Monday, November 23, 2009

More evidence for Blair's tombstone

The Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War is about to kick off in London tomorrow, and right on its eve, someone has leaked the UK military's "lessons learned" papers to the Telegraph. Its a major scoop, but at the same time, what the papers show us entirely unsurprising: that Tony Blair consciously and deliberately lied to the public and to Parliament about his plans for war:

Throughout most of 2002, Mr Blair’s consistent line was that – though military action could not be ruled out – no decisions had been made, no British military preparations were in train, and any action had to be pursued through the UN. That, today’s documents make clear, was not correct.

On July 16, 2002, he was questioned by the chairmen of all the Commons select committees. Donald Anderson, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee, asked him directly: “Are we then preparing for possible military action in Iraq?” “No,” said Mr Blair. “There are no decisions which have been taken about military action.”

As the prime minister must have known, this answer was, at best, misleading. The leaked documents say that “formation-level planning for a deployment took place from February 2002”. By the time Mr Blair gave that denial, Britain had, in fact, been preparing for possible military action for five months.

In New Zealand, lying to a select committee is Contempt of Parliament. In the US, people have gone to jail for it. In the UK, apparently it means you then get promoted as a candidate for the EuroPresidency.

There's more - including how the need for secrecy around that lie undermined the planning process, leading to soldiers flying to war on commercial flights, taking their equipment as hand-baggage, and having parts of it confiscated by airport security. But that's the comical bit. The decidedly unfunny punchline is that it also meant that there was no planning for what happened after they took Baghdad and found themselves running a country. According to the Guardian, this failure to safeguard civilians exposed UK Ministers and officials to potential war crimes charges.

It would be nice to think that this exposure of the truth might change something and might lead to some justice. Unfortunately, the capacity of the British political system to ignore the crimes and failings of its leaders is practically infinite. The terms of reference for the inquiry are enough proof of that - it is about learning how to plan a war based on lies in secret more effectively, not about stopping the government from doing it in the first place. I have no doubt that this material will be explored at the hearings and mentioned in the report that eventually emerges; I am equally certain that that report will carefully avoid blaming any specific individual or holding them to account. The failings will be "systemic", the crimes not attributable. And so, with another thick layer of whitewash, the British government will totter on, wondering all the time why no-one believes in it (and pushing for ever more repressive measures to keep the faithless proles in line)...

Though I would like very much to be proved wrong.