When the Commons voted for the final time on the Iraq war, all but 16 Conservative MPs (including Ken Clarke) supported Tony Blair's government. Events since then have, unsurprisingly, prompted several to recant, and Boris Johnson has become the latest to do so today. In an excoriating Telegraph column, the mayor writes: "The Iraq war was a tragic mistake; and by refusing to accept this, Blair is now undermining the very cause he advocates – the possibility of serious and effective intervention. Blair’s argument (if that is the word for his chain of bonkers assertions) is that we were right in 2003, and that we would be right to intervene again."
But asked on the Today programme this morning whether he shared the mayor's contrition, William Hague replied: "I don't think the invasion itself was a mistake". The Foreign Secretary limited himself to saying that "mistakes were made" in the aftermath of the war (most obviously the complete dismantlement of the Iraqi state) and noted that he argued long and hard in opposition for a public inquiry.
Asked whether he was ruling out new British intervention action in Iraq, Hague carefully replied that "to rule all things out in all circumstances would be a mistake" and rejected the notion that the government's defeat over intervention in Syria proves that the Commons is "never prepared to authorise military action". He was clear, however, that British involvement will almost certainly be limited to humanitarian aid and the offer of counter-terrorism expertise.
The most salient point that Hague made was that it would be a mistake to view the issue through the prism of western intervention. There are forces at work - the rise of ISIS, the sharpening Sunni-Shia divide - that go far beyond the rights and wrongs of military action. Unfortunately, that is unlikely to prevent Iraq's downward spiral being used as an occasion for unsightly grandstanding over 2003.