Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:26 pm on 24th January 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench 1:26 pm, 24th January 2008

My Lords, the debate we are holding today is focusing to some extent on the need for a formal inquiry into the Iraq war. Such an inquiry has been championed by the Opposition parties and, so far, the Government have given only a dilatory response. I do not intend to dwell on that issue, except to make a plea that if and when such an inquiry is held, it should not simply become an occasion for settling accounts and partisan points scoring. The terms of reference and the membership of such an inquiry would need to be designed to discourage that. Meanwhile, it is surely none too soon to begin to draw some lessons from what has been for all concerned—both protagonists and antagonists of the action taken in Iraq—a tragic and debilitating experience. For that reason, this debate is to be welcomed, and I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for obtaining it. I hope it will be put to good use. I shall concentrate on a somewhat eclectic mixture of some of the political and diplomatic aspects of the subject rather than the military and security ones.

The first is the intelligence and the uses to which it was put in the run-up to the invasion, which has been mentioned by several noble Lords. It seems now to be rather generally recognised that not only was the intelligence on Iraq's WMD assets flawed but that the public use to which that intelligence was put was unwise and excessively prescriptive. Intelligence gathering, particularly from totalitarian regimes which will go to any lengths to protect their secrets, is not an exact science and it is never going to provide certainty about the assets and intentions of those regimes. It will often provide crucial parts of a jigsaw puzzle, but not the whole of it, and Governments should not believe or assert that it does. Have we learnt the negative and positive aspects of that lesson? I very much doubt it. The reactions to the United States' recent national intelligence estimate on Iran's nuclear programmes would seem to indicate quite the contrary. The same people who were most critical of the intelligence on Iraq and the uses to which it was put are now speaking of the intelligence on Iran as if it were Holy Writ. Would they be taking the same view if the estimate had indicated that Iran was close to acquiring nuclear weapons? I rather doubt it. Better surely, in the light of experience in Iraq, to be more cautious in analysing the implications of intelligence, whether it suits one's purpose or not.

The second aspect is the role of the United Nations in the run-up to the war. It is pretty clear now that the campaign to get a second resolution during the first two months of 2003 was doomed to failure, not just because of the possibility of vetoes by France and Russia but because the necessary nine positive votes to get such a resolution were simply not there. I recall at the time, when the campaign for a second resolution began, saying, "They must know something I don't". It appears now that they did not. In the event, the campaign for a second resolution and the public confrontations in New York ended up inflicting far more damage on the United Nations and on the legitimacy of the action eventually taken than was the case over Kosovo a few years earlier when a quite different approach was followed. Is that an invitation to bypass the UN and to use force unilaterally? Certainly not, in my view. But it should be an invitation to avoid getting locked into a military timetable that is inconsistent from the outset with any realistic prospect of getting a second resolution. The logic of getting international inspectors back into Iraq was to give them sufficient time to do their work, and that logic was ignored.

The third aspect is post-war justice. The trials of Saddam Hussein and his principal henchmen and their execution can surely have satisfied no cause other than that of revenge, which should have no place in the administration of justice. Would it not have been far better if they had been brought before an international tribunal, as were those guilty of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, and if world opinion had been able to appreciate fully the enormity of the crimes of which they were accused, while seeing that they were given a reasonable opportunity to defend themselves? No method of trial could have entirely avoided the risk of creating martyrs, but the one chosen was absolutely certain to fall into that trap. Now that we have a functioning international criminal court, even if not every country in the world yet accepts it, this must surely become the right and best way to challenge the doctrine of impunity.

Time does not permit me to go into the many bitter lessons to be drawn from the fundamental errors made since the end of the first military phase of the action against Iraq—the provision of inadequate manpower to achieve security in the collapsed state; the disbanding of the Iraqi army; the banning of all Baathists from public service; and the fatal combination of incompetence and hubris which characterised the US handling of Iraq in the first years after the invasion—but the failure to grasp and to come to terms with the regional dimension of Iraq's problems deserves some mention. It should have been clear from the outset that all Iraq's neighbours had a vital interest in that country's future, policies and structure, and that each one of them had the capacity seriously to undermine the prospects for a stable and prosperous Iraq.

That ought to have led to an approach which created a dialogue with those neighbours and which built in the dimension of regional security, ideally through the establishment of sub-regional security guarantees and confidence-building measures, to any long-term perspectives for Iraq. Instead, the three crucial neighbours of Iraq—Turkey, Iran and Syria—were handled in ways which either marginalised them or treated them as pariahs with whom even dialogue was not possible. The reversal of that policy has come very late in the day and yet that same regional dimension arises when dealing with any number of the world's most burning questions—Afghanistan, Burma, Zimbabwe and Darfur, to give a few examples. We ignore that dimension at our peril.

Perhaps the most important lesson to be drawn from Iraq is the complete bankruptcy of the policies which have been given the label in the United States of neo-conservatism, even if some of those who have practised these policies would reject that label. Not only have the policies not worked on the ground but it is now clear that the US people have no stomach to seek to pursue them and impose them on an unwilling world. The turning away from these policies is something which we in this country should welcome since the pursuit of them has damaged us, too, through our close alliance with the US. If neo-conservative policies were to be succeeded by a period of isolationism or of unwillingness by the United States to pull its full weight in handling the many global problems which face us all, then our last state would not be much better than our first.

That underlines the importance of this country and its European partners, preparing carefully for the change of Administration in Washington which is coming at the end of this year, and being ready to work hard for a new co-operative transatlantic approach, including one to deal with the unfinished business of stabilising Iraq and securing for its people a better future than the past, or the present, has provided.