“He redefined the usually underpowered Vice Presidential role to affect a practical coup-by-stealth”

Requested repost:


Movie Review: VICE (2018)

“A week is a long time in politics” is a well worn phrase and is even more outdated in the age of Trump and the internet. When you have a political leader who is all about constant self-promotion and when the news cycle changes so rapidly, its hard to keep up with what’s happening. This no doubt effects collective memory too. Trump is sometimes seen as sui generis and makes his predecessors look highly capable, whether they were or not.

Its worth remembering that as little as nearly 20 years ago, people were decrying another President with shallow understanding and who had an even more devastating effect on the world. George W Bush was inarticulate and superficial and headed a regime that went to war on spurious grounds, a war that in one form or other is still going. Michael Moore has made a bio-doc of Trump, Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018) in his now very tiresome ‘gotcha’ style, but nobody has made a feature film yet. Bush received attention in W (2008) but its about time somebody went back to re-visit the period, now that a new generation has come-of-age since then. That wish has been answered in the suggestively titled film VICE (2018).

This movie doesn’t look at Bush himself, but covers the personal and to a greater degree political life of his Vice-President Dick Cheney (Christian Bale). As portrayed in this account, the still little known Cheney began life as a young tear away with intelligence but limited academic aptitude. Through the intervention of his more astute wife Lynne (Amy Adams) (not God as supposedly was the case with Bush), he turned his life around and found his way into the Washington bureaucracy. There he came under the wing of Donald Rumsfeld, played with great relish by Steve Carell as an almost ideology-free player of personal realpolitik in the scandal riddled Nixon White House.

Various ups and downs ensue, with Cheney working steadily and mole like in various positions, resurfacing briefly as a possible candidate for President himself at one point. Simply put, he was so poor in the limelight, this option was never going to be realistic. In probably the best segment of the movie, ‘Dubya’ (Sam Rockwell) appears as an alternative for President and seeks out Cheney as a Vice President. Cheney initially turns the offer down. Then in a scene that employs internal monologue and an extended visual metaphor, we see a master fisherman luring in a flashy but dumb ‘fish’ onto his line. In some ways its a bit of a blunt idea but the acting of Bale helps carry it.

The central thesis of the film when it covers the time in power is simply that it was Cheney himself who had that power. It wasn’t that he acted as some kind of Svengali or Caligari figure, controlling W as a puppet master behind the throne. The claim is more that using a highly authoritarian interpretation of executive power and a team of underlings as Machiavellian as himself, he redefined the usually underpowered Vice Presidential role to affect a practical coup-by-stealth that by-passed the normal checks and balances. How much of this is speculation and how much can be backed up, is probably still open for some debate. Even if some of it proves not to stand up, it is an interesting take on things and makes you sit up and notice all such grey, bland figures who lurk in the corridors of power around the world.

In his previous movie The Big Short (2015) Director Adam McKay took the equally important and dull subject of the prime mortgages scandal and decked the story out with a series of flashy techniques that served the story well. For example, breaking the fourth wall by having famous personalities speaking to the audience as themselves, helping to explain the otherwise banal aspects of the financial crisis. In that film it worked. Here, he resurrects similarly ostentatious methods, including an unreliable narrator who offers the viewer direct-to-camera soliloquies, a false mid-story ‘ending’ with a re-wind and most absurdly a surreal interlude where the main protagonists launch into Shakespearean dialogue while in bed. Unfortunately in this case, it works contrary to the greater good of the story and runs right up against the very effective acting Christian Bale injects into his central character. Bale has a long career and has sometimes gone overboard in his method approach. In VICE, he does a good job of portraying somebody who is largely an enigma, but holds a calm power and some of the techniques described undercut this.

