Chilcot finally sheds light on the events of March 18th, 2003.
In 1999, the Blair Doctrine was declared in front of a Chicago audience. If intervention could do more good than harm, nations should go to war. That speech was given in the context of the Kosovo conflict, but the ideas also underpinned Blair’s rationalisation for Iraq. As Jason Ralph has argued, Blair sincerely believes that the war, which was presented as an act of collective security, was a continuation of the internationalist doctrine he laid out.
It’s a decision. And the decision I had to take was, given Saddam’s history, given his use of chemical weapons, given the over one million people whose deaths he had caused, given 10 years of breaking UN resolutions, could we take the risk of this man reconstituting his weapons programmes or is that a risk that it would be irresponsible to take? The reason why it is so important … is because, today, we are going to be faced with exactly the same types of decisions.
He declared the same things post Chilcot. Its a view coloured by the post 9/11 world, as Mr Blair argued himself. It’s a view that persists in drone strikes on would be terrorists. The nightmares of children who grow up fearing blue sky in that section of the world is a small price to save lives tomorrow.
Of course, the costs of the Iraq war are much greater. Since Britain marched to war in 2003, with the press on Fleet Street beating the drum, body counts climb. Innocent blood was spilt on the sands of the region, and millions were forced to leave their homes. 179 British military personnel are dead. Iraq has been thrown into the abyss of instability. ISIS rose from the ashes of al-Qaeda in the American prison of Camp Bucca, Iraq. The removal of infrastructure in the Iraqi government, even in the face of sectarian violence, made a vacuum militias were all too happy to fill, in regions left behind. The war stoked the flames of new conflicts that would tear nations apart. When Mr Blair spoke to troops in 2003, he claimed it was a defining moment of our century. He was right about that.
The Chilcot Report is a frank and bruising account of the failure of Tony Blair. While there is no smoking gun in Tony Blair’s hands for the countless dead who died for nothing, the inquiry details the decisions to act without needed evidence, and before every peaceful option had been used up. It was not a war of last resort. Iraq posed no imminent threat to the UK, and the humanitarian calls for intervention were flimsy. Intelligence was ill founded. The legal basis for war, the UN resolution Mr Blair claims he fought tooth and nail to get in the face of a gung ho US, was diplomatically described as “far from satisfactory”. The sudden change of heart over the legal recommendation to secure a second UN resolution by Lord Goldsmith was not challenged. The chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee advising Mr Blair that Iraq both possessed and had the means to produce WMDs was never challenged, and had never been fully established. Poor forethought lead to the boots on the ground not having the equipment they needed. The lack of planning that followed removing Saddam Hussein and the chaos that ensued as a result is inexcusable. Tensions with Iraq and within the region, Iranian influence, and terrorist group activity that produced this toxic mix had been spotted well in advance. And they were ignored. The government was unprepared for its post conflict responsibilities.
Mr Blair overstated his ability to influence the US, and undermined the integrity of the UN Security Council. His letters to Mr Bush read like a string of conscience about his moral conviction to remove Saddam, his struggles to get the US to go through the UN, the political struggles at home, and as post conflict Iraq descended into chaos, his deepest fears of collapse in Iraq. But all people will remember is the commitment “I will be with you whatever”. People are dead because of it.
The lessons of Chilcot is not to mind our own business. In Syria, 250,000 are dead and millions displaced in the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. The failure to act in Syria may haunt us in the same way the Rwandan genocide does, where 800,000 people were slaughtered over 100 days as people looked the other way. The victims of Rwanda and Syria reveal the chaos, misery and suffering that unfold if nations live under the shadow of Iraq. But the unthinkable horrors of this war will happen again if nations don’t properly plan and challenge future intervention.