Friday, July 08, 2016

Chilcot report: Blair is not the only guilty one

Former British PM Tony Blair has been justifiably skewered by all and sundry following the publication of the Chilcot report on the Iraq war.

To me, the most striking part is not Blair's role- that was plain enough even without the report. It is the role played by the rest of the British establishment- the spineless characters in the cabinet, the acquiescent bureaucrats, the willingness of MI6 to oblige a war-mongering PM and, not least, a jingoistic and baying media (supposedly the 'free press' of Great Britain). Every part of the establishment was party to the American effort to oust Saddam Hussein by force and in defiance of the United Nations.

Leaving aside a few luminous exceptions such as Robin Cook, the foreign secretary who made a terrific speech in the House of Commons and then resigned, the barbarity and manifest injustice of what the British government embarked upon did not evoke outrage or protest. After the horrors of the Third Reich became known and the Nuremberg trials highlighted the enormity of the atrocities perpetrated, the question was asked: how could a whole nation have been complicit in such thing?

Well, after the Chilcot report, it is worth asking: how was the behaviour of the British establishment different from that of the Germans in the time of Hitler? That was a totalitarian regime and dissent would have carried a huge price. But what about democratic Britain? Is the price of dissent so high that nobody is willing to pay it? Or is it simply that even the modest price that dissent involves- such as losing a ministerial job or lack of career progression in the bureaucracy- something that supposedly decent people are not willing to pay?  For all the claims that democracies make, a culture of dissent is noticeably absent in all walks of life- politics, the bureaucracy, the corporate world, the media and even academics. It's so much easier to simply toe the line.

I was thrilled, therefore, to read the story of a whistle-blower from GCHQ, the British equivalent of the National Security Agency in the US. The whistle-blower, a lady, received an email from somebody in NASA asking for information on countries on the UNSC that were holding out against a vote in favour of a war. She leaked the email and ended up getting charged by the government for violation of the Official Secrets Act. The charge was dropped when it became clear that pursuing the case would not be rewarding for the government. The leak of the email should have prompted scrutiny from parliamentarians and others of what the Blair government was up to. It didn't happen:

I believed that on receiving the email, UK parliamentary members might question the urgency and motives of the war hawks, and demand further deliberations and scrutiny. I thought it might delay or perhaps even halt the march towards a war that would devastate Iraqi lives and infrastructure already crushed by a decade of unrelenting sanctions. A war that would send UK and US service men and women into harm’s way, leaving hundreds of them dead, disfigured and traumatised. Unfortunately, that did not happen. It couldn’t, for now we know via Chilcot that Blair promised George W Bush he would be “with him, whatever”.
Amidst the yes-men and sycophants everywhere, there is the odd brave soul that is willing to speak up. There were a few other heroes and heroines-  amongst them, the head of MI5 who warned Blair of the dangers of Muslims everywhere being radicalised.

How do we nurture a society where more people are emboldened to express dissent? Unless we do so, all so-called democracies are seriously flawed. The mindset is essentially totalitarian with only one difference- you get a chance to vote every few years.

There's one other aspect of the Chilcot report that Robert Fisk, the well-known journalist, highlights. We do not hear the voices of the victims, the people of Iraq. The Chilcot enquiry did not seek their testimony:
The Arabs of Iraq – and now Syria – endure human disaster on an unprecedented scale because of the Blair-Bush lies, yet all Chilcot can produce with his seven years of literary endeavour and volumes to break the strength of any library shelf is a puny little domestic report on British politics and the self-righteousness of the midget who got it all wrong.


Anonymous said...

"a lady, received an email from somebody in NASA asking for information on countries on the UNSC"

I think you mean NSA(typo?) - for a moment I was bewildered why NASA would be interested in this.


T T Ram Mohan said...

Sorry, yes it's NSA

Unknown said...

The fact that we find ourselves short in expressing dissent where that is the right action is one very depressing aspect of our human nature. Truly a few of them who manage to rise above self interest and show courage in pointing out the truth bring forth some very inspiring moments and maybe at the right moment it will give us the energy to do the same.