a false momentum…

Posted on Friday 30 July 2010

I thought I was relieved of my Chilcot Inquiry obsession, at least for a time. The only remaining witness was the Right Honorable The Lord Prescott, Tony Blair’s Deputy Prime Minister who I thought would be something of a Blair apologist and not add much. He was that, though his framing of Blair’s dilemma was more compelling that I would have thought. But, to be honest, I am an American, and my obsession with the British Hearings is obviously more driven by my looking for a snapshot into how our government [US] functioned, than by any abiding interest  in the internals of theirs [UK]. To my surprise, Lord Prescott was a great window into America. The transcript isn’t yet posted, but here are a few pieces.
    Lord Prescott came to the US several days after 911 at a time when we were still moving the President and his cabinet from place to place, so they met by video conference. He reports that they were already talking about regime change in Iraq, with vigor, all of them. At later times, he was around for video conferencing between Bush and Blair. "He [Blair] did say to me: ‘Don’t be worried about his language.’ I don’t think he meant the swearing, but the style and aggression that would be involved," he said. "I must say, listening to it, I now know what he means."
    Lord Prescott was asked about Vice President Dick Cheney whom he met with two or three times. When he was first asked about Cheney by Baroness Prashar, he blurted out, "Hardliner!" before she finished her question. They all had a knowing smile then she asked if he had tried to influence him [Cheney]. I captured his "look" on the right when she asked [it’s a smirk of disgust]. Lord Prescott  said things like, "He’d just look at you. You knew you hadn’t convinced him of anything" "Sure, you can talk to him, It’s a polite, conversation…" "He certainly wasn’t for the UN role" "The UN kind of pussyfoots it in these situations" "This was unfinished business" "We’re going in" "Let’s play around with the UN where we are"…
Like other witnesses, he thought Colin Powell was a reasonable person. He was complimentary of the UK relationship with President Clinton, "our ally." And Lord Prescott saw President Bush as making his own decisions, being the only person who was in agreement with the UK about going the UN Route [eg "the decider" – to quote President Bush]. I think he was otherwise unimpressed  with the rest of the US power base [Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, etc.].

Lord Prescott staunchly defended the process by which the UK went to war. Lord Goldsmith’s machinations were discounted as irrelevant – he declared the war was legal based on UN Resolutions. That was enough for Lord Goldsmith, and that does indeed seem to be the British way of doing business. The pronouncements of Jack Scarlett [JIC] on intelligence were taken as fact, the report of the Attorney General was digital, the input from Lord Michael Boyce [Chief of the Defence Staff] was similar – if Lord Goldsmith says "legal," then it’s legal. Lord Prescott also repeatedly pointed out that the war was approved by Parliament – the biggest military decision ever approved by Parliament.

There was another piece of the story that Lord Prescott talked about without really framing it clearly. As the clock ticked down, Lord Goldsmith continued to insist on the UN Route. It became clear that they were not going to be able to get a 2nd Resolution from the Security Council at the UN. There were 250,000 Troops lined up outside Iraq to invade. And the brutal heat of the Iraqi summer loomed in the increasingly near months ahead. Hans Blix’s UNMVIC Inspectors had been in Iraq for three and a half months, finding nothing so far. Lord Prescott was obviously completely drawn up in this dramatic moment, as was Lord Goldsmith, as was Tony Blair.

Why? Would it be too difficult to wait until the Autumn? It would be too expensive to wait until the Autumn. What if Autumn came and the Inspectors were still looking? Isn’t this just another example of the UN "pussyfooting" around? The Americans would just go it alone. So with great drama, Lord Goldsmith caves in. Parliament agrees. And the UK and the US invaded [It would’ve been much cheaper to send our troops air conditioned tents, cable television, and USO shows for the summer and let UNMVIC do its job than fight a seven year war].

Like everyone else, Lord Prescott spoke as if the urgency made sense. It didn’t make a bit of sense, in retrospect or if you look at the situation at the time. To quote Sir John Holmes, UK Ambassador to France talking about the French position:

    … what changed was that, as the military preparations advanced and they could see that that was what was actually driving the timetable rather than anything else, that they saw a second resolution, unless it was very much of the kind that they wanted — and what we were putting down wasn’t what they wanted — as simply a means of legitimising the war, and they were simply not going to go along with that. That’s why they resisted it all the way along and spent so much diplomatic capital, bizarrely in a sense acting against their allies, their main allies, touring Africa to persuade people not to go along with this and ultimately threatening to veto it, because they felt that what was being proposed was not a reasonable exercise; it was simply a way of trying to fit something diplomatically to the military timetable that was underway and was therefore simply a ploy to help the British, which they weren’t prepared to go along with. I think they found it hard to say that in so many words, given the history of 1441, but what they were saying was "We will not go along with anything that does not give the inspectors time to do their work."
Chirac was absolutely correct. The only urgency was in the Vice President’s office in Washington. The 2nd Resolution was a sham, something to "legitimize" a illegitimate war. Had the British stuck to their guns and refused to join us, we would’ve probably invaded on our own. Here once again are the only things we would have had to justify our actions…

