chilcot-report

The release of the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry, examining the feeble reasons for launching a war against a sovereign state in 2003, did not merely land former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the soup.  It suggested that other leaders should keep him in drowning company.

The most obvious culprit was the person who led it all, US President George W. Bush.  The other was former Australian Prime Minister John Howard. The 12 volumes and 2.6 million words do little to exonerate either.[1]

Evident in the apologetics over the Iraq War lie are notions of pure belief, detached from foundations of reason.  There was no intention to deceive (this, being palpably untrue); there was a genuinely held sense that war was necessary.  The show, in other words, was being run by fanatics.

The evidence (is there such a thing post-Iraq?), certainly after the attacks of September 11, 2001, was the overwhelming desire to rechart the Middle East and affect regime change in Iraq. Blair and Howard complied with the Bush agenda, neither ever keen to go too much into the detail.

The few times that greater inquiry took place, it was grim, as Blair’s own meditation on possible consequences shows.  “Suppose it got militarily tricky… suppose Iraq suffered unexpected civilian casualties… suppose the Arab Street finally erupted.”  The law of unintended consequences indeed.

Howard had little time to dwell on the idea of mendacity, claiming it had nothing to do with the deployment of troops to Iraq.  Rather awkwardly, he resorted to a familiar tactic: blaming the intelligence community for getting it wrong.  Never mind the actual decision maker who needed to see such intelligence in total context.  “There was no lie.  There were errors in intelligence, but there was no lie.”[2]

Ever the Pilate washing his hands, Howard cherry picked from the Chilcot Inquiry to add a bit more soap to his cleansing wash.  One fact stood out for him: the lack of evidence suggesting that intelligence dossiers had been doctored, or sexed-up, as it was then termed.

“The joint intelligence committee, which is the broad equivalent in the United Kingdom of the Office of National assessments in Australia, accepted ownership of the dossier and agreed its content.”

This also shows the inability, or perhaps refusal, of Howard to have made his own decisions on the subject without further verifying what was, even then, a shoddy case.  “I can’t put myself in Tony Blair’s mind. I have no reason to disbelieve what he’d said. I always found him a thoroughly honourable and honest person to deal with.”

Even by the standards of the day, such an assessment on Howard’s part was astonishing, relegating the Australian decision making process to the sovereign realm of Washington and London.  It was sufficient to accept that the dossier was not unduly corrupted by the addition of improper material or that “Number 10 improperly influenced the text.”

For all that, there were Cassandras within Australia, and fellow traveller Britain, worried that too much certainty, spurred on by “belief”, was replacing genuine intelligence.

One such figure was Andrew Wilkie, now a returned independent member of the Australian parliament.  Having been an intelligence officer within the Office of National Assessments and subsequent whistleblower on the dubious intelligence practices he bore witness to, the Tasmanian MP insisted that Australia needed its own variant of Chilcot.

“Until we have an effective inquiry into the invasion of Iraq… then people like John Howard and [former foreign minister] Alexander Downer and others won’t be properly scrutinised and held to account.”[3]

One crucial loss in this entire affair is evident.  Instead of offering wise restraining counsel, holding back that “crazy man Bush,” as Paul McGeough described him, Howard and Blair applied the varnishing reassurance.  “By not restraining the US president, each was an enabler in Washington’s worst ever foreign policy blunder.”[4]

They were more than that. Both became fellow buccaneers and adventurers, the very type of war makers scorned by the US Supreme Court justice Robert Jackson, a key figure in the prosecution at the Nuremberg war crimes trials in 1945.  Never again, urged Jackson, should war be treated in a chivalric or romantic fashion.   Instead, it could be deemed conspiratorially murderous, a slight against civilization itself waged by bandits.

While the Chilcot Inquiry does not purport to generate legal implications (its greatest weakness), it sets the groundwork for potential legal proceedings that might be launched not merely in Britain, but participating countries. Lawyers representing former servicemen who died in the conflict are pouring over the details, wondering whether command responsibility can be discerned.

Wilkie insists on a specific international court, one that would compel the defendants to “try to prove their innocence because all of those people who do accuse them of war crimes I think make a pretty compelling case.”

Doing so in the International Criminal Court would be a difficult thing, given its limitations relative to the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal. But the crime against peace remains a burning issue, recognised as part of international law, and prosecutable locally. None of the leaders are out of the woods of judicial inquiry just yet.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

[1] http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/the-report/

[2] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-07/chilcot-inquiry-john-howard-responds/7577306

[3] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-07/wilkie-blames-bali-bombing-lindt-siege-on-iraq-war-involvement/7576480

[4] http://www.smh.com.au/world/chilcot-report-the-mindboggling-incompetence-of-bush-blair-and-howard-laid-bare-20160706-gq06hy.html

3 Comments

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    While the UK premier Blair went ahead with Iraqi war, he did not get support from his party or people. Similarly, Australian PM Howard did not have mass support. Only tabloids like The Mirror or, The Sun supported the decision of Bush. These government heads were puppets in US hands and they blindly succumbed to the wishes of US. An enquiry should be held in Australia and the then PM should be held responsible for supporting and sending army. He, alongwith the cabinet, must be tried for waging war on Iraq.

  2. Dominic Jermano says:

    Tony Blair and Howard are total liars and criminals because intelligence was indeed doctored. The whole thing was based on 911, the event that killed thousands of Americans, and investigation shut down by Bush. Bush’s enemies are people in the US no question. He can not explain how building 7 collapsed when no plane hit it, nor why only a 5 foot diameter hole was left in the side of the Pentagon when a huge airliner crashed into it. The fact is those buildings were wired with thermite, made possible by George R. Wackenhut the owner of the Security Company of the WTC, who is also a CIA hitman, Also in collaboration with Rudy Guiliani. They planned it and executed it to base a war on lies thinking GW would clean up after his fathers war of Desert Storm. Kuwait has always been Iraq, since being heisted during the Opium Trade Days. Bush lied about every thing. Saddam kept Iran in its place. Bush has caused the break up of everyone, and the pro war people always fail. The world is worse since 911, and not getting better until the US Politicians are held responsible for war crimes. They did not just take out Saddam, they killed a million people. 911 was not done by a binladin. Even his said killing in Pakistan was a lie. You can’t say he did not hear helicopters overhead and not try to escape the compound even when one crashed, and then to not bring back his body? The US government is a fraud of murderers, going back to Harry Truman. All they want to do is bomb and kill and destroy and make themselves believe they are honorable men. No one wants to do business with murderers. There was no justification for it whatsoever. The world is worse off, and none of them can deny it. Their actions caused the banks to fail, and ultimately the UK leaving the EU, because of the refugee crisis and their locational region of the world. Don’t blame the UK, for Brexit, it is Blairxit and Bushxit for this total collapse of the world society. Look what it had done to Brazil. Even the BRICS organization they had is of no help to salvaging the Olympics. The only thing more important now is creditability, to prosecute the liars and the cover up of 911. Once you do the right thing, it is a step to renewed optimism.

  3. Dr Vacy Vlazna says:

    Excellent piece by Kampmark, as usual. Howard, Blair plus the US neocons, prove monstrous crime pays…and pays well.

    Bizarre how a handful of war criminals in countries with populations of millions can go free and yet we, eg in Australia, have Indigenous kids in detention for misdemeanours!!

    Whatever happened to zero tolerance for crime and three strikes and you’re incarcerated.. Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria!