Ive been closely following the progress of the Chilcott Inquiry into the events leading up to and during the Iraq War, until British troops left Iraq last year.
The composition of the Inquiry is interesting. Sir John Chilcott is a former senior Civil Servant. Perhaps not a heavyweight by any means, but in my opinion he has chaired it competently so far. There are two military Historians on the panel: Sir Lawrence Freedman, the official Historian of the Falklands War, and Sir Martin Gilbert, Winston Churchill’s official biographer. I am glad that there are historians on the panel, but I wish they were not what you might call ‘establishment’ historians. Somebody like Richard Holmes, David Starkey or Simon Schama might have been a lot more probing. An experienced Barrister would have been wise too, to advise on legal issues.
So far I think the evidence given by the military figures has been very insightful. On the whole, it appears that given the UK’s subservient role in the invasion the military side of things was handled very well. Things were certainly not helped by the US Department of Defences’ lack of planning for the post-war phase – the British Army has huge experience of counter-insurgency, why was this not heeded?
In terms of the politics, however, nothing has changed my mind that there was some serious dishonesty going on. Even IF – and it is a big if – the intelligence led Tony Blair to believe the 45 minute caveat, there was still a lot of creative industry being applied in the so-called ‘dodgy dossier’. Alistair Campbell’s appearance today says much: even in front of an inquiry, seeking the truth, his stance is to put on an act, and to lie, spin and slither away. Maybe expecting the truth from Campbell is too much: the man is, after all, a professional liar. The ironic thing is that his demeanour at the inquiry showed exactly what was wrong with British politics at the time: an unelected official, expert at manipulating the truth, was pulling the strings.
The evidence given by commanders about the ineffectiveness of the Department for International Development has been telling. I have long thought that the UK’s approach to overseas aid is a mess: we are happy to hand over millions to countries who do not need it, without strings attached, yet when it comes to a country like Iraq, which desparately needed our help and quickly, DFID stood back idley. Quick and efficient aid would have helped prevent the slide towards insurrection and disorder.
On the whole, I get the impression that the Politics side of things was a monumental cock-up. The military side of things, once we disregard the politics, was handled rather well from a UK point of view. The panel have been more probing and incisive than we might have expected, and from their line of questioning on Campbell, Tony Blair can expect an uncomfortable time.
But it is one thing holding an inquiry, it is quite another to actually take notice of it and absorb its lessons. Will the mistakes and succeses be taken into account with future Government policy? Will the US have a similar inquiry, or take notice of the findings of the Chilcott inquiry?
If you make mistakes and ignore them, then they’re just gonna keep happening again. And in this case, mistakes mean lives lost.