FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Chilcot Inquiry as Comic Opera

by

The decision to keep secret the full correspondence between George W Bush and Tony Blair instead of allowing the Chilcot inquiry to publish it has been rightly pilloried as a self-serving, dishonest attempt by politicians and civil servants to conceal their role in a disastrous war in Iraq.

By focusing public attention on exchanges between Bush and Blair that are to remain secret, the agreement between Sir John Chilcot and Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, gives the impression that there are bodies still buried and yet to be unearthed. This diverts attention from the fact that the most evil-smelling of these bodies have always been in plain sight. Who really thinks that Blair and his coterie were truthful in saying they believed that Saddam Hussein with his weapons of mass destruction was a threat so great that it could not be contained without military action?

The Chilcot inquiry has turned into a sort of Gilbert and Sullivan comedy about the British establishment, dysfunctional in everything except hiding its own mistakes. More is at stake here than simply the evasion of responsibility for launching a war that turned into a fiasco. The ludicrous length of the inquiry shows a belief on the part of British politicians and civil service mandarins that they have nothing to learn from mistakes made in Iraq.

We know they learned nothing because the reasons and rhetoric used to justify the British part in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 were being trotted out again as British forces moved into Helmand Province in Afghanistan in 2006. A pretence of humanitarian concern for the Libyan people was used in 2011 to explain Nato’s intervention to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi, much as had happened in Iraq. Recall how a hypothetical massacre by Gaddafi’s forces at Benghazi was used as justification for Nato airstrikes. But when militiamen we had installed in power later carried out real massacres by firing anti-aircraft guns into crowds of protesters in Benghazi and Tripoli, there were only mouse-squeaks of concern from Washington and London.

To give the Chilcot inquiry contemporary relevance, it should extend its brief to cover British military interventions, both small and large scale, conducted subsequent to Iraq but along very much the same lines. Otherwise, the traditional British court of inquiry, so brazenly designed to get the establishment off the hook, will become one more colourful relic of Britain’s past, like Beefeaters or clog dancing.

The agreement of Sir John Chilcot and Sir Jeremy Heywood to censor the Bush-Blair papers comes just as President Obama was spelling out to cadets at West Point his thoughts about America’s role in the world. His speech, at least, had the advantage of looking with attempted realism at contemporary events, such as the civil war in Syria, which David Cameron and William Hague were so willing to join in lock-step with the US last year – until blocked by Parliament which had been soured by past disasters.

Obama has considered seriously how the world is changing, most especially in Syria, where he said that “as the Syrian civil war spills across borders, the capacity of battle-hardened extremist groups to come after us only increases”. He noted that a new strategy was needed because “today’s principal threat no longer comes from a centralized al-Qa’ida leadership. Instead it comes from decentralised al-Qa’ida affiliates.”

This should be of some concern to British political leaders and officialdom, since London is much closer to al-Qa’ida reborn than New York or Washington. A repeat of 7/7 is more likely than a repeat of 9/11, though both are possible. The net results of the wars that Britain has participated in either openly or covertly since 9/11 – Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria – has been hugely to strengthen al-Qa’ida-type movements. They now control or can freely operate in a vast area, larger in size than Great Britain, which stretches from the Tigris River to the Mediterranean.

British and American policy has been to pretend that we support the “moderate” military opposition, but this no longer exists inside Syria. The anti-Assad rebels are overwhelmingly dominated by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), formerly al-Qa’ida in Iraq, Jabhat al-Nusra, the official representative of what the Americans call al-Qa’ida central, and some other jihadi groups. Only one Syrian provincial city out of 14 has fallen to the opposition. This is Raqqa in the east of country, which is today held by Isis, who recently crucified some of their opponents in the main square.

Obama sees the problem, but his prescription of what to do is only  going to exacerbate it. He will avoid direct US military action, but will outsource support for the rebels – now too toxic for the US to arm directly – to countries such as Turkey, across whose 510-mile-long border with Syria extreme jihadis pass without hindrance. The situation is not without precedent: after the overthrow in Cambodia of the Khmer Rouge, the murderers of more than a million of their own people, by the Vietnamese army in 1979, the US, China and Britain backed Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader, and recognised his government as Cambodia’s true representative at the UN. It was subsequently revealed that the British covertly gave military training to armed groups associated with the Khmer Rouge.

The jihadi insurgent movements in Syria are the Islamic version of the Khmer Rouge who, like their Cambodian predecessors, dominate the rebel-held enclaves. Moreover, Isis has seized much of western Iraq right up to the western outskirts of Baghdad. Iraqi security forces are capturing sophisticated weapons from Isis originally supplied by US and British allies to supposed moderate rebels in Syria.

The potential for disaster in Syria in 2014 is, in many ways, greater than in Iraq in 2003. In this growing crisis, the Chilcot inquiry comic opera is playing a small but ignoble role.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of  Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail