My Lords, the Chilcot report is a devastating record of what Gibbon called “the crimes and follies of mankind”. It does nevertheless suggest some heroes in this dreary saga. We should mention Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the legal adviser to the Foreign Office, who resigned so courageously when it became clear that the attack planned on Iraq was illegal, and insisted that we should keep within international law and the UN charter. Her arguments were never made public.
In Parliament, as we have rightly been told, the Liberal Democrats—the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, and his colleagues—stood out. Charles Kennedy was a great party leader, who showed great courage. It was the Liberal Democrats’ finest hour, and reminds me of the South African war, when Campbell-Bannerman and Lloyd George condemned the British Government for “methods of barbarism”. In government there was, of course, Robin Cook. Chilcot is a complete vindication of what he said on every aspect—on weapons, on security and on the flouting of the United Nations. He was indeed a great man, and a very considerable loss.
Internationally, we should honour France. What President Chirac and Dominique de Villepin did at the United Nations has been totally vindicated. They pointed out the flaws in the argument, despite all the crude abuse they got from people like Cheney and Rumsfeld. I recall reading what Tony Blair said: “Poor old Jacques. He just doesn’t get it”. But he did get it.
Finally, there were the people of England— 1.5 million of them—who marched through London. My daughter and I were very proud to be with them. They expressed their disgust, many of them people who had never demonstrated about anything before. This was the greatest public display of citizenship since the days of the Chartists. It was visibly democracy on the march.
The key errors were all known at the time, but Chilcot demonstrates them remorselessly and explicitly. There was the misguided reaction of the United States to the horrors of 9/11. The US linked it with Saddam Hussein and his alleged encouragement of al-Qaeda. These beliefs were all untrue. As we have heard, in any case Saddam Hussein ran a secular regime and had nothing to do with 9/11. Nevertheless, the United States immediately began planning reprisals on Baghdad and regime change. The United States actively defied the United Nations, even though it claimed to be its champion. The United Kingdom encouraged this and promised to take part in military action.
There was the extraordinary development of the Anglo-American so called special relationship. After the secret talks at Crawford, Texas, in April 2002, which were never given much publicity at the time, the British and American Governments discussed pre-emptive strikes in Iraq and the forcible removal of Saddam Hussein, even though their intelligence told them that there was no military threat from him. This country took a completely servile view of the special relationship. I suspect that one factor was that old Labour was so often associated with pacifism and anti-Americanism, and new Labour was going to be different. Well, it certainly was.
The legality of the war is spelt out very fascinatingly. It had to be shown that Iraq was in defiance of Resolution 1441. The person to do that was the Prime Minister, who in effect was advising himself about the legality of an attack on Iraq. The effect was—it is a shame that Chilcot’s team had no lawyers within its ranks—that all the doctrines of a legal war: the backing of the United Nations and the doctrines of a just war going back to Grotius or, indeed, in the case of the Church, to Aquinas in the Middle Ages, were set aside.
The military case was equally unacceptable—to quote Chilcot’s wonderful phrase, it was “far from satisfactory” with the failures of MI6; plagiarism; no visible threat from Saddam Hussein; no biological and chemical weapons; no uranium from Niger; no 45 minutes delivery of weapons; and Hans Blix finding absolutely nothing. The evidence was flawed and far more weight was put on it than it could justifiably bear. One should say that Saddam Hussein did have some horrible weapons—anthrax, botulin and West Nile virus. Of course, he had them—we gave them to him. He was our honoured partner in the war against Iran. It is sheer hypocrisy that we should suddenly express our horror at this.
Finally, as so many noble Lords with personal knowledge of this situation have said, there was the failure to plan for the aftermath. I remember Lord Bramall, who spoke just after me in the debate in 2003, saying that there was no strategic objective and no plan. I recall Lord Hurd explaining the errors that would result to the whole region from an attack on Iraq, with the dismantling of the Baath regime, ferocious civil war between Shias and Sunnis and a chaotic bloodbath ever since. As the old Roman said, they created a wilderness and they called it peace. As a consequence of this, al-Qaeda became far stronger and the rise of ISIL was encouraged, and 250,000 people lost their lives, along with a significant number of ill-equipped brave British servicemen, as a result of these miscalculations and distortions. And, of course, the threat of terrorism spread from Iraq to the streets of London.
The results of this catastrophe are now all too visible. In Iraq, we have seen the triggering of the refugee crisis, which loomed so large in the campaign over Brexit, and is a source of turbulence in this and other countries. We have seen politicians discredited as crooks and liars—again, we saw that in the Brexit crisis. My own party, of which I have been a member since 1955, has been in disarray ever since. Beginning with the 2005 election, it is now deeply divided over the legacy of Iraq. It is clearly not a party of government; it is difficult to say that it is even a party of opposition.
I once read about the life of Michael Foot, who wrote a famous pamphlet in 1940. This, very oddly, was quoted, and its argument used by George Bush, in a completely ill-informed linking of appeasement in the 1930s and Iraq, and a totally unhistorical parallel was drawn between Hitler and Saddam Hussein. So the evidence was misused, but there is force in the opening words: “Bring forth your guilty men”. Chilcot is the sombre, devastating chronicle of that guilt.