The Iraq Inquiry Report (2009-2016) documents how Tony Blair committed Great Britain to war early in 2002, lying to the United Nations, to Parliament, and to the British people, in order to follow George Bush, who had planned an aggression on Iraq well before September 2001.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard conspired with both reckless adventurers, purported ‘to advise’ both buccaneers, sent troops to Iraq before the war started, then lied to Parliament and to the Australian people. He continues to do so.
Should he and his cabal be charged with war crimes? This, and more, is investigated by Dr George Venturini in this outstanding series.
Australia’s involvement in Iraq (continued)
Five years ago Dr. Jenny Grounds and Dr. Sue Wareham made a heartfelt appeal for an inquiry. They were writing on behalf of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (Australia), of which they were president and vice-president, respectively. They concluded: “If we are to learn anything from this disaster, we must establish how it unfolded and the role, if any, played by the ample warnings that accurately predicted its full horror.” They advocated for nuclear disarmament and peace, condemned the war, and advocated for an inquiry on Australian intervention in Iraq.
A ‘real Australian’ might have shouted: ‘Do-gooders’!
At about the same time, Dr. Alison Broinowski, who had already written extensively against the war, that she branded a humanitarian, legal, political and strategic disaster, edited a booklet promoting a call for an Australian inquiry, and succeeded in gathering around herself a solid group of specialists in the subject.
The reaction might have been one more shout: ‘Intellectual’!
Professor Ben Saul, an international law expert at the University of Sydney, had long called for a wide-ranging inquiry along the lines of the Chilcot Inquiry. He renewed his request in 2012.
Observing that, [t]he contrast to Britain’s collective soul-searching could not be more stark than in Australia.” he melancholically concluded: “Here, the Iraq war has long been forgotten. Since the withdrawal of Australian troops, there is an unspoken bipartisan agreement to bury the inconvenient past. There are no calls for an inquiry. [Emphasis added].
As one Australian journalist said to me, Iraq is no longer a story.
But, “Political amnesia is not good for our democracy or the rule of law. Australia should follow Britain’s lead in establishing a broad inquiry into Australia’s invasion of Iraq. Democracies bear a special duty to uphold the international rule of law, to lead by example in a world where our best defence against security threats is to strengthen – not tear down – the multilateral system. Repressive countries are already doing enough to weaken the UN and international law.
An Australian inquiry should examine the decision-making that led us to war, including the intelligence assessments, political and strategic calculations, and legal arguments. A particular focus should be whether any Australian government officials committed the international crime of aggression – that is, waging an illegal war against peace. It may be recalled that after the Nuremberg trials, we executed Nazi war leaders for the crime of aggression.
An inquiry is also an opportunity to look forward, to improve our decision-making about future wars. For instance, when waging war is an executive prerogative as in Australia, with no role for Parliament, there is precious little to hold back a government bent on the war path. This can be our salvation when the nation is faced by a supreme emergency threatening its shores.
In the long sweep of history, I have no doubt that our children will scratch their heads and wonder why we attacked Iraq. They may well be puzzled about why there was no reckoning for those who took us there, and no justice for the innocent dead. I hope it gives them pause before mounting their own cavalier escapades to smash foreign governments and kill their peoples.”
This was just too much for indifferent Australians. And the cry went up: ‘Academic’!
‘Do-gooders, intellectual, academic’ are common terms of abuse by a populace which prefers to be ‘comfortable and relaxed’ as a ‘practical’ pettifogger offered and largely delivered for eleven years.
An item of news arrived, to disturb such indifference, on 11 July 2016, a few days after the release of the Chilcot Report: a new group – Chilcot Oz – had formed in South Australia during the weekend to advocate for a full inquiry into Australia’s involvement in the Iraq war. Responsible for the initiative were the ‘usual group of university students’, no doubt assisted by ‘the usual suspects’.
In the wake of the Iraq Inquiry Report, Paul McGough – one of the last reflecting journalists to be read in Australia – wrote a piece on the Chilcot Report: The mind-boggling incompetence of Bush, Blair and Howard laid bare. It is not the kind of performance one has become accustomed from the choirboys of the Murdoch’s stable.
“The three buccaneers” he said, “took leave of their senses in invading Iraq – George W. Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard”.
Well, no sudden action or reaction there: a long, premeditated connivance and the servile, unquestioning friendship with George Bush could most likely better describe the process.
