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Thursday, October 29, 2015 

Want to come over and Netflix and Chilcot?

(I am once again sorry for the title.)

The temptation to simply make bad jokes about the Chilcot inquiry at this point is all but overwhelming.  Iraq war inquiry still not to be over by Christmas.  No shock and awe as Chilcot says report to be launched within 45 years.  De'Chilcotisation process still not achieved, despite intervention of Daily Mail.  

And indeed, for all the protestations of Chilcot and his relatively few friends in the media, it is absurd that a report on a war that lasted 7 years should take an equal amount of time to gestate before finally emerging.  Delayed as it has been by the death of panel member Sir Martin Gilbert and incessant, interminable hold-ups over just what can and cannot be released of the conversations between Tony Blair and George Bush, the responsibility ultimately is on Chilcot himself.  If during the early stages he realised it was to be an even more mammoth task then he assumed, as he must have done, then he should have requested extra resources.

Far from all the blame can be laid at Chilcot's door, however.  Nor can it be pinned on Blair, or on the Maxwellisation process of contacting those due to be criticised for a response as a whole.  Such has the focus been on whether or not Blair will finally be held to account (spoiler: he won't) that it seems to have been forgotten Chilcot's remit was across the board, as it had to be.  Blair, both rightly and wrongly, has become defined by Iraq.  It will be how he's principally remembered, and yet this is far too simplistic a view of how we came to find ourselves riding the coattails of an even by historical standards exceptionally right-wing Republican administration's plan to remake the Middle East.  Blair was the driving force, certainly, but there are meant to be safeguards in place across government to prevent a prime minister from taking his country to war on such flimsy grounds.  They failed, with much of Whitehall working in concert with the prime minister to ensure Britain took part in a war it had no need to.

It's this that somewhat explains why Chilcot's task has taken so much longer than it should.  Gordon Brown delayed the inquiry itself until the last minute, no doubt partly because he hoped he'd be gone by the time it came to report.  The Tories' fervour for an inquiry, driven by the hope that it would further damage Labour, has long since transformed into the realisation that it'll be under their watch a potentially damning report will be published.  Cameron's public statements, that he wants the report published as soon as possible, mask what has in fact been an alliance with the Cabinet Office to delay it as much as possible.  Whether or not Richard Norton Taylor's reports are entirely accurate on Whitehall providing documents to those set to be criticised which Chilcot himself did not receive, it's apparent there has been a refusal to cooperate, at the very least in a timely fashion, that Chilcot will hopefully address in the report itself.

As argued previously, the idea the report will provide the "closure" some want sadly doesn't reflect how previous such inquiries have gone.  At best, Chilcot will be critical across the board, as that's precisely where responsibility does lie.  The idea Blair got his way in the face of resistance is nonsense: the intelligence agencies, the civil service, the military, other government departments, other ministers, the opposition Conservative party, all either acquiesced at the slightest prompting or actively went along with war plan Iraq.  Any criticisms that were made took place behind close doors (with the obvious exception of Clare Short), and either ignored or dismissed.  Some of this was also down to how they believed the war would be over quickly; no one suspected there would be such resistance, from both Sunni and Shia militants, let alone that a terrorist group to rival al-Qaida itself would emerge from the rubble.

The same cannot be said now, which again helps to explain why there have been such delays.  Should Chilcot's criticism go further than expected, it will only highlight how the same deficiencies, same refusal to plan for the worst, same touching belief in the power of bombing countries better persists.  You only have to look at the response from the government to parliament's refusal to vote for air strikes on Assad to see how practically nothing has changed: it wasn't that the government had failed to make an even remotely convincing case, it was everyone else's, whether Ed Miliband's or that of a country supposedly coming over isolationist all of a sudden.  Just as with Iraq, the attorney general assured everyone it was all above board legally, and an incredibly lacking intelligence briefing was also provided.  It's no coincidence that by next July a decision one way or the other will likely have been made on joining the action in Syria against Islamic State, when without doubt the same old arguments and same old practices will have reared their heads once again.

After all, Blair if nothing else recognises that Islamic State owes its existence to his war.  By contrast, the more out there interventionists still with us maintain that our involvement in Libya has no connection whatsoever to what has happened since, and to believe so is to fall into the ad hoc fallacy.  Casuality apparently doesn't exist.  Others argue that Libya would have descended into chaos if we hadn't intervened, which is probably true, but not an argument for having done so.  Chilcot, whatever conclusions he reaches, will not change the debate one iota.  How could he?

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