by Finian Cunningham, via Strategic Culture
The long-awaited Chilcot Inquiry into Britain’s role in the Iraq War (2003-2011) was published in July with much criticism leveled at the government under prime minister Tony Blair. There seems to be a national consensus that Britain’s war on Iraq is now a cause of deep shame and that future British governments should be chastened from embarking on similar warmongering.
On the contrary, however, Britain’s strident role in pushing NATO’s aggression towards Russia – again on the basis of trumped-up «intelligence» claims, as with its earlier invasion of Iraq – shows in fact that nothing has been learnt from the Chilcot Inquiry. Britain, shamefully, remains an incorrigibly belligerent state that acts as if it is above international law.
It remains to be seen if the new British Prime Minister Theresa May and her Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson can bring some sanity to Britain’s anti-Russia policy that was pushed by David Cameron and Philip Hammond. Hammond’s slavish following of Washington’s hostile agenda was particularly baleful. The outlook does not seem promising as can be gleaned from the systemic nature of British pro-Washington’s conduct, as revealed by the long-running Iraq imbroglio.
Sir John Chilcot, who led the seven-year official inquiry into the Iraq war, said the central question it addressed was whether the war was necessary. It concluded that the war was not necessary. Diplomatic options were not exhausted, it said, adding that the decision to go to war was based on flawed claims of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq posing an imminent threat.
Chilcot’s report was not constituted to be a legal examination of the war or the British government’s decision to join the American-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. So the question of whether Blair or his government acted criminally did not arise under the parameters of the inquiry.
Nevertheless, the findings are certainly potentially damning and could form the case for a future prosecution. If Blair’s claims made in 2002 and 2003 that Saddam could launch weapons of mass destruction «within 45 minutes» were, according to Chilcot, «not justified» then that raises prosecutable issues that the former premier misled his nation and parliament into voting for an «unnecessary war».
Blair’s secret memo to US President George W Bush in 2002 that he would follow his policy «whatever» also indicates that the decision to go to war was political and pre-ordained, regardless of the intelligence facts, as Chilcot’s report indicates. That provides additional grounds for future prosecution.
The British inquiry, which was set up by Blair’s prime ministerial successor Gordon Brown in 2009 and is estimated to have cost £10 million ($13 million), goes a long way to vindicate many anti-war campaigners who have consistently accused Blair of being an indictable war criminal. Families of British servicemen killed during the occupation of Iraq reacted to the Chilcot report with angry demands for Blair to be held to account for his disastrous decision to go to war.
For his part, Blair continues to maintain that he «acted in good faith» and «for the best interests of the country».
Despite Blair’s assertions of probity, there is wide public acceptance, following the Chilcot report, that Britain’s invasion of Iraq was an unmitigated catastrophe. Not only were scores of British lives lost needlessly, but Iraqi society was destroyed with the loss of perhaps more than one million people. The legacy of regional terrorism is greater than ever and it was spawned by Blair and Bush’s war, as Chilcot explicitly noted.
Today, many Britons recognize that their country’s international standing and foreign policy has been fatally marred by the war. It has been described as the worst setback for Britain’s international image since the fiasco of the Suez Crisis in 1956 when Britain (and France) were defeated by Egypt’s Nasser. Sixty years on, that latter debacle still haunts Britain’s establishment, as it is seen to have marked the precipitous decline of Britain as a colonial world power.
Sir John Chilcot said of his report just prior to publication that its lessons will serve to check future British governments from launching reckless wars. He said the central lesson of the report would be that «it will not be possible in the future to engage in a military or indeed a diplomatic endeavor on such a scale and such gravity without careful challenge analysis and assessment and collective political judgement being applied to it».
The British official double-think is staggering. Amid solemn expiations over Iraq and calls for future restraint on matters of war, this same country is one of the main advocates for military build-up by the NATO alliance in Eastern Europe against alleged Russian aggression.
Britain’s former Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who is now the finance minister in May’s new cabinet, as well as Britain’s military leaders sound like broken records with their repeated claims that Russia is a threat to Europe’s security. One British general has even predicted that a nuclear war could break out with Russia in the next year. Hammond’s successor at the foreign office, Boris Johnson, will be worth listening to closely to discern if there is any change in attitude towards Russia. It is doubtful.
The comparison with Iraq could not be more bitterly ironic. British claims of Russian aggression are based on the same «flawed» or «politicized» intelligence, which is likewise used to whip up a media frenzy that justifies warmongering. British troops are prominent in the unprecedented NATO build-up currently underway in Poland and the Baltic states.
Russia’s Defence Ministry has denounced the NATO escalation as «hysterical Russophobia» that is based on negligible evidence of Russian threat, and solely on tendentious and highly disputable claims by Washington, London and other Western governments that Moscow «annexed» Crimea in 2014. The same goes for Western claims of alleged Russian «invasion» of Eastern Ukraine. No proof has ever been presented, only sensational claims keenly peddled by Western news media outlets.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says that NATO claims of Russia’s imminent invasion of Easter Europe are «detached from reality».
Of course, proof of purported Russian malfeasance is not the real issue. What is important is the relentless propaganda narrative of Russia as security threat, which in turn is used to justify NATO expansionism and the flow of lucrative arms sales for Washington and London.
Ahead of the NATO summit in Poland on July 8-9 it was reported that Warsaw is to buy the US Patriot missile system «to deter Russian aggression» – with a price tag of $5.6 billion. The maker is US firm Raytheon, which is one of the biggest lobbyists in Washington, among other Pentagon-connected companies.
The danger from NATO’s provocative militarism on Russia’s border and from Russia’s legitimate counter defense measures is that an all-out war is not only a combustible risk, any conflict would likely spiral into a nuclear one. The risk of World War III is not hyperbole, with nuclear weapon destructive power thousand-folds greater than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Britain’s government, military and media establishments share onerous responsibility for the grave deterioration in relations between NATO and Russia.
One would think that the death and destruction wrought on Iraq by Britain might serve as a check on its belligerence towards Russia. Especially given that the consequences of a war with Russia would be inestimably greater than the abomination that was Iraq.
No, not a bit of it. In essence, Britain remains an unreconstructed, unapologetic, belligerent rogue state that behaves beyond the rule of law. It is a repeat-offender without ever being prosecuted. It has learnt nothing from Iraq, despite the pious claims of the Chilcot Inquiry.
That is why British political leaders, like Tony Blair, and their aides should be prosecuted to the full extent of international law. Warmongering governments that are unaccountable will continue to be warmongering governments, as the present British-NATO aggression towards Russia proves. (Same for the Americans, of course.)
If Tony Blair, over Iraq and Afghanistan, and David Cameron, over Libya, were put in the dock of a war crimes trial the chances are that present and future British governments would be a lot less gung-ho and incorrigible in their reckless trashing of law.
The real lesson from the Chilcot Inquiry is the imperative need to apply the rule of law and prosecute war crimes. Then, future wars might at last be avoided.
British citizens should mobilize even more strenuously to demand that. The present international legal structures might not be amenable. The International Criminal Court in The Hague said following Chilcot’s publication that it has «no jurisdiction» over Britain’s war on Iraq or in regard to Blair’s conduct in particular. Why not? The ICC shows no such reluctance when going after African alleged war criminals.
Still, British citizens should push their own justice system to act accordingly given the new evidence of the Chilcot Inquiry. If they think Iraq was a catastrophe, how much more cataclysmic would be a war with Russia? A war that its leaders are once again recklessly agitating for.