Tuesday, 8 February 2011

What pledges did Blair give to Bush before the Iraq War?

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The war in Iraq has faded from the newspapers and the focus shifted sometime ago to the relentless war in Afghanistan that has been on-going for nearly ten years.
Coalition armed forces suffered 4,753 deaths and 32,037 wounded. Two soldiers remain Missing In Action. The peak for deaths occurred in June 2010 with 103 casualties that month. On 1st September 2010, President Obama formally ended combat operations although some 50,000 US troops remain to support Iraqi forces.
At least 100,000 civilians died since the war began in March 2003. The WikiLeaks war logs suggest at least another 15,000 of previously unrecorded deaths need to be added to this figure. The Lancet survey put the excessive number of deaths as a direct and indirect result of the war at over 650,000. Whatever the true figure (which will never be known since the US military refused to count the number accurately), there has been a savage loss of life in an attempt to impose a democratic government. 
Yet following elections on 7th March 2010 and 13th November 2010, no Government could be formed due to the endless bickering and disagreements between parties. Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, has formed a Government with the core of his State of Law Coalition and other political support but the Sunni Iraqiya bloc had refused to take any part in the Government. It is genuinely hoped that Iraq can develop into a stable and peaceful democracy.
The world opinion on the war is pretty damning with a BBC World Service survey suggesting 73% three years ago disapproved of the war. Caution must be taken when referring to such polls especially in how they have been carried out and promoted. But it would seem fair to say that the war has been far from popular on an international scale. Even in the US, CNN polls suggest a clear majority of around 60% disapproving of the war.
In the UK the Chilcot Inquiry will :-
“…consider the period from the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009, embracing the run-up to the conflict in Iraq, the military action and its aftermath. We will therefore be considering the UK's involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned. Those lessons will help ensure that, if we face similar situations in future, the government of the day is best equipped to respond to those situations in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country.”
blair at chilcot: tony blair gives evidence at the iraq inquiry

There is no indication when the Inquiry will report its findings. Originally, it suggested the end of 2010 but that potential timetable was duly surpassed. It will provide an interesting panoramic view of what happened but it cannot reveal all its findings since some papers have been withheld from public view due to concerns over the precedent it would set in revealing private correspondence between the Prime Minister and world leaders.
Given the fact that Britain was misled into war by the Blair Government, an exception should have been made to this precedence. I don’t say that lightly, as I understand the need for some privacy between leaders of nations making fundamental decisions. 
However, it will only add to the impression that there was an agreement between Blair and Bush six months before the war started that regardless of UN Resolutions, Britain and the US were going to war to topple the evil Saddam Hussein and would suggest to the wider world that it was mainly about weapons of mass destruction. If those private letters between Blair and Bush confirm such a suggestion then they are critical to the Inquiry’s findings. Blair has wriggled around the exact wording of the letters in the Iraq Inquiry and his intention of the meaning of the words used. It is all rather lame and damages Blair's already damaged credibility even further.
On 24th September 2002, when I directly asked the Prime Minister if he supported ‘regime change’ without UN authorisation he replied, ‘Regime change in Iraq would be a wonderful thing. That is not the purpose of our action; our purpose is to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction’. He categorically said, that regime was 'not the purpose of our action'. Yet there were detailed discussions and papers were circulated about regime change suggesting (contrary to protestations by Straw and Blair) that they were weighing the regime change argument alongside weapons of mass destruction as the reasons for war.
Later, as one of the ‘Tellers’ we pushed for and secured a vote to test the Commons collective opinion on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction the Adjournment debate. There was no substantive vote as we were denied one by the Government. However, we won by 64 votes to 6.
Jack Straw in a boisterous and confident mood stated at the end of his statement:  ‘Our message to Saddam Hussein today is blunt and simple. "You have reached the end of the road; destroy your weapons or we will do it for you."’ The only problem was that there were no weapons.
Jack Straw arrives to give evidence at the Iraq inquiry on 2 February 2 2011

As some of us tried to oppose the relentless movement towards war in the Commons, hindsight would suggest that parliament was being pushed into an impossible situation. If it had opposed war when hundreds of thousands of US and Coalition troops were on the brink of launching an attack, then the Prime Minister would have had to resign.
It was the worst kind of political blackmail to place Britain at the forefront of military preparations for war and then shrug to say in effect, it is too late for us to pull out. In fact given Blair apparently had made private promises to Bush no wonder leaks and whisperings were fed to the British media about 45 minutes to an attack on London in order to stiffen the resolve of Labour backbenchers and convince the Conservatives to back the ultimate vote on war.
With Blair for the Labour Party and Iain Duncan-Smith for the Conservative Party driving through the crucial vote for war on 18th March 2003, the vote was a foregone conclusion and it was a courageous minority from all sides who opposed military action. Yet if the Conservatives had opposed war then the motion for war in the Commons would have been defeated by 101 votes.
After ‘exhaustive’ inspections post-war, the Iraq Survey Group concluded that no weapons of destruction or viable programmes for WMD existed.
Therefore, it is important to know whether the Prime Minister had in effect, made a private deal to support Bush regardless of the evidence of weapons of mass destruction and regardless of parliament’s view.
The purpose of the war from a British perspective was to stop the use of weapons of mass destruction that we were told existed. The weapons did not exist and the British people were not told the truth. Did Blair knowingly mislead parliament and the British people? I believe he knew that there were very strong doubts about weapons of mass destruction and he thought Realpolitik expected he follow the US president regardless of the UN Resolutions. He went too far, abused the office of Prime Minister and failed the litmus test of leadership; knowing when to say ‘no’ to a belligerent and powerful friend. An illegal war should have consequences for those that directed them. 
Blair organised a show of propaganda to win parliamentary support (which he succeeded) and public support (which he failed) and ignored explicit legal advice, which indicated the illegality of war. I hope (but I remain sceptical) that future British Prime Ministers will only follow the United Nations route of authorising war and all its dreadful consequences. We await Chilcot's final report with interest.

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