The biggest stain upon the New Labour government, and the event which delivered perhaps some of the best satire of recent years: BLair, the Iraq war refuses to be forgotten. In 2009 Gordon Brown announced the Chilcot Inquiry would look into Britain’s role in the Iraq War and score a line under the unfortunate chapter in British foreign policy. He also apologised to Parliament for declaring war before military action had been properly debated within the commons, inadvertently creating a Parliamentary convention over the declaration of war, saying that Parliament would be consulted before war is declared in future. Six years ago – six years after the outbreak of war – it had seemed that Britain would be allowed to move on from Iraq, but it was not to be.
The inquiry’s timing was in itself a careful piece of political strategy, as the 2010 general election was looming. Labour knew this would be a hard fight, and they didn’t want a scary, independent inquiry throwing a curveball into their electioneering ranks. So it was announced with a comfortable time scale which would allow the newly incumbent government sufficient wiggle room to deflect any unwelcome judgements. However, we are now nearing yet another general election, and the Chilcot Inquiry is still not here, nor is it likely to be any time soon, with Lord Chilcot himself expressing his expectation that it’ll probably be ready by about October, maybe November.
Some are pointing to the high level ‘diplomatic’ channels which have been opened between David Cameron and Ed Miliband’s senior advisors as a collusion, or perhaps a way of agreeing how convenient it would be for both parties should the report be published after the general election. However, it takes a rather unhealthy dose of cynicism to jump straight to that conclusion, no matter how understandable it might be. Also, it would be disappointing to think that Lord Chilcot thought it best to put the brakes on, just in case it did have the potential to upset the election, simply because the whole idea of an independent inquiry is that it gets on with its task irrespective of the political situation, no matter whether political leaders put pressure on inquiry administrators directly or not.
This is not an issue of retribution, or ensuring that the public, or the media, were in the right when they branded Blair a liar, and claimed that there was a larger story in the declaration of war. It was simply too long ago, to offer any form of relatable justice. This is not to say that those who are guilty of breaching international law should not be punished, but this was never going to be the net result of Chilcot, it was, similar to Leveson, which was an oportunity to end the squabbling and set the issue to rest. Though these debates are important, they can no longer offer us any insights, as we once thought that they could. The ‘Iraq War’ as it was, is no longer an active concern of British foreign policy, irrelevent of the implications, and aftershocks of the conflict.
However, the news that the inquiry will not be published until well after the general election in May has been hijacked by the Liberal Democrats because they have been denied their big oportunity to remind the British electorate why they shouldn’t trust either Labour or the Conservatives. As with the previous examples of why the delay of this important document is, this inquiry is too important to be used as a simple political football.
The main issue with the stuttering and stalling nature of the Chilcot Inquiry is one of closure. Britain needs to be able to learn from its mistakes and forgive itself, but it is impossible to do that without properly understanding what happened nearly 12 years ago. Tony Blair, a man of much controversy in relation to Iraq, gave an interview at the resurgence of the Isis uprising in Fallujah last year claiming that the effects of the Iraq war weren’t to blame and that the solution would have to be derived from a different mind set.
While it is possible to argue that: “He would say that wouldn’t he?” is quite easy, and again understandable, his argument was that it was time to move on from Iraq, this much it is possible to agree with. We cannot, despite how much we might want to, undo our actions in the Middle East at the beginning of the last decade, but what we can do is learn from what we did wrong and deal with the situation as it is now, however, until we are allowed to read Chilcot’s conclusions, that is impossible.