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23 November 2009

The trap the Iraq inquiry must avoid

The inquiry must not fall for the myth that "lack of planning" led to disaster in Iraq

By George Eaton

The government’s old nemesis Andrew Gilligan has returned to embarrass ministers over Iraq from his new perch at the Telegraph. The leaked documents he has obtained provide further evidence that British planning for an invasion began in early 2002 and that the plans “contained no detail once Baghdad had fallen”.

As the first public hearings of the Iraq war inquiry get under way tomorrow, what can we expect them to achieve? Sir John Chilcot, the chairman of the inquiry, has already emphasised that he will not rule on the legality of the war, though many hoped he would.

Asked if the inquiry would provide definitive answers, he said: “Definitive is one sense, yes, but not definitive in the sense of a court verdict of legal or illegal. It is much closer to high policy decisions: was this a wise decision, was it well taken, was it founded on good advice and good information and analysis?”

I’m confident that Chilcot, a member of the quietly damning Butler inquiry, won’t preside over an establishment whitewash. The biggest challenge for his inquiry will be to avoid perpetuating the myth that it was only a lack of planning and resources that led to disaster in Iraq. In truth, the war was doomed to failure from the day Tony Blair and George Bush convinced themselves that there was no alternative to military action.

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It was always clear that Iraq would not tolerate another foreign occupation. There was no scenario under which an invasion of the country could ever have gone well.

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But that the inquiry’s members include Sir Lawrence Freedman, one of the architects of the doctrine of “liberal interventionism”, and Sir Martin Gilbert, who once declared that Bush and Blair could “join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill”, does not inspire confidence.

It will be up to the robustly independent Chilcot to ensure that their preference for regime change does not distort the conclusions of his investigation. A final reckoning over the single biggest foreign policy disaster since Suez is long overdue.


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