To conclude, VICE is a good reminder that a power structure is an edifice with many components. It doesn’t consist solely of the flashy front-man who distracts the crowds. There are often others behind the scenes who we need to be made aware of. Despite some faults, this movie serves that important function and is worth watching to remind us that the past is still with us.

http://awsm.nz/2019/02/15/movie-review-vice-2018/

17 years of rubble reduction in Afghanistan

It is seventeen years since the United States and Britain went to war (the latest one) in Afghanistan. There was some justof9cation for taking some sort of action, and there have been some successes, but it has largely been a failure. Long entrenched problems there remain unresolved.

It shows again that right (sort of) and might are not all-conquering. The US had already had a lesson on the futility of brute strength and ignorance in Vietnam, they were warned Afghanistan could be a mire too murky to force into being a model Western style state, but they tried anyway.

Washington Examiner:  Unhappy 17th birthday, Afghanistan War

Seventeen years ago today, the U.S. and Britain went to war to remove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. It was morally and politically justified by the Taliban’s failure to surrender al Qaeda terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. The Western alliance drove the Islamic totalitarians from power swiftly, within weeks.

Yet, we’re still there. On Thursday morning, another American serviceman was killed in battle in Afghanistan. Nearly 2,400 Americans have now died in this war, and Afghanistan is still mired in poverty, chaos, and violence.

What are we doing there? Why are we still fighting this war after 17 years?

‘We’ includes New Zealand, with our army deployment extended until next year and that will be subject to review again.

The three presidents to preside over this war have all failed to focus the mission clearly toward America’s real interest, which is to prevent multinational terrorist organizations such as ISIS and al Qaeda from establishing a stronghold.

Instead, we took up the hopeless and endless task of nation-building. Every audit of American efforts to build a safe and stable Afghanistan have showed failure. The waste in money and lives goes on. The problem is not American incompetence or stinginess, but that the big goal has always been unrealistic.

Billions of dollars have been spent on schools, roads, and infrastructure projects in rural areas that remain under the heel of the Taliban. These projects could work only if America ran a police state, requiring hundreds of thousands of soldiers and Marines.

I think the US did learn something from their Vietnam nightmare – not to put large numbers of soldiers inn the firing line, but high-tech weaponry has only helped arms manufacturers to test their products and make money.

The issue in places such as Helmand is not simply that the Taliban dominate the area and cannot be dislodged, but that the area is a patchwork of fiefdoms run by local tribes with whom we are unable to deal.

The Bush dream that guns, money, and lawyers could build stable democratic societies anywhere on Earth has been tested in the field, and it has failed. In Iraq, where there was some memory of institutions, it has largely failed. In remote parts of Afghanistan, it has failed completely.

The hubris of the Bush doctrine was deeply unconservative. President Trump has taken a humbler route, directed toward wounding the Taliban to keep it weak, but not pretending to be able to eradicate it entirely. The administration has also finally made Pakistan understand it may not support our enemies in Afghanistan.

America’s goals should be to avoid making things worse in Afghanistan, contain the Taliban, and focus more on the Islamic State. These are not lofty goals, but lofty goals have proved to be pipe dreams that produced a 17-year nightmare.

What are the goals and dreams now?

The Economist: Donald Trump is doing better on Afghanistan than his predecessor (That’s not setting the bar very high):

A ONCE-popular argument that President Donald Trump’s approach to foreign policy is not substantially different from Barack Obama’s is going down in a blaze of trade agreements. Yet on Afghanistan it remains broadly true. Mr Obama came to power describing Afghanistan’s conflict as the “war we have to win”, but never seemed convinced that that was possible. After a stab at escalating the conflict, he devoted his presidency to ending it.

It was time, he said in 2011, the year the war became the longest in American history, “to focus on nation-building here at home.”

Mr Trump has long said the same. His decision to launch a much smaller escalation last year came with the closest thing he can muster to an apology attached: “My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like to follow my instincts.” Even so, his record on Afghanistan, including this week a promise of peace talks to add to that modest military reinforcement, is starting to look much better than his predecessor’s.

This chiefly reflects what a low bar Mr Obama set.

Unsurprisingly, then, Mr Trump’s measures have not transformed the battlefield, where the Taliban remain in the ascendant. Instead of encouraging the Afghan government to take back territory, America is reported to be urging it to withdraw from remote outposts to reduce casualties.

