Two days ago, on the 22nd April to be precise, Sir John Chilcot celebrated his seventy sixth birthday. You may remember him, although there’s no reason why you should. Shortly after celebrating his seventieth birthday in 2009, he was appointed as the chairman of an Inquiry into the Iraq war commissioned by Gordon Brown, the then Prime Minister. Brown emphatically denied that he was motivated by his hatred of Tony Blair and his hope that the Inquiry would bring opprobrium on his predecessor whilst exonerating him of all involvement. On the contrary, he was being even handed in pursuit of the truth and a desire to learn from others’ mistakes. This was very much his mantra during his mercifully short period in office.
Not even Sir John could have countenanced the possibility that this Inquiry would still be ongoing six years after its first meeting, and by all accounts, it has yet to run its course. For reasons best known to Sir John, it took five months from commissioning to the first meeting, so setting a pace which the Inquiry was to slavishly follow from Day One. We were told that the purpose of the Inquiry, and I quote from Chilcot’s opening statement, was: ” to identify the lessons that should be learned from the UK’s involvement in Iraq to help future governments who may face similar situations. To do this, we need to establish what happened. We are piecing this together from the evidence we are collecting from documents or from those who have first hand experience. We will then need to evaluate what went well and what didn’t – and, crucially, why”. And that, crucially, is the all important question surrounding this Inquiry, why? And why this Inquiry at all?
Let me see if I can help Chilcot and his fellow panel members to establish what happened, so that I am not writing a similar blog in celebration of Sir John’s eightieth birthday and his report still unpublished. Why did we go to war against Iraq? Because the Americans asked us to join them. Why did they ask us? Because we all believed at the time that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which he could unleash on his enemies within 45 minutes. As it transpired, we were wrong, but so what? An evil dictator was removed and replaced by a corrupt and useless government which paid lip service to the Americans and very little else. As somebody once said, shit happens, and if those in power are constantly worried about making the wrong call, they shouldn’t be in power. It’s their job to call the shots, right or wrong.
This Inquiry was misconceived from the outset, but like Topsy, has grown out of all proportion, and once it is published, if ever, it will have its Andy Warhol moment and then, having writ, move on. There will be other Inquiries, we seem to have an insatiable desire for them, with identical remits to establish what happened. They too, like Topsy, will grow and grow and take on a life of their own, nobody will accept responsibility and everybody will be exonerated. What a joy!