Political theater of the most dramatic kind is now playing in London. A retired civil servant by the name of Sir John Chilcot is chairing an inquiry into the origins of the Iraq War, with the purpose of discovering that familiar will-o-the-wisp, what lessons are to be learnt. The inquiry is public, in a building near Parliament, but so many people want to attend that there has to be admission by balloting. And what began as inquiry has turned into an unofficial trial of Tony Blair. It has long been evident that most British people believe that he lied deliberately about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, it was illegal to go to war against an Iraq that did not directly threaten Britain. Blair is held to have lied and prevaricated about that too. All because he was somehow in thrall to President Bush.
A succession of Blair’s advisers, cronies, and cabinet ministers has appeared before the inquiry. So have several diplomats and high-ranking members of the Foreign Office. Yesterday, Lord Goldsmith was questioned. As attorney general, he was responsible for advising about the legality of the war. In the run-up to the war, he appeared to state that military action would be illegal, but then a visit to Washington and consultations there led him to change his mind. The suspicion that he was put under disgraceful pressure has considerably raised the temperature.
Those who run the country, the politicians and the mandarins, are being exposed to view on television as never before. They accepted the honor and glory of their jobs, the titles and decorations, the government expenses and salaries and index-linked pensions. Now they squirm, they excuse themselves, they pretend to have a conscience and all the while they are fighting to preserve their offices and privileges. Most nauseating are the confidential and secret letters some of these high-ups wrote to express reservations at the very time they were preparing the campaign. Evidently such letters were insurance policies, due to be produced if and when things went wrong and a public inquiry followed, as now. Actually there was one legal adviser who did resign, and she is now presented as a heroine.
What is revealed unmistakably is the poor quality of those running Britain. The government, indeed the whole administration, is in a process of deliquiscence, melting before our eyes into a blur of incompetence and self-serving opportunism. The overthrow of Saddam is accepted as a crime to be ashamed of, not as an action that destroyed a dangerous tyranny. The national interest is hurt.
Tomorrow Blair himself is due to face the Chilcot inquiry. He is said to have been closeted with advisers preparing and practising his answers. A bad omen. There are also rumours that a huge demonstration will be held. Blair is adept at talking his way out of a mess, but in this act of the drama he looks like being booed off the stage.