Getting to the root of Chilcot

Getting to the root of Chilcot
5 min read
07 Jul, 2016
Comment: New correspondence between Blair and Bush has come to light that underlines Blair's desire to prioritise the special relationship with the US, with profound consequences, writes James Denselow
What have we really learnt that is new from the Chilcot report? [Getty]
As Iraqis continue to grieve the losses from the devastating suicide bombing that killed some 280 people over the weekend, Wednesday saw the release of the Chilcot Inquiry report on the UK's involvement in the conflict, that cost the lives of 179 service personnel and civilians.
The report was seven years in the making and has been released thirteen years after the original invasion. It took evidence from 150 witnesses, cost more than £10 million to produce and at 2.6 million words, is five times the length of Tolstoy's War and Peace.
The much anticipated release has caused reaction from every corner of the British political establishment in an orgy of hindsight. Much of this has been a study in confirmation bias, with those against the war heralding it as a devastating indictment of the Blair government whilst senior figures with responsibility for the conflict claiming to the contrary that it dispelled accusations of lies and deceit.

The heated and long-running debate on the Iraq war is fundamentally about the decision to join the American invasion and what lay behind it. Much of this focus has understandably been about intelligence around Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Sir John Chilcot, who led a fully independent inquiry, described the intelligence as 'flawed'. We now know that it was wrong, and that Saddam was not in possession of such weapons.

Once this was revealed after the invasion, the lead protagonists moved to a debate about the nature of the Saddam regime, claiming that Iraq (and the world) would be in a better place now that he had gone. The ensuing, mismanaged occupation and the civil war that was unleashed as the Iraqi state collapsed, made that hard to contest, and last week's bombing and the fact that IS occupies Mosul - the country's second city - is testimony to how much things have deteriorated since then.

But what have we really learnt that is new from Chilcot?

From my perspective one of the key findings from the report is the release of new correspondence between Prime Minister Blair and President Bush, that shines a light on the metanarrative behind the decision to join the US-led invasion.
Senior advisors within the Bush administration saw 9/11 as giving them a blank cheque for the US superpower to pursue "full spectrum dominance"
Blair wrote to Bush that "I will be with you, whatever". This is the key, and an essential line, a microcosm of complexity distilled into a single and compelling proposition: That the British Prime Minister felt that following 9/11, it was in Britain's best interests to stay as close as possible to an American administration that was hell bent on remaking the region as part of the backlash to the fall of the Twin Towers.
Senior advisors within the Bush administration saw 9/11 as giving them a blank cheque for the US superpower to pursue "full spectrum dominance" with a particular focus on remaking the Middle East. Iraq was in the crosshairs as the smoke was still rising from ground zero in New York. WMD was the justification but never the real reason for the push to invade. Chilcot is therefore right when he says that "the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted".

It is of course correct to interrogate and challenge the legal analysis, the use of intelligence and decision making processes in Number 10 and Parliament, but this surely must be against a better understanding of the wider reasons of geopolitics that are the essence underpinning the conflict.
Being seen as an uncritical and naive Atlanticist may be the toughest legacy from the inquiry for Blair to shake off
This is perhaps where Chilcot is at his most devastating on the legacy of Blair in particular. The inquiry was ironically commissioned by Blair's great colleague and rival Gordon Brown when he was in power. Chilcot suggests - as I've outlined - that Blair placed his attempt to maintain the special relationship with the US ahead of our national interest.

Yet crucially, the report also says that our relations with the US would not have been damaged had we opted out of the military action; "Had the UK stood by its differing position on Iraq - which was not an opposed position, but one in which the UK had identified conditions seen as vital by the UK Government - the Inquiry does not consider that this would have led to a fundamental or lasting change in the UK's relationship with the US."

Being seen as an uncritical and naive Atlanticist may be the toughest legacy from the inquiry for Blair to shake off. The repercussions from this vast report on the foreign policy making mechanisms of the UK will reverberate for some time as people digest its scale whilst managing the current period of flux brought about by Brexit. Meanwhile in Iraq people continue to bury their dead from the last bombing and fear for the next to come.

James Denselow is an author and writer on Middle East politics and security issues. He is a former board member of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) and a director of the New Diplomacy Platform. Follow him on Twitter: @jamesdenselow

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.