The level of violence continues to be horrifying, especially among civilians. More were killed in the first six months of this year than in any previous year on record, in part because of increased American bombing. Yet there is at least more confidence that the Taliban can be prevented from taking a major town. And the 315,000-strong Afghan armed forces are said to be improving. Compared with the debacle Mr Trump inherited, this represents progress.

Progress towards what?

America and its Afghan ally have been keen to negotiate with the insurgents since the demise of Mr Obama’s short-lived surge confirmed their inability to end the war militarily.

This is still a far cry from offering Mr Trump a way out.

Stitched together by British imperialists in the late 19th century, Afghanistan’s feuding ethnic groups have never shared power uncoerced, and 40 years of on-off civil war have made them even more reluctant to. The government is deeply divided along ethnic lines. It is hard to imagine how its members might accommodate the Taliban—even if they want to be accommodated. It is unclear that the mullahs have given up on a military victory.

It is even unclear which faction of the Taliban, the fundamentalist leadership or the more pragmatic rump, their representatives in Qatar might speak for. If Mr Trump does view the putative talks as a means to declare victory and quit Afghanistan, as some suspect, he has simply given up on the place.

Foreign Policy: One Year On, Little to Show for Trump’s Afghanistan Strategy

One year after President Donald Trump announced a new strategy for winning the war in Afghanistan, the United States appears to be no closer to stabilizing the country and quelling the Taliban insurgency, according to analysts and a report issued by U.S. Defense Department.

The strategy has included a greater focus on defending population centers while ceding much of the remote countryside to the insurgents.

Pentagon officials say the measures are working.

But the situation on the ground tells a different story. The Taliban maintain their grip on much of the country, and the civilian death toll has reached a record high, according to a recent report by the Pentagon’s inspector general. Also, the Islamic State in Khorasan, the Afghan arm of the Islamic State, continues to carry out high-profile attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians.

An Afghan girl walks amid the rubble of shops in Shadel Bazar after the US military dropped a GBU-43 Moab bomb.

Seth Jones, a senior advisor to the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said data suggested that the Taliban’s control of populated areas overall, primarily in rural regions, had actually increased.

The problem with the administration’s strategy of ceding the more remote areas of the country to the Taliban is that the insurgents increasingly are using the rural terrain to conduct attacks within major urban areas, he explained.

Another component of the U.S. military’s strategy in Afghanistan is to build up the Afghan military, train the Afghan air force, and equip it with high-end gear, such as fighter aircraft and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.

But the Afghan air force’s rapid increase in strike capability seems to be accompanied by a steep rise in civilian casualties.

Jones said Trump’s strategy failed in another critical way: It has done little to prevent Pakistan from harboring Taliban fighters.

“What the U.S. has not been able to do is fundamentally change Pakistan’s behavior,” Jones said. “This is serious problem with the South Asia strategy. I’m not that optimistic over the long run.”

This cartoon from seventeen years ago may still be close to the mark.

The only rubble reduction on Afghanistan seems to be it’s size.

Tony Blair was wrong, and is wrong

Tony Blair was wrong to take the United Kingdom to war, The decision was flawed,  following a flawed political process using flawed ‘intelligence’ and was contrary to United Nations protocols and ignored United Nations advice on the lack of ‘weapons of mass destruction’.

The just released Chilcot report details all the flaws – see Chilcot summary – unanimous view.

In his reaction Tony Blair expresses regrets for some outcomes but defends his decision.

It’s a huge responsibility for the leaders of major countries in particular to take their country to war.

And the outcome has been awful.

For Iraq. Things were already awful in Iraq under Saddam Hussein but they don’t appear to be any better. I saw a quote from an Iraqi yesterday who said that one despot has been replaced by a hundred despots.

Over a decade later and after hundreds of thousands of deaths the country is still a mess. ISIS has inflicted the worst of radical Islam on the people of Iraq.

