The UK’s Inquiry into the Iraq war and the UK’s role in it kicks off again this week. Technically known as TheThe Iraq Inquiry but more conventionally known as the Chilcot inquiry (since it is being chaired by Sir John Chilcot), this series of hearings has produced occasionally riveting theatre. In some respects this has been turning out better than expected, because we have learned quite a few things we didn’t know before, especially on that pesky little matter of Tony Blair’s duplicity.
Anyway, the hearings start up again this week with a couple of military and Cabinet Office guys, and then on Friday we get the return of Tony Blair. As usual, people signed up for tickets, which is what occurred last time, but I’m going to be home watching it on BBC. There’s quite a lot that the Committee could be asking Blair about, in fact. Keep in mind that the only reason he’s here is that he was specifically asked to return to address a number of inconsistencies between his testimony and that of some others, specifically regarding the legal advice he received from his Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, and its changing nature over time. As The Guardian notes,
The inquiry is believed to be concerned about the revelation in documents it released in June. They show that the day before he privately assured Bush he would back US-led military action, Blair was warned by Lord Goldsmith, then attorney general, that an invasion of Iraq would be illegal.
A note from Goldsmith to Blair, marked secret and dated 30 January 2003, stated: “I thought you might wish to know where I stand on the question of whether a further decision of the [UN] security council is legally required in order to authorise the use of force against Iraq.” Goldsmith warned Blair: “My view remains that a further [UN] decision is required.”
The document contains a handwritten note, by David Manning, Blair’s chief foreign policy adviser, which warned: “Clear advice from attorney on need for further resolution.” An apparently frustrated Blair scrawled in the margin: “I just don’t understand this.”
The following day Blair flew to Washington to see Bush. Manning noted that Bush told Blair that military action would be taken with or without a second security council resolution, and bombing would start mid-March 2003. The minute records Blair’s reaction: “The prime minister said he was solidly with the president.”
Well, this sounds pretty damning, but Blair, as we all know, is a pretty smooth and chatty testifier. It will be fun to see how he tries to wrangle out of this one, but undoubtedly he will come up with some sort of weaselly line of defense that will satisfy no one but himself—but that will be enough for him. Especially after last year’s testimony in which Blair indicated he would do it again.
We’ll post again on Friday following Blair’s testimony. I suppose in some ways this will be the acid test for the committee members, who so far have been occasionally brilliant, and occasionally stupefyingly thick, throughout. Blair has a lot to answer for—will the committee have the guts to ask the right questions? We’ll see. The committee’s exact task, recall, is to determine what lessons should be learned. What to do about lying ex-Prime Ministers should be one of them.