The case for war

Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about the Kelly issue, apart from its tragic outcome for its protagonist,  is that it has diverted attention from the real issues underlying it.  Was the government’s public case for joining the Americans in invading and occupying Iraq firmly based on reliable information in its possession, or did the government dress it up, embroider or otherwise misrepresent it in order to gain public support for the war?  Was the government’s public justification for the war really the same as its actual motives:  was there a genuine belief that Saddam’s WMD posed an immediate threat to Britain , or was it rather the case that Tony Blair was convinced that only by supporting George W. Bush through thick and thin could he or anyone else exercise some restraining and civilising influence on the conduct of the neo-con hawks in Washington with their crazy and belligerent plans for world hegemony?  Why did Blair break his often-repeated public pledge that he would not take Britain into a war without UN authority unless a resolution authorising it had been supported by a majority in the Security Council but “unreasonably” vetoed, a condition that was never satisfied?  Was the war really about weapons of mass destruction, or was that just the pretext likeliest to win UN approval, with the toppling of Saddam the real target?  And has the Kelly affair been deliberately pumped up by the government’s PR machine precisely to lead the hunt away from these much more gritty questions?   It seems unlikely that Lord Hutton will feel able to probe questions such as these when they go so far beyond his terms of reference, despite the freedom he has apparently been given to define the scope of his enquiry himself.

For what it’s worth, my own view remains much as it was at the outset:  there was a persuasive case for military action against Iraq, namely that unless the UN inspectors could remain permanently stationed in Iraq with their authority backed up by a credible western military force permanently stationed near Iraq’s borders, Saddam would sooner or later resurrect his WMD (including nuclear) development programmes, and that the longer the international community delayed action to nip these programmes in the bud, the more dangerous and difficult effective intervention would become.  But I was also clear from the beginning that early pre-emptive intervention on these grounds would have to have Security Council backing and that the Council was unlikely to approve armed intervention on these grounds until the UN inspectors had had several more months to see if they could themselves track down and terminate Iraq’s WMD or WMD programmes without the need for military intervention.  Sadly, this was not the argument for intervention put either to our own electorate or to the Security Council.  Instead, it was asserted, implausibly even at the time, that Saddam’s WMD posed an immediate and urgent threat, somehow linked to international terrorism, and that there was no point in giving the UN weapons inspectors more time to try to accomplish their task.  By implication the British government even signed up to Mr Bush’s outrageous threat, subsequently acted upon, to use military force against Iraq even if the Security Council was not prepared to authorise it at that time.  This was an inexcusable betrayal of the United Nations and of the most basic principles of the UN Charter, opening the way to the wholly unacceptable and perilous doctrine that any nation claiming to perceive a distant threat from another country was entitled to intervene militarily in that country, without the need for UN authority.  That precedent has now been established, and the genie won’t easily be squeezed back into its bottle.  It’s shaming that Britain , under a Labour government at that, was an active accessory to this international crime before, during and after it was committed.

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