November 28, 2009

More thoughts on the circus

I already gave a little mention to the establishment circus being passed off as an inquiry into the war on Iraq. I only found out a couple of days ago that questions were being asked about two of the panellists' ability to be objective about a war they both supported. One is a zionist activist, Martin Gilbert, who writes questionable histories of Israel and hagiographies of Bush and Blair. The other is a chap called Sir Lawrence Freedman who I had never heard of until I saw a Jerusalem Post article implying that questioning the integrity of these two was antisemitic because they are both Jewish. Well I was just googling "Martin Gilbert" to see if anything had been made of his appointment to the panel and sure enough there is a little crop of letters to the Guardian that suggest that the inquiry has been set up to exonerate the war party, especially Blair.

Check out this first one:

Your editorial on the Chilcot inquiry (23 November) is judicious and balanced, but surely your implicit criticism of Sir Lawrence Freedman (which others have expressed explicitly) is questionable.

It is reliably reported that Tony Blair's speech on liberal interventionism in Chicago in 1999 was heavily dependent on a memo written by Professor Freedman. However, Blair's justification for the Iraq war was always based on weapons of mass destruction, and though humanitarian intervention was used by him to seek to bolster his position, the declared policy of the government remained that it would not justify war if WMD was resolved. Furthermore, it is far from clear that Iraq would have satisfied all or indeed any of the five criteria for intervention set out in Chicago.

There appears to be no evidence that Freedman has ever expressed support for the Iraq invasion on humanitarian or any other grounds, and it might be fairer to trust that he would bring the same objectivity to the inquiry that he has displayed throughout a career as an eminent military historian and strategic thinker.

Malcolm Savidge


Curious character this Malcolm Savidge. He's a former MP who was strongly against the Iraq war but also against any inquiry into it.

Now see the next letter:
Your leader raises the acute question as to whether two of the committee members ought to disqualify themselves. Sir Lawrence Freedman was not only a key policy adviser to Tony Blair in the run-up to the Iraq war but during the invasion wrote "the US – and also Britain – will emerge from this conflict hardened in their power and ready to exercise far greater influence over not only the development of Iraq but also the wider Middle East". And Sir Martin Gilbert expressed the view that Bush and Blair "may well, with the passage of time and the opening of the archives, join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill". It is a fundamental principle of inquisitorial fairness that no person should adjudicate if there is a real likelihood of bias. Lord Denning put it thus in a case in 1969: "Justice must be rooted in confidence and confidence is destroyed when right-minded people go away thinking 'the judge was biased'."

Benedict Birnberg


Hmm, Freedman doesn't seem to have been as aloof from the decision to invade Iraq as Mr Savidge seems to think.

The third letter damns the whole panel:
Two establishment historians (Sir Lawrence Freedman and Sir Martin Gilbert), a "former Whitehall mandarin" who spent years at the Northern Ireland office (Sir John Chilcot), a former ambassador to Russia (Sir Roderic Lyne), a former first civil service commissioner (Lady Prashar), and a career civil servant with 25 years' experience who is now director general of the foreign and defence policy secretariat at the Cabinet Office (Margaret Aldred). But no room for a judge, a lawyer or a known critic of the war. (Back to Baghdad: how – and why – did Britain go to war?, 24 November). Thankfully, Sir John Chilcot has given us an assurance that his committee "will not shy away ... from making criticisms of individuals or systems – where that is warranted". But then he would say that, wouldn't he?

Martin Smith


There are three more, the last of which even supports the war in spite of all that we now know. But if the second and third are correct then this inquiry is going to be as much a whitewash as the Hutton inquiry was.

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