Thirteen years after a coalition of forces, including the UK, participated in the highly controversial invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Chilcot report has the world talking about it all over again. The inquiry, named after its chairman John Chilcot, was initiated in 2009 by then UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown to look into his predecessor Tony Blair’s decision to participate in the Iraq war, including the communication between Blair and former US President George W. Bush.
The Chilcot inquiry severely criticises Blair’s hasty decision to enter the war, on the grounds of overplaying the threat of Saddam Hussein, insufficient planning for the post-war scenario, and flawed legal, intelligence and military assessments. However, the report does not declare the decision to have been illegal, and holds itself back from accusing Blair of committing deceit. With the report itself presenting a bit of a paradox in its verdict, the world too is also responding to the inquiry in contradictory ways.
According to the Independent, the US government has declined to comment on the report, saying the inquiry was conducted by an independent body appointed by the UK government and it cannot therefore pass remark.
Caught in the eye of the storm, Blair responded to the Chilcot report’s damning criticism by calling the decision to go to war with Iraq “the hardest, most momentous, most agonising decision I took in 10 years as British prime minister”. While sympathising with those who lost loved ones in the war, Blair remained firm on the decision he made, stating, “I believe we made the right decision and the world is better and safer”.
He, however, rejected some of the claims made by the inquiry, according to the Guardian, including allegations that the decision to go to war had undermined the authority of the UN.
George W. Bush
The strongest proponent of the Iraq war, Bush was backed by foreign policy ally Blair in his war on terror. In the aftermath of the Chilcot report, Bush’s spokesman said, “Despite the intelligence failures and other mistakes he has acknowledged previously, President Bush continues to believe the whole world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power. He is deeply grateful for the service and sacrifice of American and coalition forces in the war on terror. And there was no stronger ally than the United Kingdom under the leadership of Prime Minister Tony Blair.”
The spokesman also said Bush was hosting wounded warriors at his ranch and had not gone through the Chilcot report himself.
British Prime Minister David Cameron toed a diplomatic line as he rejected the labelling of Blair’s decision to go to war with Iraq as “wrong” or “a mistake”, when asked to do so at a parliamentary debate on the report. Instead, he responded by saying,“I think people should read the report and come to their own conclusion. Clearly the aftermath of this conflict was profoundly disastrous in so many ways. I don’t move away from that all”.
Cameron also refused to apologise for the Conservative Party’s decision to back Blair’s decision to go to war. Rather, he suggested that the report be used to “learn the lessons of what happened and what needs to be put in place to make sure that mistakes cannot be made in future”.
In his parliamentary speech, Cameron presented five lessons to be learnt, including the use of war as a mechanism of last resort to “only be done if all credible alternatives have been exhausted”. However, he added that “… just because intervention is difficult, it does not mean that there are not times when it is right and necessary.”
At a time when US-British relations are being under heavy scrutiny, Cameron was quick to reiterate that “…Britain has no greater friend or ally in the world than America, and that our partnership remains as important for our security and prosperity today as it has ever been”.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s rhetoric was completely contrary to that of Cameron. He responded to the prime minister in parliament, calling the war a “colonial-style occupation” and an “act of military aggression” considered illegal “by the overwhelming weight of international legal opinion”.
Corbyn later apologised to the people of Iraq for his party’s involvement in the war, claiming that they have “paid the greatest price for the most serious foreign policy calamity of the last 60 years”. He also apologised to families of soldiers affected by “a conflict they should never have been sent to”, and finally to all the British citizens “who feel our democracy was traduced and undermined by the way in which the decision to go to war was taken”.
A resoundingly critical media
A scathing editorial in the Guardian called Blair’s decision to go to war “… an appalling mistake, first of all, because it involved committing the country to a war of choice, for which there was no real rationale, only an angry impulse to lash out to avenge the twin towers without paying heed to the distinction between militant Islamism and secular Ba’athism”. It called Blair’s faithfulness to Bush a “private promise from which every abuse of public process would flow,” critiquing the sense of indiscriminate support that UK offered to the US in the attack of Iraq.
The Telegraph view concluded that, “The Iraq war is an inglorious story of costly mistakes and misjudgments, not all them made by Mr Blair. But allowing it to render Britain enfeebled would make it into a tragedy”. Even the Sun, which had supported the war in 2003, came out strongly saying, “Bush and Blair’s assumption that they could cleanly cut the head off the snake and effortlessly transform Iraq into a peaceful liberal democracy was insane”.
The present political ramifications of the Chilcot report were reflected by Lee Williams, writing for the Independent, who argued that this incident in indicative of the Labour Party’s need of a leader like Corbyn, “a man whose morals are frustratingly unimpeachable”
An op-ed by Carne Ross in the New York Times appraised the Chilcot report to reveal its limitations. Ross says, “The enormous suffering and losses of the Iraqi people are scarcely mentioned; there is no attempt to count the dead. There is also no recommendation of making reparation to the Iraqi people, let alone an apology”. The piece urges the need for accountability and consequences of the report to extend beyond the present news cycle of criticism.