Disastrous war

John Chilcot produced his report on the British government’s decision to go to war in and against Iraq. The conclusion couldn’t have been clearer: there was absolutely no legitimate reason to attack and invade Iraq. Moreover, the consequences of the fateful action were entirely foreseeable.

Writing for the London Review of Books, Philippe Sands summarizes the report’s contents and offers a running commentary. Sands:

Chilcot portrayed the Iraq War as a total failure of government. Two hundred British troops had been killed and many more were injured; 150,000 Iraqis had been killed ‘and probably many more – most of them civilians’; and more than a million people had been displaced. Lives were ruined; Islamic State has emerged in the aftermath, and Britain has been diminished.

Tony Blair, then prime minister, pledged his support for “whatever” George W. Bush decided. And “the decider” had made up his mind not long after 9/11 to go after Saddam Hussein, despite no evidence that Hussein had anything to do with the attacks of that day. During the interim between the decision and launching the war, Bush and Blair busied themselves with justifying their action.

Sands suggests that Blair’s complicity may have its own personal consequences.

Later that afternoon a defiant Tony Blair took to the airwaves. Chilcot had spoken for 25 minutes; Blair spoke for nearly two hours. Not for him the apology of his deputy, John Prescott, who wrote in the Sunday Mirror that, in view of the report, he now believed the war was ‘catastrophic’ and ‘illegal’. Blair instead defended himself, saying he’d take ‘the same decision’ again. This unhappy intervention will not do him any favours. It makes it more likely he will be pursued, perhaps for contempt of Parliament, or by civil claims, or claims of misfeasance in public office. He might even face worse, a possibility raised in the resignation letter tendered in 2003 by the Foreign Office legal adviser Elizabeth Wilmshurst, whose position has been vindicated by the inquiry:

I regret that I cannot agree that it is lawful to use force without a second Security Council resolution … I cannot in conscience go along with advice within the Office or to the public or Parliament – which asserts the legitimacy of military action without such a resolution, particularly since an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression; nor can I agree with such action in circumstances which are so detrimental to the international order and the rule of law.