Today’s ODT editorial: Lasting damage from conflict

The Iraq war was an intervention that went badly wrong with consequences still being felt to this day.

The report says former prime minister Tony Blair overstated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, sent ill-prepared troops into battle and had wholly inadequate plans for the aftermath.

Sir John says the 2003 invasion was not the last resort action presented to MPs and the public.

There was no imminent threat from Saddam – the intelligence case was not justified.

And this has spread to Syria, which has been self destructing in a complex factional civil war, with ISIS a prominent factor.

And it has not worked out well for the world, with a number of terrorist attacks in a number of countries, widespread fear of attacks, and resulting from this has been a growing fear of Muslims in general and in particular Muslim immigration.

And now, as the ODT puts it:

For his part, Mr Blair remains defiant on the central decision to go to war.

The decision to commit troops was the most agonising and momentous decision in his decade as prime minister and something he will carry with him for the rest of the days.

Mr Blair admits the intelligence assessments made at the time of going to war turned out to be wrong, the aftermath turned out to be more hostile, protracted and bloody than ever imagined and a nation whose people the UK and the United States wanted to set free from Saddam became instead victims of sectarian terrorism.

“For all of this, I express more sorry, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe,” Mr Blair said.

I think that Blair is wrong to defend what he did. As does the ODT.

The war overshadows the legacy of Mr Blair, who swept into power as a new-style Labour leader, one not reliant on union support for his time in Parliament.

His arrogance as leader, and his willingness to support Mr Bush through some brutal conflicts, will provide lasting damage to his reputation.

I guess it’s hard to bring oneself to say “I stuffed up, I helped stuff up a country and a region, and this has been stuffing things up around the world ever since”.

But that is Blair’s legacy, alongside George W Bush and Dick Cheney (supported by Australia).

At least New Zealand stayed out of it, but that just prevented us from bearing a part of the blame, it didn’t do anything to prevent the mass destruction over the past 13 years.

Chilcot report: The Iraq Inquiry

Statement by Sir John Chilcot: 6 July 2016

We were appointed to consider the UK’s policy on Iraq from 2001 to 2009, and to identify lessons for the future. Our Report will be published on the Inquiry’s website after I finish speaking.

In 2003, for the first time since the Second World War, the United Kingdom took part in an invasion and full-scale occupation of a sovereign State. That was a decision of the utmost gravity. Saddam Hussein was undoubtedly a brutal dictator who had attacked Iraq’s neighbours, repressed and killed many of his own people, and was in violation of obligations imposed by the UN Security Council.

But the questions for the Inquiry were:

  • whether it was right and necessary to invade Iraq in March 2003; and
  • whether the UK could – and should – have been better prepared for what followed.

We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.

We have also concluded that:

  • The judgements about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – WMD – were presented with a certainty that was not justified.
  • Despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were underestimated. The planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam Hussein were wholly inadequate.
  • The Government failed to achieve its stated objectives.

I want now to set out some of the key points in the Report.

First, the formal decision to invade Iraq, if Saddam Hussein did not accept the US ultimatum to leave within 48 hours, was taken by Cabinet on 17 March 2003.

Parliament voted the following day to support the decision.

The decision was, however, shaped by key choices made by Mr Blair’s Government over the previous 18 months – which I will briefly set out.

After the attacks on 11 September 2001, Mr Blair urged President Bush not to take hasty action on Iraq.

By early December, US policy had begun to shift and Mr Blair suggested that the US and the UK should work on what he described as a “clever strategy” for regime change in Iraq, which would build over time.

When Mr Blair met President Bush at Crawford, Texas, in early April 2002, the formal policy was still to contain Saddam Hussein. But, by then, there had been a profound change in the UK’s thinking:

  • The Joint Intelligence Committee had concluded that Saddam Hussein could not be removed without an invasion.
  • The Government was stating that Iraq was a threat that had to be dealt with. It had to disarm or be disarmed.
  • That implied the use of force if Iraq did not comply – and internal contingency planning for a large contribution to a military invasion had begun.

