Saturday, December 16, 2006

News From Black Thursday

This week, for reasons I won't trouble you with, I've been getting my news almost exclusively from the Tellybox (I'm led to believe that this is still the way very many voters get their news). As such, I haven't heard much about this (apologies if this is all over the interwebs already). The timing, as always, has been exquisite.

On "Black Thursday", the Foreign Affairs Select Committee (now headed by the intensely loyal Mike Gapes) released evidence given to the Butler inquiry by Carne Ross, Britain's top Iraq man at the UN from late 1997 to mid-2002. The government has until now suppressed this evidence, threatening Mr Ross with charges under the Official Secrets Act if he went public. Now that it's been released on a suitably busy news day, the government no longer needs to fear that it'll be leaked on a quiet one. And Mr Ross still fears possible charges so he still isn't keen to talk to the media. What could have been a massive story, wasn't. It's all very professional.

Mr Ross' full evidence, given in June 2004, is available online via the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. I've picked out a few quotations.
When I was briefed in London at the end of 1997 in preparation for my posting, I was told that we did not believe that Iraq had any significant WMD.

I read the available UK and US intelligence on Iraq every working day for the four and a half years of my posting.

[T]here was no intelligence evidence of significant holdings of CW [chemical warfare], BW [biological warfare] or nuclear material.

There was, moreover, no intelligence or assessment during my time in the job that Iraq had any intention to launch an attack against its neighbours or the UK or the US.

I quizzed my colleagues in the FCO and MOD working on Iraq on several occasions about the threat assessment in the run-up to the war. None told me that any new evidence had emerged to change our assessment; what had changed was the government's determination to present available evidence in a different light.
We've become used to hearing about the way this government manipulated the evidence to build a justification for a war of choice, it is difficult to avoid thinking that this is old news, but they have never been held to account for this extraordinarily disgraceful behaviour. They started a war based on a determination to present available evidence in a different light. They spun us into war. It doesn't get any worse.

Mr Ross also provided an insight into the attitude of Foreign Office as to the likely outcome of a policy of "regime change".
[W]e would frequently argue when the US raised the subject, that 'regime change' was inadvisable, primarily on the grounds that Iraq would collapse into chaos.
Got that? What is happening now is what the Foreign Office always thought would happen if the U.S. decided to remove Saddam.

I've thought about this a lot over the last four years. It seemed impossible to me that the people who worked at the Foreign Office would have misunderstood the situation as badly as they appeared too. For anyone who came in late, I've got a degree in International Relations so know a bit about the Foreign Office and the sort of people who work there. There are people there who've studied I.R. to a higher level than I did and who know a lot more about Iraq than I ever will.

And I've often wondered, how could these people have been so incompetent? How could they have failed to warn of the horrendous consequences of the action advocated by Bush and Blair? I've been pretty sure of the answer for a good while but this appears to be fairly solid proof: they did understand and they did issue warnings. Indeed, it was the policy of the Foreign Office staff working on Iraq to warn that the country would "collapse into chaos" if regime change was attempted by the U.S.

The problem was that Bush and Blair didn't want to hear it, didn't listen and were therefore totally unprepared for it when it happened.

What will Tony "who could possibly have predicted this ?" Blair say about that?

Not much if his spokesman is any guide.

These are two entirely separate failings. Engineering a war of choice is quite distinct from refusing to pay any heed to expert warnings on the outcome of that war. I guess different people will have different views as to which is worse. Either one, on its own, would have been more than enough to force a man of conscience to resign. Blair, on the other hand, is immediately moved to outraged indignation if anyone has the audacity to even begin to suggest that he bears any responsibility for either of these shameful actions.

And he still genuinely believes he has right on his side. That itself is another demonstration, as if one were needed, that he is not fit to be the Prime Minister of this country.

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