If you relied on accounts by the mainstream media of the Chilcot Report regarding Britain’s decision to participate in the toppling of Saddam Hussein, you might easily conclude that it supports the “Bush-Blair lied, people died” narrative so cherished by the left. You wouldn’t know that the Report actually rejects this claim.
This account by Steven Erlanger and David Sanger of the New York Times doesn’t say so. Neither does this account by Geoff Witte of the Washington Post. He claims that the Report “offer[s] official validation to the views of the Iraq War’s most ardent critics.” But those critics insist that Bush and Blair lied. The Report finds otherwise.
Witte also asserts that “the report will give ample ammunition to the war’s toughest critics, including those in Britain who have called for war crimes charges to be brought against Blair.” Witte doesn’t even try to explain how the Report’s finding might support a war crimes charge. Witte is simply indulging in leftist rhetoric (and, perhaps, wishful thinking).
Eli Lake sets the record straight. He writes:
Sir John Chilcot has some bad news for the many Britons pining for the day Tony Blair will be tried for war crimes. The former prime minister didn’t lie the U.K. into the Iraq war.
This is the clear conclusion of a sweeping inquiry into the war released earlier today by Chilcot’s committee, a report that took longer to produce than the British military involvement in Iraq. The closest Chilcot comes to criticizing Blair’s use of the intelligence produced by his government is that he at times didn’t express the full nuance and uncertainty contained in those reports. But Blair’s statements about Iraq’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs were consistent with what the professional analysts, spies and military officers were telling him.
“It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments,” Chilcot said in a statement. “They were not challenged and they should have been.”
In other words, neither Blair nor Bush lied. They acted honestly based on intelligence that turned out to be flawed.
Chilcot believes that Blair should have challenged the intelligence he relied on. But not challenging intelligence that, in hindsight, turned out to be flawed isn’t lying. Nor is it a war crime.
In the U.S., the claim that Bush lied was put to rest in 2008 in a bipartisan report by the Select Committee on Intelligence. It found that the U.S. intelligence community — with a few dissenting agencies — agreed that Iraqi Saddam Hussein was hiding chemical, biological and even nuclear weapons programs. Agreeing with the strong (but erroneous) consensus of the intelligence community isn’t lying.
In the case of Britain, the intelligence community told Blair:
Iraq also continues with its chemical and biological warfare (CBW) programmes and, if it has not already done so, could produce significant quantities of BW agent within days and CW agents within weeks of a decision to do so.
There is no ambiguity here; no expression of reservations.
Chilcot says the underlying intelligence was more nuanced than Blair acknowledged. Lake lays out the particulars. They strike me as nit-picking. As Lake says, political leaders use language differently from intelligence analysts. If they didn’t, they would never be able to lead.
It is the left’s goal that heads of state in the U.S. and Britain never be able to lead their country into war. But what about a decision not to go to war? When leaders rely on intelligence that concludes the U.S. faces no imminent threat of attack but also contains hedging on this conclusion and dissenting views, are they required to give voice to the hedging and the dissent?
A leader who did would be attacked for fear mongering by the same voices who attack Blair and Bush for not acknowledging “nuance” in the intelligence they relied on.
The bottom line for present purposes is that neither Bush nor Blair lied. Mainstream media outlets that report on the Chilcot Report without making this clear are not being honest.