At Crawford, Mr Blair sought a partnership as a way of influencing President Bush. He proposed a UN ultimatum to Iraq to readmit inspectors or face the consequences.

On 28 July, Mr Blair wrote to President Bush with an assurance that he would be with him “whatever” – but, if the US wanted a coalition for military action, changes would be needed in three key areas. Those were:

  • progress on the Middle East Peace Process;
  • UN authority; and
  • a shift in public opinion in the UK, Europe and the Arab world.

Mr Blair also pointed out that there would be a “need to commit to Iraq for the long term”.

Subsequently, Mr Blair and Mr Straw urged the US to take the issue of Iraq back to the UN. On 7 September, President Bush decided to do so.

On 8 November, resolution 1441 was adopted unanimously by the Security Council. It gave Iraq a final opportunity to disarm or face “serious consequences”, and it provided for any further breaches by Iraq to be reported to the Security Council “for assessment”. The weapons inspectors returned to Iraq later that month.

During December, however, President Bush decided that inspections would not achieve the desired result; the US would take military action in early 2003. By early January, Mr Blair had also concluded that “the likelihood was war”.

At the end of January, Mr Blair accepted the US timetable for military action by mid March. To help Mr Blair, President Bush agreed to seek a further UN resolution – the “second” resolution – determining that Iraq had failed to take its final opportunity to comply with its obligations.

By 12 March, it was clear that there was no chance of securing majority support for a second resolution before the US took military action.

Without evidence of major new Iraqi violations or reports from the inspectors that Iraq was failing to co-operate and they could not carry out their tasks, most members of the Security Council could not be convinced that peaceful options to disarm Iraq had been exhausted and that military action was therefore justified.

Mr Blair and Mr Straw blamed France for the “impasse” in the UN and claimed that the UK Government was acting on behalf of the international community “to uphold the authority of the Security Council”.

In the absence of a majority in support of military action, we consider that the UK was, in fact, undermining the Security Council’s authority.

Second, the Inquiry has not expressed a view on whether military action was legal.

That could, of course, only be resolved by a properly constituted and internationally recognised Court.

We have, however, concluded that the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for UK military action were far from satisfactory.

In mid-January 2003, Lord Goldsmith told Mr Blair that a further Security Council resolution would be necessary to provide a legal basis for military action. He did not advise No.10 until the end of February that, while a second resolution would be preferable, a “reasonable case” could be made that resolution 1441 was sufficient. He set out that view in written advice on 7 March. 5

The military and the civil service both asked for more clarity on whether force would be legal. Lord Goldsmith then advised that the “better view” was that there was, on balance, a secure legal basis for military action without a further Security Council resolution. On 14 March, he asked Mr Blair to confirm that Iraq had committed further material breaches as specified in resolution 1441. Mr Blair did so the next day.

However, the precise basis on which Mr Blair made that decision is not clear. Given the gravity of the decision, Lord Goldsmith should have been asked to provide written advice explaining how, in the absence of a majority in the Security Council, Mr Blair could take that decision.

This is one of a number of occasions identified by the Inquiry when policy should have been considered by a Cabinet Committee and then discussed by Cabinet itself.

Third, I want to address the assessments of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and how they were presented to support the case for action.

There was an ingrained belief in the UK policy and intelligence communities that:

  • Iraq had retained some chemical and biological capabilities;
  • was determined to preserve and if possible enhance them – and, in the future, to acquire a nuclear capability; and
  • was able to conceal its activities from the UN inspectors.

In the House of Commons on 24 September 2002, Mr Blair presented Iraq’s past, current and future capabilities as evidence of the severity of the potential threat from Iraq’s WMD. He said that, at some point in the future, that threat would become a reality.

The judgements about Iraq’s capabilities in that statement, and in the dossier published the same day, were presented with a certainty that was not justified.

The Joint Intelligence Committee should have made clear to Mr Blair that the assessed intelligence had not established “beyond doubt” either that Iraq had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons or that efforts to develop nuclear weapons continued.

