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

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 03, 2015
Sal Rodriguez
How California Prison Hunger Strikes Sparked Solitary Confinement Reforms
Lawrence Ware
Leave Michael Vick Alone: the Racism and Misogyny of Football Fans
Dave Lindorff
Is Obama the Worst President Ever?
Vijay Prashad
The Return of Social Democracy?
Ellen Brown
Quantitative Easing for People: Jeremy Corbyn’s Radical Proposal
Paul Craig Roberts
The Rise of the Inhumanes: Barron, Bybee, Yoo and Bradford
Binoy Kampmark
Inside Emailgate: Hillary’s Latest Problem
Lynn Holland
For the Love of Water: El Salvador’s Mining Ban
Geoff Dutton
Time for Some Anger Management
Jack Rasmus
The New Colonialism: Greece and Ukraine
Norman Pollack
American Jews and the Iran Accord: The Politics of Fear
John Grant
Sorting Through the Bullshit in America
David Macaray
The Unbearable Lightness of Treaties
Chad Nelson
Lessig Uses a Scalpel Where a Machete is Needed
September 02, 2015
Paul Street
Strange Words From St. Bernard and the Sandernistas
Jose Martinez
Houston, We Have a Problem: False Equivalencies on Police Violence
Henry Giroux
Global Capitalism and the Culture of Mad Violence
Ajamu Baraka
Making Black Lives Matter in Riohacha, Colombia
William Edstrom
Wall Street and the Military are Draining Americans High and Dry
David Altheide
The Media Syndrome Between a Glock and a GoPro
Yves Engler
Canada vs. Africa
Ron Jacobs
The League of Empire
Andrew Smolski
Democracy and Privatization in Neoliberal Mexico
Stephen Lendman
Gaza: a Socioeconomic Dead Zone
Norman Pollack
Obama, Flim-Flam Artist: Alaska Offshore Drilling
Binoy Kampmark
Australian Border Force Gore
Ruth Fowler
Ask Not: Lost in the Crowd with Amanda Palmer
Kim Nicolini
Remembering Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy