A secret Inquiry

Gordon Brown has been broadly, and I think rightly, criticised for his decision to hold the belated inquiry into the Iraq War in private. It strikes me as being, above all, politically misjudged. Whatever the inquiry concludes, and however deeply and objectively it considers the evidence, it will be seen as an official dodge. A committee headed by a former civil servant would have to produce a damning report indeed to be interpreted as anything other than a fix. If it is critical of government policy, the cry will be that it has not been critical enough; if generally supportive (as is almost inevitable) of the government's honesty, if not of their competence, it will be seen as a whitewash. Either way, it will enjoy a day's worth of headlines and be forgotten. Perhaps it will help to mould public policy in the long term. But by the time it comes out the invasion of Iraq will be more than seven years in the past.

"Now is the right time to learn the lessons of this conflict," said Brown. To which I can only respond that if the lessons of the conflict have not been learned already, they never will be. Many people - most notably, the families of dead soldiers - have been demanding a full public inquiry for several years. They will be disappointed tonight. But, in truth, there have already been a large number of inquiries into the Iraq war. I refer not to the Butler inquiry, whose hard-hitting nature was lost on journalists who so expected a whitewash they elected to ignore it, thereby probably saving Tony Blair's career. Nor to the Hutton inquiry, which was conducted in so open a manner (albeit into a narrow and tangential aspect of the war, the suicide of David Kelly) that its pro-government conclusion fooled no-one. I mean the mass of investigative reports, leaks, documentaries, blogs, in-depth interviews, off-the-record briefings and letters to the editor. No conflict in history has been so open to scrutiny from all sides and at all levels; never have so many people told their stories; never have the claims of government in wartime been so little trusted.

A fully public inquiry would have revealed little that hadn't already been known or suspected. It would have provided embarrassments aplenty for the government in the run-up to the election, however: a daily theatre of shame in which politicians, civil servants, intelligence operatives and generals shifted the blame. The final report would scarcely have mattered - it would have been one more assessment among many. The process alone would have been cathartic. But Gordon Brown's own involvement in the Iraq invasion was peripheral at best. He went along with it; he was even occasionally supportive in public (I remember some remarks about Saddam Hussein "not going unpunished"). But it was Blair's show, not his, and by conceding a public inquiry he would have both demonstrated his distance from his predecessor. It would have reminded some people who have forgotten (including not a few voters) why his succession was originally welcomed; and it would have discredited many of the Blairistas now calling for his head.

As it is, Brown has shown himself out of touch with public opinion and raised suspicion that he has something to lose by full disclosure. If you've got nothing to hide, after all, you've got nothing to fear.


Anonymous said…
If it was up to me which it isn't I think England should pull all its troops out right now and let the U.S hang by itself. there is no reason for more British troops to be lost. Maybe this would wake up the idiots in Washington that these wars are waste of men,time and money and need to be ended. I am a American living in Europe bvy tne way
zeq said…
I think a day of headlines followed certain obscurity is exactly what the administration wanted through all this. It's the public's job to remind these guys just how good a memory it has, regardless of whether they choose to remind us or not.


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