The Committee had also judged that as long as sanctions remained effective, Iraq could not develop a nuclear weapon, and that it would take several years to develop and deploy long range missiles.

In the House of Commons on 18 March 2003, Mr Blair stated that he judged the possibility of terrorist groups in possession of WMD was “a real and present danger to Britain and its national security” – and that the threat from Saddam Hussein’s arsenal could not be contained and posed a clear danger to British citizens.

Mr Blair had been warned, however, that military action would increase the threat from Al Qaida to the UK and to UK interests. He had also been warned that an invasion might lead to Iraq’s weapons and capabilities being transferred into the hands of terrorists.

The Government’s strategy reflected its confidence in the Joint Intelligence Committee’s Assessments. Those Assessments provided the benchmark against which Iraq’s conduct and denials, and the reports of the inspectors, were judged.

As late as 17 March, Mr Blair was being advised by the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, the means to deliver them and the capacity to produce them. He was also told that the evidence pointed to Saddam Hussein’s view that the capability was militarily significant and to his determination – left to his own devices – to build it up further.

It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments. They were not challenged, and they should have been.

The findings on Iraq’s WMD capabilities set out in the report of the Iraq Survey Group in October 2004 were significant. But they did not support pre-invasion statements by the UK Government, which had focused on Iraq’s current capabilities, which Mr Blair and Mr Straw had described as “vast stocks” and an urgent and growing threat.

In response to those findings, Mr Blair told the House of Commons that, although Iraq might not have had “stockpiles of actually deployable weapons”, Saddam Hussein “retained the intent and the capability … and was in breach of United Nations resolutions”.

That was not, however, the explanation for military action he had given before the conflict.

In our Report, we have identified a number of lessons to inform the way in which intelligence may be used publicly in the future to support Government policy.

Fourth, I want to address the shortcomings in planning and preparation.

The British military contribution was not settled until mid-January 2003, when Mr Blair and Mr Hoon agreed the military’s proposals for an increase in the number of brigades to be deployed; and that they would operate in southern, not northern, Iraq.

There was little time to prepare three brigades and the risks were neither properly identified nor fully exposed to Ministers. The resulting equipment shortfalls are addressed in the Report.

Despite promises that Cabinet would discuss the military contribution, it did not discuss the military options or their implications.

In early January 2003, when the Government published its objectives for postconflict Iraq, it intended that the interim post-conflict administration should be UN-led.

By March 2003, having failed to persuade the US of the advantages of a UN-led administration, the Government had set the less ambitious goal of persuading the US to accept UN authorisation of a Coalition-led interim administration.

When the invasion began, UK policy rested on an assumption that there would be a well-executed US-led and UN-authorised operation in a relatively benign security environment.

Mr Blair told the Inquiry that the difficulties encountered in Iraq after the invasion could not have been known in advance.

We do not agree that hindsight is required. The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability, and Al Qaida activity in Iraq, were each explicitly identified before the invasion.

Ministers were aware of the inadequacy of US plans, and concerned about the inability to exert significant influence on US planning. Mr Blair eventually succeeded only in the narrow goal of securing President Bush’s agreement that there should be UN authorisation of the post-conflict role.

Furthermore, he did not establish clear Ministerial oversight of UK planning and preparation. He did not ensure that there was a flexible, realistic and fully resourced plan that integrated UK military and civilian contributions, and addressed the known risks.

The failures in the planning and preparations continued to have an effect after the invasion.

That brings me to the Government’s failure to achieve the objectives it had set itself in Iraq.

The Armed Forces fought a successful military campaign, which took Basra and helped to achieve the departure of Saddam Hussein and the fall of Baghdad in less than a month.

Service personnel, civilians who deployed to Iraq and Iraqis who worked for the UK, showed great courage in the face of considerable risks. They deserve our gratitude and respect.

More than 200 British citizens died as a result of the conflict in Iraq. Many more were injured. This has meant deep anguish for many families, including those who are here today.