First, Bush. “An ignorant person”, soberly but precisely and with the brevity which belongs to a final sentence impossible of appeal, said Thomas Buergenthal, a former judge at the International Court of Justice and now Lobingier Professor of Comparative Law and Jurisprudence at The George Washington University Law School. He specified: “[Bush is] an ignorant person who wanted to show his mother he could do things his father couldn’t.” He also thought that Vice President Dick Cheney should – and eventually would – stand trial for war crimes. Judge Buergenthal fingered Dick Cheney and his Task Force. The Energy Task Force – officially the National Energy Policy Development Group – had been set up by President Bush in 2001, during his second week in office, and Dick Cheney had been named chairman. The Force’s stated objective was “to develop a national energy policy designed to help the private sector, and, as necessary and appropriate.” State and local governments would be called to promote dependable, affordable, and environmentally sound production and distribution of energy for the future. One can envision Cheney with all his maps, redrawing the borders of Middle Eastern countries, dividing up Iraq’s oil riches among ‘western’ oil companies. It is possible to see how that was one motive – perhaps the motive – for waging an unjustified and illegal war of aggression. Saddam Hussein’s decision to trade oil in other than American dollars was also a crucial factor. Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz had long time before joined in a camarilla which had established the think-tank Project for the New American Century. In 1997, in that combine, they wrote an open letter to President Bill Clinton calling for regime change in Iraq. Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were three of the ten out of twenty five original founders of the Project who went on to serve in the G. W. Bush Administration. On the other side of the Atlantic, the just elected British Prime Minister Tony Blair, was comfortable with a longstanding policy of containment, which was considered successful. Hussein was vile, but international sanctions had crippled him. The C.I.A. agreed.
One will recall the famous love declaration that Bush received from Blair on 28 July 2002, when the decision to go to war was more than a year old, as far as Bush is concerned, and no less than several months as far as Blair’s position.
Blair was offering: “I will be with you, whatever.” hoping, perhaps, for a favourite place at the decision table. It was a “mawkish opening line [which] reveals a man more smitten by power and the lure of a yes-man man role at Washington’s table than any European confabs.” As The Age editorialised on 8 July 2016, “This was sycophancy and stupidity, a betrayal of Britain’s true national interest”. Bush rewarded such lover’s loyalty by treating it with contempt: the English were given no role in the Coalition Provisional Authority which initially ran post-invasion Iraq. Blair became no more than a ‘Washington’s poodle.’ In the end, Bush-the-vulgarian showed what he believed of Blair: that he had no cojones. Here comes Dubya Bush the polyglot!
President Bush’s response to the release of the Chilcot Report went no further than having declared by a spokesperson that “the President continues to believe the whole world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power.”
How is it, one might well ask, that the United States, a nation which according to George W. Bush “has always been guided by a moral compass,” has not conducted its own Iraq inquiry? While there is plenty of evidence which shows Bush’s dominant position among the reckless adventurers, one should return to the so-called Manning Memo detailing a two-hour meeting between Bush and Blair on 31 January 2003. That memorandum makes clear that Bush intended to invade Iraq regardless of whether weapons of mass destruction were found, and set the date – 10 March – “to begin the bombing.” Even more damning is the revelation of his plan to provoke Saddam Hussein into initiating conflict by disguising a United States surveillance plane as belonging to the United Nations in hopes that the Iraqi leader would shoot it down. Similar adventure had been entered into before: the Gulf of Tonkin incident. The memorandum shows Bush also entertained the possibility of an outright assassination. That, too, had been done before: Mosaddegh.
Amongst the papers collected by the Chilcot Inquiry there is a 1 October 2001 memorandum to Bush which confirms Blair’s knowledge of a pending U.S. invasion of Iraq. Blair assures Bush that while “we need to deal with Saddam … I am sure we can devise a strategy for [him to be] deliverable at a later date.” Two months and three days later, in another memorandum, Bush is told by Blair that “any link to 11 September and [Al Qaeda] is at best very tenuous … so we need a strategy for regime change that builds over time.” To ‘soften-up’ Iraq, Blair counsels Bush: “we should mount covert operations.” Blair was apparently unaware that the C.I.A. had convened a “covert Iraqi Operations Group” a month before the 9/11 attack.
An imbecile like Bush did not need Blair’s flair to device how to solve a ‘problem like Saddam Hussein.’
As Dr. Broinowski noted, “The peculiar personality of Blair, the Catholic convert, who surprised a U.S. authority on Saddam Hussein by asking “Isn’t he evil ?” hovers over Chilcot’s report. Hidden from view is his friend George W. Bush, whose replies to Blair’s 29 personal notes in the months before the war were not released for publication by Washington.”
Caroline Patricia Lucas, the first Green member of Parliament and now co-leader of that party spoke for many in the United Kingdom when she said that Tony Blair is a ‘war criminal’ and he should be punished because he took the United Kingdom into an illegal conflict. Ms. Lucas said that everything in the Chilcot Report implies that Iraq ‘was an illegal war’ and said the former prime minister must now be held to account.
On the same day Blair was apologising, with grovelling voice, for the mistakes in the planning and process of the war, but he stood by the key decision to invade. Blair insisted he had never lied, imploring: “Please stop saying I was lying, or I had some kind of dishonest or underhand motive”.
Addressing protesters in Westminster after the findings were published online, Ms. Lucas said: “It confirms that Tony Blair lied when he took this country to war on a false prospectus.
It lays bare for us to see that he made commitments to George Bush six months before he stood up in Parliament saying Saddam Hussein could still avoid war.
That was not true and we will hold him to account.
- He lied by setting standards for the weapons inspectors which he knew would be impossible for those weapons inspectors to meet.
- He lied by pulling those weapons inspectors out of Iraq before he knew they had been able to finish the job that had been set for them.
