Iraq and the parallel fiasco in Afghanistan have undermined Britain’s relationship with America, and its willingness to go to war abroad. Britain’s foreign and defence policy find themselves in deep uncertainty.
The long awaited report of the Chilcot Enquiry into the war in Iraq was finally published on 6 July. The inquiry was set up in 2009 by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown. It was led by Sir John Chilcot, a former civil servant who handled the troubles in Northern Ireland in the early 1990s. One of his panel was Sir Roderic Lyne, who was previously British ambassador in Moscow. The Report itself consists of sixteen volumes - four times longer than War and Peace. It is based on fifteen thousand documents - all now published - and hundreds of interviews, including with Tony Blair, the Prime Minister who led Britain into war in March 2003.
The tone of the Report is measured but unrelenting. It will take time to digest, but its main conclu-sions are already clear and damning. Eight months before he sought any legal or political backing at home, Blair had already committed himself to an invasion alongside his friend President Bush. At that time there were suspicions, but no certainty, that Saddam Hussain was producing and might use weapons of mass destruction.
There was no basis for the additional suspicion that he was in conspiracy with Al Qaeda. The alternatives to war were not exhausted. The invasion nevertheless went ahead on the basis of sloppy policy making by Blair and his entourage, wholly inadequate planning and deeply flawed intelligence, against the advice of those who knew Iraq, without proper military preparation, and with no coherent programme for running Iraq once victory was achieved.
The result was bloody and continuing chaos for the people of Iraq, a severe blow to the Western position in the Middle East, humiliation for the British army, and sullen anger among the British public which has lasted until today. It was a foreign policy disaster on the largest scale. Much of this was known before the Report came out. But the evidence is now overwhelming.
As the Russians say, fish rots from the head. The Report showed up many inadequacies in Britain’s military machine and its intelligence agencies. But Blair was the man in charge and he gloried in the responsibility. He believed he was right then, and he still believes it now. He has apologised to the families of the British soldiers who died in the war, but he has not shown much remorse for those who continue to die in Iraq. Some believe that that he should be sent to The Hague as a war criminal. That was never likely. The Iraq fiasco has already destroyed his political career, his reputation and his chance of a respectable place in history. For such an ambitious politician that is almost sufficient punishment.
There is little doubt that Iraq and the parallel fiasco in Afghanistan have undermined Britain’s relationship with America, and its willingness to go to war abroad. Britain’s foreign and defence policy find themselves in deep uncertainty, compounded by the vote to leave the European Union. It will take years to sort out.