HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By John Hayes
Last week saw the long awaited publication of the definitive report into the war in Iraq. Sir John Chilcot’s damning indictment of Tony Blair’s decision making ahead of taking Britain to war was the most scathing assessment of a former Prime Minister I can recall.
In 2003, I took the view that the overthrow of the murderous dictator Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do. Saddam killed, including by the use of chemical weapons, hundreds of thousands of his own people attempting to preserve his regime’s grip on power.
Like the vast majority of MPs - and most of the British people, who supported the war on the eve of invasion - I placed my faith in the Prime Minister’s word when he told Parliament there was an imminent threat to Britain from Saddam Hussein and his ‘weapons of mass destruction’. Who would have believed that any leader, regardless of party, would be cavalier about such an important matter?
We know now for certain that there was no such imminent danger to the UK, and that the threat was “presented with a certainty that was not justified”. We know too that Britain chose to join the war before all peaceful options had been fully exhausted.
Though a long-time critic of the vacuous New Labour project, I knew how seriously previous Prime Ministers have taken such matters of matters of national security. Sadly, it appears that Mr Blair did not.
Many British lives were lost as a result of avoidable mistakes; the post-war planning was deemed “wholly inadequate” and British troops were sent into battle ill-prepared, without the right equipment. Strategic errors from America should not be underestimated either.
That Tony Blair’s strange determination appeared to cower other branches of Government, the Attorney General, and sections of the media should serve as a warning - the vital checks and balances which ensure our Parliamentary democracy functions, whilst simultaneously holding the powerful to account, largely failed at the time of this war.
We cannot turn back time, but we can learn the lessons from the past. Whilst doing so, the temptation to assume that all overseas interventions are wrong must be resisted. As we’ve seen in Syria recently (and in Bosnia, two decades ago), failure to get involved has costs, too.