Iraq: promises, promises, broken, broken

Back in October 2003, I wrote a piece in Ephems recalling that on two occasions before the attack on Iraq, in January and February of that year, Tony Blair had given emphatic undertakings on national television that he would not take Britain into a war with Iraq without the authority of the UN unless (1) there was approval for it in a resolution supported by a majority of the members of the Security Council but (2) that resolution had been blocked by an “unreasonable” veto cast by one or more of the Council’s permanent members.  In the event, none of Mr Blair’s conditions was satisfied:  there was no UN resolution authorising the use of force, no support for such a resolution by a majority of members of the Security Council, and no veto, unreasonable or otherwise, nor any need for one.  The transcripts of the television interviews in which the prime minister twice gave these public undertakings  are available on the Web for all to see.  Occasional attempts in parliament to confront him with the evidence of these broken promises have been fobbed off.  The press seems to have forgotten them.  So much for Tony’s famous "good faithâ€?.

I hark back now to this earlier evidence of prime ministerial perfidy because Lord Wright of Richmond, a former Head of the Diplomatic Service and a former Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, has published an article in The Independent on 15 July  in which, as an ‘aside’ (some aside!), he reports that a minister—presumably other than the prime minister—on two occasions before the invasion assured him that Britain would not join with the US in invading Iraq without a "second resolutionâ€? of the Security Council giving its authority for the use of force:

"Ministers repeatedly assured us, in the months before the invasion, that “no decisions had been taken”. It was, however, clear to many of us that decisions had indeed been taken in Washington; and indeed that those decisions were irreversible once coalition troops had started to gather in Kuwait and the Lower Gulf. (As an aside, I can record that I was twice assured by a British minister at that point that we would not join the Americans in an invasion if we failed – as of course we did – to get a second resolution in the United Nations Security Council.)â€?

The whole of Patrick Wright’s article is important as a stinging indictment of the prime minister and his government in the light of the Butler report, an article written by a formidably distinguished and experienced former public servant, probably the most effective Head of the Diplomatic Service for many years, and a politically impartial member of the Upper House (he is a cross-bencher).  But the revelation of the repeated assurance that he received from a member of the government, read with the public undertakings to the same effect given by Mr Blair on national television, is of special significance in seeming to confirm the suspicion that Blair and his key ministers and officials failed to foresee that they might not be able to secure that "second resolutionâ€? for which they worked so hard.  It doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that they might be faced with the appalling dilemma of either having to renege on the commitment Blair had evidently given to President George W Bush all those months earlier, that if the time came when force had to be used against Saddam, Britain would be there alongside the United States, with all that such a breach of faith would entail for Tony Blair’s standing in the US – or having to commit Britain to participation in a war lacking UN authority, and thus certain to be denounced as contrary to international law by most of his own party, by British public opinion generally, and by much of the rest of the world.  We may feel sympathy for anyone caught in such a dilemma, but none for such naïve lack of foresight and judgement.
The Butler report has now evoked:
·    statements by a growing number of MPs on both sides of the House that if they had known then what they know now from Butler and other sources, they would not have voted in favour of the war; 
·    a strongly critical analysis of the Blair government’s performance, failings and broken promises by a former Head of the Diplomatic Service;  and
·    similar indictments by at least three former Foreign Secretaries, Lords Owen and Hurd  and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, two of whom have expressly called for the prime minister’s resignation — not to mention the equally severe strictures repeatedly pronounced by a former Foreign Secretary in Mr Blair’s own party and even better placed to voice an authoritative opinion:  Robin Cook.
How long can Mr Blair carry on in the face of this gale-force condemnation by the great and the good?