SUPPORT FOR UNITED STATES DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS: The Congress of the United States supports the efforts by the President to–

  • strictly enforce through the United Nations Security Council all relevant Security Council resolutions applicable to Iraq and encourages him in those efforts; and
  • obtain prompt and decisive action by the Security Council to ensure that Iraq abandons its strategy of delay, evasion and noncompliance and promptly and strictly complies with all relevant Security Council resolutions.

AUTHORIZATION FOR USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES: The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to–

  • defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and
  • enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.

“2.Decides, while acknowledging paragraph 1 above, to afford Iraq, by this resolution, a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations under relevant resolutions of the Council; and accordingly decides to set up an enhanced inspection regime with the aim of bringing to full and verified completion the disarmament process established by resolution 687 (1991) and subsequent resolutions of the Council…
“4.Decides that false statements or omissions in the declarations submitted by Iraq pursuant to this resolution and failure by Iraq at any time to comply with, and cooperate fully in the implementation of, this resolution shall constitute a further material breach of Iraq’s obligations and will be reported to the Council for assessment in accordance with paragraphs 11 and 12 below…
“11.Directs the Executive Chairman of UNMOVIC and the Director-General of the IAEA to report immediately to the Council any interference by Iraq with inspection activities, as well as any failure by Iraq to comply with its disarmament obligations, including its obligations regarding inspections under this resolution;
“12.Decides to convene immediately upon receipt of a report in accordance with paragraphs 4 or 11 above, in order to consider the situation and the need for full compliance with all of the relevant Council resolutions in order to secure international peace and security;

October 23, 2002 [John Yoo]
The President possesses constitutional authority to use military force against Iraq to protect United States national interests. This independent constitutional authority is supplemented by congressional authorization in the form of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution.

Using force against Iraq would be consistent with international law because it would be authorized by the United Nations Security Council or would be justified as anticipatory self-defense.

November 8, 2002 [John Yoo]
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441 does not alter the legal authority, under international law, granted by existing U.N. Security Council resolutions to use force against Iraq.

December 7, 2002 [John Yoo]
False statements or omissions in Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction declaration would by themselves constitute a "further material breach" of United Nations Security Counsel Resolution 1441.

the US Congress clearly mandating action through the UN, a UN Resolution that does not authorize the use of force, and three interpretations by an unknown hack neoconservative lawyer in the DOJ, apparently unreviewed by anyone of any stature. Maybe we would have invaded on that basis alone, but those of us opposing that action could have more legitimately howled at the top of our lungs about that, flushed out the infamous John Yoo more quickly, etc. Chirac said the 2nd Resolution was a trick to get the UN to legitimize a war. That trick worked on the British. They did legitimize an illegitimate war with a more public and reasoned negotiation by real lawyers. That took John Yoo off the hook somewhat. Lord Goldsmith was a much higher power that John Yoo.

LESSON: If you feel a compelling sense of urgency, sit down and ask yourself, "Is there any real urgency? What will happen if we don’t act with haste?" If the answer is "No real urgency" then look around and figure out who is trying to manipulate the situation by yelling "Fire!". In this case, the answer is obvious – Dick Cheney and his Band of Others.

So back to Lord Prescott, he was forthcoming about Dick Cheney and the American war-mongering ethos, but he was also caught up in that very hysteria [that we created ] which lead to the British jumping on board. The world would be a better place if they [Lord Goldsmith, Tony Blair, Jack Straw, and, in fact, Lord Prescott himself] had stuck to their principles and the UN Charter. As Hans Blix said:
    DR BLIX: I think that when Condoleezza Rice, for instance, said, and I quoted in my book, when she said that the military action taken was simply upholding the authority of the Security Council, it strikes me as something totally absurd. Here you are in March 2003 and they knew that three permanent members, the French and the Chinese and the Russians, were opposed to any armed action, and they were aware that they could not get a majority for a resolution that even implied the right to military action. To say then that yes, the action upheld the authority of a council that they knew was against it I think strikes me as going against common sense.
In case you haven’t noticed, Dick Cheney was the force that prevailed – to the shame of both the Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George W. Bush…

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