Wednesday, 25 November 2009

An Attitude Problem

The Iraq Inquiry covered a big arc of time today, from 1991 to 2004. There were two witnesses, both from the Foreign Office, and they stuck very closely to what was happening from a Foreign Office viewpoint; if questions were asked about briefings by others to Whitehall or to ministers in general, the Inquiry was referred firmly to other, closer sources. The witnesses were of very different type. One was as quietly straightforward and competently informative as yesterday's men, but the other, the current United Kingdom ambassador to China, showed another strand of thinking - a more political and tendentious account of what was going on, and its interpretation today.

The morning was a long presentation of post first Gulf war attempts to contain Saddam. It dealt as well with the effect of his aggressive stance towards neighbours on Foreign Office and international perceptions of Iraq, and on the feeding of concerns for the integrity of the various international non-proliferation treaties on weapons of mass destruction. Of course Iraq was subject both to the treaties as well as to special sanctions after its aggressions, but it was the weakening of the special sanctions and any attempt to revert to just reliance on international treaties that worried the FO, Saddam having already flouted the treaties and displayed an attitude that was unacceptable.

Saddam had resisted the first round of inspections and requirements to come clean on what armaments he had and what preparations he had in train. It was here that the split opened up between the two witnesses, one continuing to discuss the development of the FO longstanding policy of sanctions that were to be narrowed but strengthened, perhaps accompanied by another bout of inspection, the other portraying a view that Saddam's whole attitude to conforming with internationally imposed requirements was unacceptable and he now needed to be dealt with. Dealt with by more than stronger sanctions backed by further inspection. Dealt with by force.

This was, of course, what parts of the UK Executive, under parts of US Administration pressure, wanted. Force now, its use backed by intelligence that international treaties and specific to Iraq obligations legally applied by the United Nations were being breached. Furthermore the equation WMD+mass civilian casualties+state-sponsored terrorism as opposed to inter state only use of WMD was being heavily pushed as the new warfare by America. Sanctions and even inspection - Potemkin scenarios were mentioned as the US view - were not ever again going to be enough.

Unfortunately the intelligence was hard to obtain and often suspect, impossible to confirm. So Saddam's attitude was added: if the intelligence were correct then his refusal to co-operate tipped the balance on that intelligence possibility into a justified use of force. Except that, as the commissioners' questions showed, Saddam could not co-operate in revealing his WMD when he hadn't got any.

Lawrence Freedman came to the fore today. As Professor of War Studies at King's London he was on home territory as he excluded rapidly from consideration that there could have been any belief that Iraq had nuclear WMD capacity; a try for declaring they could have developed it within 5 years under weakening or abolished sanctions was not accepted as within the bounds of possibility; such a view required 'heroic' assumptions. So the FO's fears were really concerned with chemical and biological WMD. Here it was established that the intelligence referred only to battlefield weapons, and very short range delivery systems. But Saddam's intent, his imputed mindset was added into the equation again by the China man. Saddam intended to develop longer range delivery systems - only the intelligence on that was actually evaluation papers written in the west. The FO attempt to obtain another UN resolution for toughened sanctions and further, more robust inspections; a set of six 'tests' that Saddam must meet was proposed (one wondered where that idea came from, a contribution from the Chancellor? He's always setting tests) sank under President Chirac's declaration that he would veto any further interventions in Iraq.

Roderic Lyne had evinced the acknowledgment yesterday that war preparations were highly advanced by early 2002, taking on a life of their own: 'fish or cut bait' as he remarked today. This time pressure was a major factor in ignoring the other options, even though, as Usha Prasha established, the threat of force was producing higher and higher levels of Iraqi co-operation. Nevertheless, although no direct intelligence had been coming from Iraq since the weapons inspectors withdrew in 1998, we were, we were told, receiving a constant stream of unverified, low level intelligence that convinced them to fish.

After lunch was an exercise in humiliation. The Foreign Office warned politicians to be cautious in making justificatory claims of WMD discoveries. Blair paid no heed. As his words were read out to the witnesses they were reduced to stating flatly that no such claims had ever come from them. There were no WMD. None found, ever. We had gone to war over Saddam's unco-operative attitude?


Elby The Beserk said...

Saddam HAD to be coy about no longer having WMDs. One the one hand he wanted the UN to know the WMDs were gone, but at the same time, he DIDN'T want Iran to know that.

Bleedin' obvious really - thought it was some 3 or 4 years after I realised that for any politico to reach the same conclusion.

Still - what to I know?

hatfield girl said...

I expect that he and many of his countrymen weren't too pleased by the treatment they were getting either E. And its expression in today's hearings, the de haut en bas way in which Iraq was discussed made me cringe.

Main emotion today: shame.

Sackerson said...

Reads like good summative reportage to me, HG; hope you've kept more detailed notes.

hatfield girl said...

The dossier was dealt with today. There were civil servants at meetings on the body of the text, but the revised executive summary was not theirs; most importantly, Blair's Foreword, they said they had not even been shown. When bits were read to them they stated it was not drawing on intelligence or information supplied by them, or known to them.

Either intelligence was being provided to a tiny cabal of the Executive and not shared with proper recipients, or inappropriate conclusions were being drawn (and not checked with them) before being put into the public domain by the group of politicians concerned.

Tellingly, the discussion of the placing of intelligence data into the public domain classified both the general public and Parliament together. This is not the accepted status given to Parliament, its members and committees, in usual constitutional understanding. One of the witnesses had distributed the dossier to attendees at a G8 meeting before its availability to Parliament (I think), and the chairman said comfortably 'Oh yes, but those would be insiders" while the propriety of the publication and responses to it was being discussed.

The witnesses said they were disappointed with the responses to the dossier on its circulation internationally - shrugs and no surprise that Saddam was co-operating minimally.

The rogue operation feeling persists. The Iraq war damaged governance practice on a par with what the policies of Brown did to financial and economic practice.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

I had another theory about Saddam at the time.

It was that he had demanded WMD be produced by his people. Had imposed deadlines and targets, as dictators tend to do. Someone had told him all was proceeding to plan (wouldn't you, given the alternative?), and he was - for a time at least - convinced in his own mind that they existed, or were about to exist. So he behaves as if they do, and the intelligence assumes no smoke without fire.

Now put yourself in the shoes of a Saddam underling. Are you going to be the one to tell the boss what's really happening?

Works for me.