Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The key part of the Chilcot Report

Chilcot confirmed one essential point that we probably already knew: that the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 was not the option of last resort.  The invasion happened then because of the military timetable that the Bush administration had committed itself to, not because it was at that point that the options for dealing with Saddam had run out.  Tony Blair chose to stay with the US, and he did so for two reasons.  First, because he and others were concerned about the consequences of not supporting the Americans.  Second, because he felt that he would have influence with the Americans from a position of support which would not be available from a position of opposition.

Were these calculations justified?  This is what Chilcot had to say in the key Section 7 of his report:
365. Although there has historically been a very close relationship between the British and American peoples and a close identity of values between our democracies, it is an alliance founded not on emotion, but on a hard-headed appreciation of mutual benefit. The benefits do not by any means flow only in one direction.... 
367. ....A policy of direct opposition to the US would have done serious short-term damage to the relationship, but it is questionable whether it would have broken the partnership. 
368. Over the past seven decades, the UK and US have adopted differing, and sometimes conflicting, positions on major issues, for example Suez, the Vietnam War, the Falklands, Grenada, Bosnia, the Arab/Israel dispute and, at times, Northern Ireland. Those differences did not fundamentally call into question the practice of close cooperation, to mutual advantage, on the overall relationship, including defence and intelligence. 
369. The opposition of Germany and France to US policy in 2002 to 2003 does not appear to have had a lasting impact on the relationships of those countries with the US, despite the bitterness at the time. 
370. However, a decision not to oppose does not have to be translated into unqualified support. Throughout the post-Second World War period (and, notably, during the wartime alliance), the UK’s relationship with the US and the commonality of interests therein have proved strong enough to bear the weight of different approaches to international problems and not infrequent disagreements. 
371. Had the UK [prioritised peaceful disarmament of Iraq above regime change] the Inquiry does not consider that this would have led to a fundamental or lasting change in the UK’s relationship with the US....
373. The second reason for committing unqualified support was, by standing alongside and taking part in the planning, the UK would be able to influence US policy. 
374. Mr Blair’s stalwart support for the US after 9/11 had a significant impact in that country. Mr Blair developed a close working relationship with President Bush. He used this to compare notes and inject his views on the major issues of the day, and it is clear from the records of the discussions that President Bush encouraged that dialogue and listened to Mr Blair’s opinions....
378. How best to exercise influence with the President of the United States is a matter for the tactical judgement of the Prime Minister, and will vary between Prime Ministers and Presidents....
380. Mr Blair undoubtedly influenced the President’s decision to go to the UN Security Council in the autumn of 2002. On other critical decisions set out in the Report, he did not succeed in changing the approach determined in Washington.