Note: What follows is really only a thumbnail sketch of this morning's release of the Chilcot report on Britain's participation in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, along side the GW Bush Administration. There is much more to be said as more of the report is studied and to come, especially on how it might blow back into the US, if it does.
Sir John Chilcot released his report, this morning, with a 12 page statement that excoriates Tony Blair and the way he made the decision to go to war. It's clear from Chilcot's statement that Blair made the decision independent of intelligence that contradicted his beliefs and of where disarmament efforts actually stood. The Independent finds that while Chilcot did not use the word "lie" in his report, and doesn't even question that Blair "believed" that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, "his damning conclusion is that the former Prime Minister deliberately blurred the distinction between what he believed and what he actually knew."
"We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted," Chilcot said. "Military action at that time was not a last resort." The report concludes that:
- The judgements about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction – WMD – were presented with a certainty that was not justified.
- Despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were underestimated. The planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam Hussein were wholly inadequate.
- The Government failed to achieve its stated objectives.
In reviewing key points in the report, Chilcot said that the formal decision to go to war was made on March 17, 2003, but it was shaped by "key choices" made by Blair's government over the previous 18 months. After 9/11 Blair had urged the GW Bush administration not to take hasty action in Iraq. By December, US policy was shifting and Blair suggested that the US and the UK should work on what he described as a "clever strategy" for regime change in Iraq, which would build over time. When Blair met Bush at Crawford in April of 2002, the formal policy was still to contain Saddam, but by then, "there had been a profound change in the UK's thinking:"
- The Joint Intelligence Committee had concluded that Saddam Hussein could not be removed without an invasion.
- The Government was stating that Iraq was a threat that had to be dealt with. It had to disarm or be disarmed.
- That implied the use of force if Iraq did not comply – and internal contingency planning for a large contribution to a military invasion had begun.
- ) Blair Brainwashes Bush
According to Chilcot, Blair set out his thoughts to Bush in a series of private messages. In one note, written on July 28, 2002, Blair in the face of opposition from the Cabinet Office, said: "I will be with you [Bush] whatever."
It added: "This is the moment to assess bluntly the difficulties. The planning on this and the strategy are the toughest yet. This is not Kosovo. This is not Afghanistan. It is not even the Gulf war." At times, the Guardian reports, Blair's notes read more like stream of consciousness than considered policy documents. The note continued: "He [Saddam] is a potential threat. He could be contained. But containment … is always risky." According to Chilcot, Blair shaped his diplomatic strategy around the need to get rid of Saddam which – he told Bush – was the "right thing to do". Blair suggested that the simplest way to come up with a casus belli was to give an ultimatum to Iraq to disarm, preferably backed by UN authority.
Blair urged Bush to go to the UN to get an ultimatum: Either Saddam disarm or else. This happened on Nov. 8, with UNSCR 1441. Saddam let the inspectors back in and he appeared to be fully cooperating with them. "Without evidence of major new Iraqi violations or reports from the inspectors that Iraq was failing to co-operate and they could not carry out their tasks, most members of the Security Council could not be convinced that peaceful options to disarm Iraq had been exhausted and that military action was therefore justified." So Blair decided to act anyway, in the absence of UN authority, claiming that the UK Government was acting on behalf of the international community "to uphold the authority of the Security Council." "In the absence of a majority in support of military action, we consider that the UK was, in fact, undermining the Security Council's authority," Chilcot said in the report.
2) The Dodgy Dossier
The "dodgy dossier" that Blair presented to the parliament on Sept. 24, 2002 presented judgements "with a certainty that was not justified. The Joint Intelligence Committee should have made clear to Mr Blair that the assessed intelligence had not established "beyond doubt.'" The report apparently minimizes allegations that Alistair Campbell, who was Blair's communications chief at the time, "sexed up" the dossier in favor of the view that Blair was driven by what he believed to the point that he dismissed intelligence that contradicted his beliefs. "The deliberate selection of a formulation which grounded the statement in what Mr Blair believed, rather than in the judgements which the JIC had actually reached in its assessment of the intelligence indicates a distinction between his beliefs and the JIC's actual judgements," the report says. "The assessed intelligence had not established beyond doubt that Saddam Hussein had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons. Nor had the assessed intelligence established beyond doubt that efforts to develop nuclear weapons continued… The dossier made clear that, as long as sanctions remained effective, Iraq could not produce a nuclear weapon."
Blair also ignored warnings that military action in Iraq would, itself, be a chaos factor. On March 18, 2003, he told the House of Commons that he judged the possibility of terrorist groups in possession of WMD was "a real and present danger to Britain and its national security" – and that the threat from Saddam Hussein's arsenal could not be contained and posed a clear danger to British citizens. Blair had been warned, however, that military action would increase the threat from Al Qaida to the UK and to UK interests. He had also been warned that an invasion might lead to Iraq's weapons and capabilities being transferred into the hands of terrorists. "It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments. They were not challenged, and they should have been," Chilcot said.
In fact, Chilcot points out, intelligence agencies had different ideas on what was the "real and present danger" to Britain. 1) Iran, North Korea and Libya were considered greater threats in terms of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons proliferation; 2) The joint intelligence committee believed it would take Iraq five years, after the lifting of sanctions, to produce enough fissile material for a weapon; 3) There was no evidence that Iraq had tried to acquire fissile material and other components or – were it able to do so – that it had the technical capabilities to turn these materials into a usable weapon; and 4) Saddam's regime was "not judged likely" to share its weapons or know-how with terrorist groups.
3) Chaos In the Aftermath
Chilcot also blasted Blair's assertion that it wasn't possible to know what the difficulties of the occupation would be beforehand. "We do not agree that hindsight is required," Chilcot said. "The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability, and Al Qaida activity in Iraq, were each explicitly identified before the invasion." Chilcot also criticized the lack of planning for the occupation which "continued to have an effect after the
invasion." In fact, the FCO had prepared a paper on Islamism in Iraq which foreshadowed the rise of extremist groups like Isis which went on to exploit the chaos of post-war Iraq. This paper was shared with the US in December of 2002. It warned that it was likely groups would be looking for "identities and ideologies on which to base movements" and anticipated that a number of emergent extremist groups would use violence to pursue political ends.
4) Chilcot Concludes War Was Unncessary
Chilcot concluded that "Military action in Iraq might have been necessary at some point." But in March 2003:
- There was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein.
- The strategy of containment could have been adapted and continued for some time.
- The majority of the Security Council supported continuing UN inspections and monitoring.
Tony Blair issued a statement right away in self defense, promising more to follow. "The report should lay to rest allegations of bad faith, lies or deceit," he claimed, adding that whether people agree or disagree with the decision, "I took it in good faith and in what I believed to be the best interests of the country." He said that in the followup statement he would issue, "I will take full responsibility for any mistakes without exception or excuse," and that "I will at the same time say why, nonetheless, I believe that it was better to remove Saddam Hussein and why I do not believe this is the cause of the terrorism we see today whether in the Middle East or elsewhere in the world."