD in 2002-03.

Our man Kelly writing in March 2003 was hardly "quite clear that there was no evidence [of WMD] before the war"

The Lib Dem position you link to makes no mention of "no evidence of WMD". Campbell is talking about "imminent threat".

If what you mean to say is "there was no evidence of an imminent threat from WMDs in 2003" then say that. That is substantially different to claiming "there was no evidence of WMD" at all, which is not the case.

To claim that it was "a lie" to say that Iraq had WMD in 2003 is an untenable position. Everybody believed they did.

"- On Al Qaeda links, the line that somehow the the risk posed by the Axis of Evil because of an attack by a fundamentalist terror group that was hostile to most of those states is completely specious."

Yes it's specious and it's not an argument that anybody is making. It's a straw man.

"you can't go around invading sovereign states because they are researching weapon technology.That is regime change and that isn't within international law."

International law? That's where action is legal if you get permission from the gangster capitalists of Moscow and it's illegal if you don't?

What a fabulous moral and ethical structure that is.

By the way, does anyone take Claire Short seriously?

Neil Harrison said...

I am beginning to see your perspective now. It's like the school playground, where the goodies take on the baddies and one big boy decides which is which. Who else is on your list for forceable regime change by the capitalists of New York and London (sic)?

If there is no imminent threat, there there are no deployable WMDs. That was the 45 minute fabrication - the assertion that there were WMDs that could be brought to bear in less than an hour. Saddam had weapons programmes, but he didn't have WMDs. Practically very country has a weapons programme.

I'd not seen David Kelly's letter before and I agree that it is more damning than I'd remembered. However, it does still leave him at odds with Blix.

It is simply untrue that everyone believed that Iraq had WMDs in 2003. Many suspected that he did, largely because the UK sold Saddam the components for chemical weapons and the US sold him the same for biological weapons in the 1980s!

Clare Short and Robin Cook were the ones within Blair's Cabinet with the moral compass to see the 'dodgy dossier' for what it was: a hotch-potch of guesswork and rumours about WMDs to make a case for war. And Blix has subsequently agreed with them.

I go back to my original points. Did the war make Iraqis safer? No. Did the war make Britons safer? No. Can this have been a just war from a UK perspective? No.

The Bristol Blogger said...

Good. We're making progress.

"Lie 1: that Iraq in 2003 had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)."

You're now referring to "deployable WMDs".

"It is simply untrue that everyone believed that Iraq had WMDs in 2003."

Can you show me credible voices saying they did not? Blix, Kelly, the UN etc. all believed Iraq had WMDs. The debate was over what they were, where they were and how far advanced they were.

"Lie 2: that Iraq, Saddam and Al Qaeda were linked."

I think we've established Blair did not say this at Chilcot.

Indeed, there's a letter in today's Guardian (4th down, Ronnie Paris, London) pointing this out.

So of your "2 lies". One is itself a lie (9/11), the other is highly misleading (WMD).

To understand the Iraq war you need to understand the assessment, management and judgment of risk. That's the lessons that need to be learned. Because these issues will appear again and again.

For the record I think Blair made the wrong judgment for the right reasons assessing the right risks.

This is what Chilcot shows but people aren't listening because they're obsessed with lies, oil, crusades and all the other conspiratorial baggage.

Neil Harrison said...

You've established no such thing! You seem to think that Blair is a more reliable witness than Cook, Short, Blix and the BBC. I think you'll find yourself in a tiny minority of the country there - enjoy the solitude!

You seem to have a confusion about the difference between a weapon of mass destruction and a potential weapon. Lie 1 stands. There was no evidence for the existence weapons of mass destruction. There were the bits and pieces that Kelly talks about, but these were not a realistic threat to anyone - a fact that history has borne out. At best, I will concede that Blair might just have been taken in by monumentally bad intelligence and even worse spin.

Lie 2 also stands. There was significant assertion in 2002 (e.g. from a quick search) about the links between Saddam and Al Qaeda. Blair did nothing to dismiss this then, when it was clearly ludicrous.

I don't know what Blair's motivations were. We probably never will. The war was never the right answer, even for the reasons he was advancing. Containment showed all the signs of working - I don't believe that there was any evidence of credible intent to use WMDs since 1991. Winning the war was easy, but there was no plan for winning the peace. All it achieved was a less safe UK and an even less safe Iraq.

I can't see that we are going to come to an agreement here. You think Blair had good reasons - a flawed righteous man. I think he was complicit in making a very suspect case for a very ill-conceived war, showing monumentally bad judgement.

The Bristol Blogger said...

"I think you'll find yourself in a tiny minority of the country there - enjoy the solitude!"

I don't think I'm a tiny minority. Blair won an election in 2005 remember. These issues might have a lot of traction among the liberal middle classes - your immediate circle - and in the Guardian but that's not a majority of the country by any means.

As you say, there's not much point in running on with this a great deal.

All I would say is that in terms of Lie 1, you're using the benefit of hindsight.

And Lie 2 you're now saying Blair was a liar because he didn't rebut some obscure letter from the CIA to George Bush in 2002. I can only repeat that Blair never made the 9/11 - Al Quaida link in the way you claim.

My only other comment is in relation to this:

"Containment showed all the signs of working"

No it did not. Go back and look again, the sanctions regime had been falling apart for years, mainly through Saddam starving his population for PR purposes.

The Russians, French and to an extent the Germans were no longer behind sanctions in the slightest.

The containment strategy was actually on the verge of collapse.

Neil Harrison said...

I agree about sanctions - that was a complete mess. I was meaning the regime of weapons inspecting, which, for all Saddam's obstructionism, was keeping a lid on what he was able to achieve.

Clare Short is giving evidence to Chillcot as I type, so we'll both have to see what she has to say! It's a real shame that Robin Cook isn't with us to give his perspective - a good man.