Sir John Chilcot, author of the Chilcot Report that gave damning proof of Tony Blair’s duplicity in bringing Great Britain into the war against Iraq, testified in Parliament for the first time since his report was released last July. Speaking to the Commons liaison committee, he was just as damning in his testimony as in the report.
He accused Blair’s cabinet of having been a “sofa government” that was under Blair’s “psychological dominance.” Furthermore, Blair did not consult his “sofa government” ministers on crucial decisions which were Blair’s personal preferences. Chilcot added that on several occasions between 2002 and 2007, “things were decided without reference to cabinet,” including the legal basis on which the U.K. went to war in 2003 against Iraq.
One of the couch potatoes was apparently then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Chilcot said that when he asked Straw, why the cabinet had not “provided more of a challenge” to Blair or demanded more information, “The answer that came back was that Tony Blair had, as leader of the opposition and in government, rescued his party from a dire predicament. I had the sense from Straw’s answer that [blair] had achieved a personal and political dominance, a sheer psychological dominance. He [blair] had been right. Was he not right this time? That’s what I took from Mr. Straw’s evidence.”
Another point raised was a private note sent on 28 July 2002 in which Blair promised then-President George W Bush: “I will be with you, whatever.” Chilcot said the cabinet was never told about the note which committed the government to “whatever.” Only Jonathan Powell — Blair’s chief of staff — and David Manning — the U.K.’s ambassador to the U.S. — were aware of its existence. “Both tried to persuade him [blair] not to use those form of words. But he did,” Chilcot said. Straw found out about it only after it had been issued.
Rather than being couch potatoes, Chilcot said, ministers should voice their disagreements or views. “It’s vital for serious decisions to be recorded in the public archive, not for immediate release necessarily, but they should be written down. If someone is in serious disagreement, the reason for that decision, and the fact of it, should be recorded. [this] allows different voices to be heard.”
While saying that Saddam Hussein’s government was “barbaric and beyond any kind of defense,” Chilcot said, “That didn’t amount either in international law or other grounds for the invasion of a sovereign country. We haven’t been in that business since 1945.” (Chilcot did not mention Egypt in 1956.)
While Chilcot absolved Blair of the charge that he had deliberately set out to “deceive parliament and the public,” Blair nonetheless was to blame, in that he used his “very real powers of advocacy and persuasion” in support of a dubious case for war. Furthermore, he said that Blair “overestimated” his ability to influence U.S. decision-making on Iraq, and that it was clear by the end of 2002 that the military timetable had taken control of the diplomatic process.
He also claimed that Blair, on the eve of his speech to Parliament in March 2003, seeking approval for invasion, genuinely believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The government’s joint intelligence committee had wrongly told him this. Nonetheless, at that point there was “no evidence” that Saddam intended to deploy such weapons against U.K. interests, and there was no imminent threat. In fact, it turned out that Saddam had secretly destroyed his chemical and biological weapons after the Gulf War and before international inspectors were allowed back into the country.
When asked who was most responsible for the Iraq disaster, Chilcot answered: Blair, Straw, and Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon. Blair and Straw were more experienced and therefore most at fault.
When asked what was the most important finding of the inquiry, he said, “Failure to exert and exercise sufficient collective responsibility for a very big decision.”
Andrew Tyrie, the chair of the Treasury select committee, said the parliamentary hearing had been a useful exercise. “Sir John has started to put the final pieces of his conclusions into the public domain,” he said. Tyrie added that Blair “did not feel the need to be constrained by facts when putting his case to Parliament.”