- He lied when he said the threat from Weapons of Mass Destruction was growing when he knew they was no evidence to make that case.
We have been right to be holding Blair to account.”
Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Paul Philip Flynn said that the Iraq Inquiry Report amounted to an ‘utter condemnation’ of Blair’s terrible decision to commit British troops to the U.S.-led invasion. Perhaps, there was no desire to go beyond those words: the Conservatives en masse, and a large number of the Labour members had voted for the war.
Labour had been hopelessly divided. Against the government motion for war, 139 Labour MPs submitted an amendment saying there was no moral case for war against Iraq and voted against the government’s line. Fifteen Tory MPs also defied their leadership by voting against the government’s policy.
All 53 Liberal Democrat MPs voted against the government – in line with their leadership. The final result had been: for 412 MPs, against 149, with a majority of 263.
On the release of the Report the former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron said that, given its importance, he would make provision for two full days of debate the following week.
Early in July 2016 there were rumours, even plans, of a cross-party group of MPs putting a resolution to Parliament holding Blair in contempt for his conduct in the run-up to the war.
Dusting off an old procedure for ‘impeachment’ – used the last time in 1806 – Blair could be prosecuted; alternatively, a provision dating back to the nineteenth century could have been activated charging Blair for ‘misconduct in public office.’
Two weeks later the vast majority of the 650 MPs responded with a big “So what ?” as they absented themselves from the debate. On the first day only 40 to 50 MPs bothered to show up, with sometimes as few as 15 or 20 MPs present for the second day. In the course of the entire two days only about 50 MPs spoke.
Not until the end of the second day the front bench members of both parties were even obliged to speak in order to make ‘wind-up speeches.’ Neither the new Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May nor the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn participated. The media took the same approach. No national newspaper, including The Guardian, produced a full report of the two-day debate. With the exceptions of MPs from the Scottish National Party and a few others, who made vague calls for Blair to be called to account, the debate consisted largely of MPs defending the actions of the Labour government and the Tory opposition, who had supported them in voting for war.
When 81-year-old Labour MP Paul Flynn spoke in the Business of the House session which preceded day two, he said: “Chilcot has given its verdict. It is a thunderous verdict of guilty not just for one man but for this House, the previous Government, the Opposition and three Select Committees. We are guilty, and are judged guilty, of commanding our valiant troops to fight a vain, avoidable war…”
In response, other Labour MPs present walked out in protest.
* * * * *
The major points of the Iraq Inquiry Report place a heavy responsibility on Blair as prime minister:
- Blair wrote to Bush in July 2002: “I will be with you, whatever.”
- Blair ‘overestimated’ his ability to influence American decisions.
- Throughout the Report there is a devastating criticism of Blair’s personal position which sidelined the Cabinet.
- The US.-U.K. special relationship ‘does not require unconditional support where [British] interests or judgements differ.’
- Blair ignored warnings that going to war could heighten the risk of terror attacks on the United Kingdom.
- The possible consequences of the invasion were ‘under-estimated.’ Planning for after Saddam’s overthrow was ‘wholly inadequate.’
- No special ‘hindsight’ was required to have identified the risks of regional instability.
- The policy on Iraq was made on the basis of ‘flawed intelligence and assessments.’
- The ‘intelligence’ might have based a key claim about Iraq’s chemical weapons capability on the Hollywood film The rock.
- No proof was found that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction: a dossier to the contrary was presented ‘with a certainty which was not justified.’
- Saddam Hussein posed ‘no imminent threat’ at the time of the invasion.
- Blair repeatedly misled the Parliament and the media about the threat of the weapons of mass destruction he claimed Saddam Hussein had.
- Blair publicly distorted the advice he was given in order to make the case for war.
- The Attorney General Lord Goldsmith’s decision that there was a legal basis for invasion, having spoken and written for two years that intervention would have been illegal, was taken in a way which was ‘far from satisfactory.’
- The United Kingdom’s decision to act without gaining a second U.N. Resolution ‘undermined the Security Council’s authority.’
- The invasion of Iraq was not a ‘last resort’ and Blair chose military action before ‘peaceful options had been exhausted.’
- Soldiers had shoddy equipment and poorly-protected patrol vehicles.
- The Ministry of Defence was slow to respond to threat of improvised explosive devices.
- British troops were reduced to doing deals with local militias to stop targeting them.
Chilton said that his Report ‘is an account of an intervention which went badly wrong, with consequences to this day.’
It is absolutely astonishing that, on his resignation from Parliament, Blair should be appointed as Special Envoy by the Quartet on the Middle East – made up of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia – albeit if only involved in mediating the peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He held that office until 27 May 2015. He now runs a consultancy business and has set up various foundations in his own name, including the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.
Tomorrow: Australia’s involvement in Iraq (continued)
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini – ‘George’ devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975, invited by Attorney-General Lionel Keith Murphy, Q.C., he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra – to serve the Whitlam Government. In time he witnessed the administration of a law of prohibition as a law of abuse, and documented it in Malpractice, antitrust as an Australian poshlost (Sydney 1980). He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.