The Chilcot inquiry is an unmistakable and damning indictment of Tony Blair’s Iraq War policy—but will it make a difference?

Veteran war reporter Patrick Cockburn has spent years covering the unfolding disaster in the Greater Middle East. In light of this week’s report, his analysis is proving indispensable.



Quoting at length from Patrick Cockburn‘s column in the Independent:

“By an accident of history, the Chilcot inquiry on the Iraq War is appearing at a critical moment in British history. The war was the first great test this century of the ability of the British powers-that-be to govern intelligently and successfully and one which they demonstrably failed. The crisis provoked by the vote to leave the European Union is the next crisis of similar gravity faced by these same powers and, once again, they appear unable to cope.

“Britain’s politicians and senior officials have traditionally had the reputation of making fewer mistakes than their rivals, but their inability to grapple with these crises is a sign that this period may be drawing to an end. The Chilcot report will presumably provide evidence about why Britain made so many mistakes before and during the Iraq war, but is unlikely to explain why it went on making them in Libya and Syria.

“Britain’s rulers periodically admit that they got many things wrong in Iraq, but they tend to be unspecific about what these were or what practical lessons can be learned from British military involvement there between 2003 and 2009. This ignorance is wilful, stemming from a conscious or unconscious sense that, if Britain admits to real weaknesses and failures, it will be seen as a less valuable ally by the US and others whom Britain is trying to convince of its continuing political and military strength.

“One way of looking at the Iraq conflict is to see it as a disastrous attempt by Britain to make war on the cheap in conditions which were far more risky than those launching it imagined. To prevent fragile support for the war eroding further, bad news was concealed or glossed over to the point that propaganda took over from reality.

“It was comical but chilling in the early years of the war to see Tony Blair and other British ministers, sometimes protected by helmets and body armor, travelling by helicopter from Baghdad International Airport to the Green Zone because it was too dangerous for them to drive along the short stretch of road between the two. Despite the necessity for these security measures in the heart of the Iraqi capital, they would then blithely state that the insurgents were on the run and a majority of Iraqi provinces at peace, a claim they wisely made no attempt to validate by a personal visit and in the knowledge that journalists could not disprove without grave risk of being murdered.” 1


BBC Radio also called on Cockburn to contextualize the inquiry’s findings in the greater British political landscape. Cockburn:

Robin Cook, the former Foreign Secretary … made a magnificent resignation speech in 2003 before the beginning of the war, saying, ‘look, the military strategy for overthrowing Saddam Hussein is that he’s militarily very weak, there won’t be much resistance; but the justification for this war is that he is a threat to us all—and you can’t have it both ways. So from the very beginning there was a contradiction. And Cook also says, ‘well it’s very unlikely he has militarily significant WMD’. It turned out he had none. But that’s something that could and should have been known at the time, and probably was instinctively known. So the threat was exaggerated to the point that it just becomes untrue. 2

And later, on BBC Radio Five Live, Cockburn charges that Blair, on Iraq, “has always been a bit detached from reality,” but that the “single-minded focus on Tony Blair as the evil architect of the whole war and almost a scapegoat for everything that happened is simple-minded and a bit deceptive. You have to look at what happened to British policy in general.” 3


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1 The Independent, published 4 July 2016
2 BBC West Midlands Radio, broadcast 7 July 2016
3 BBC Radio Five Live, broadcast 7 July 2016