Lord Butler, leader of the commission that wrote the Butler Report, denounced Tony Blair in the House of Lords. And President Bush as well.
I have always believed that our Prime Minister had good reason for wishing to support the Americans in removing Saddam Hussein. But he had a problem. He had the clearest legal advice that military intervention solely for the purpose of regime change could not be justified in international law. The only justification for military intervention was to enforce the Security Council resolutions at the end of the first Gulf War prohibiting Iraq’s possession or acquisition of weapons of mass destruction.
I have also always accepted and continue to accept that the Prime Minister sincerely believed that Saddam possessed such weapons and was bent on acquiring more. Our intelligence community believed that, as did other countries’ intelligence communities, as well as Hans Blix when he first took UN observers back into Iraq. But here was the rub: neither the United Kingdom nor the United States had the intelligence that proved conclusively that Iraq had those weapons. The Prime Minister was disingenuous about that. The United Kingdom intelligence community told him on 23 August 2002 that,
“we … know little about Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons work since late 1988”.
The Prime Minister did not tell us that. Indeed, he told Parliament only just over a month later that the picture painted by our intelligence services was “extensive, detailed and authoritative”. Those words could simply not have been justified by the material that the intelligence community provided to him.
I remark in passing that the Prime Minister has come close to admitting that his reasons for continuing to support the war were reasons for which there was no legal justification. He has said that he apologises for the mistakes that were made, but he does not apologise for removing Saddam Hussein. But, absent WMD, there was no legal justification for military intervention to remove Saddam Hussein.
There can be no doubt that mistakes were also made in designing and carrying through the post-war strategy. Why were those mistakes made? First, it should be acknowledged that they were primarily American mistakes. The United States’ decisions on the post-war strategy in Iraq were flawed by what can only be described as naivety, ignorance and arrogance.
What a shame Butler, like others in the US, only find the courage to speak out when it’s too late.