The invasion and subsequent instability in Iraq had, by July 2009, also resulted in the deaths of at least one hundred and fifty thousand Iraqis – and probably many more – most of them civilians. More than a million people were displaced. The people of Iraq have suffered greatly.

The vision for Iraq and its people – issued by the US, the UK, Spain and Portugal, at the Azores Summit on 16 March 2003 – included a solemn obligation to help the Iraqi people build a new Iraq at peace with itself and its neighbours. It looked forward to a united Iraq in which its people should enjoy security, freedom, prosperity and equality with a government that would uphold human rights and the rule of law as cornerstones of democracy.

We have considered the post-conflict period in Iraq in great detail, including efforts to reconstruct the country and rebuild its security services.

In this short statement I can only address a few key points.

After the invasion, the UK and the US became joint Occupying Powers. For the year that followed, Iraq was governed by the Coalition Provisional Authority. The UK was fully implicated in the Authority’s decisions, but struggled to have a decisive effect on its policies.

The Government’s preparations failed to take account of the magnitude of the task of stabilising, administering and reconstructing Iraq, and of the responsibilities which were likely to fall to the UK.

The UK took particular responsibility for four provinces in the South East. It did so without a formal Ministerial decision and without ensuring that it had the necessary military and civilian capabilities to discharge its obligations, including, crucially, to provide security.

The scale of the UK effort in post-conflict Iraq never matched the scale of the challenge. Whitehall departments and their Ministers failed to put collective weight behind the task.

In practice, the UK’s most consistent strategic objective in relation to Iraq was to reduce the level of its deployed forces.

The security situation in both Baghdad and the South East began to deteriorate soon after the invasion.

We have found that the Ministry of Defence was slow in responding to the threat from Improvised Explosive Devices and that delays in providing adequate medium weight protected patrol vehicles should not have been tolerated. It was not clear which person or department within the Ministry of Defence was responsible for identifying and articulating such capability gaps. But it should have been.

From 2006, the UK military was conducting two enduring campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. It did not have sufficient resources to do so. Decisions on resources for Iraq were affected by the demands of the operation in Afghanistan.

For example, the deployment to Afghanistan had a material impact on the availability of essential equipment in Iraq, particularly helicopters and equipment for surveillance and intelligence collection.

By 2007 militia dominance in Basra, which UK military commanders were unable to challenge, led to the UK exchanging detainee releases for an end to the targeting of its forces.

It was humiliating that the UK reached a position in which an agreement with a militia group which had been actively targeting UK forces was considered the best option available.

The UK military role in Iraq ended a very long way from success. We have sought to set out the Government’s actions on Iraq fully and impartially. The evidence is there for all to see. It is an account of an intervention which went badly wrong, with consequences to this day.

The Inquiry Report is the Committee’s unanimous view. Military action in Iraq might have been necessary at some point. But in March 2003:

  • There was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein.
  • The strategy of containment could have been adapted and continued for some time.
  • The majority of the Security Council supported continuing UN inspections and monitoring.

Military intervention elsewhere may be required in the future. A vital purpose of the Inquiry is to identify what lessons should be learned from experience in Iraq.

There are many lessons set out in the Report.

Some are about the management of relations with allies, especially the US. Mr Blair overestimated his ability to influence US decisions on Iraq.

The UK’s relationship with the US has proved strong enough over time to bear the weight of honest disagreement. It does not require unconditional support where our interests or judgements differ.

The lessons also include:

  • The importance of collective Ministerial discussion which encourages frank and informed debate and challenge.
  • The need to assess risks, weigh options and set an achievable and realistic strategy.
  • The vital role of Ministerial leadership and co-ordination of action across Government, supported by senior officials.
  • The need to ensure that both the civilian and military arms of Government are properly equipped for their tasks.

Above all, the lesson is that all aspects of any intervention need to be calculated, debated and challenged with the utmost rigour.

And, when decisions have been made, they need to be implemented fully.

Sadly, neither was the case in relation to the UK Government’s actions in Iraq.