Goldsmiths, University of London
The Chilcot report was published on July 6, 2016. On many levels the report is impressive. The report is a product of examining around 150,000 documents; over 180 interviews with variety of witnesses; 2.6 million words in 12 volumes; 150 page executive summary. It took more than 7 years to complete and cost over £10 million. The volume of media coverage of Chilcot report has been equally impressive. Many commentators were quick to point out that the Chilcot report was not a whitewash and its verdict was far more damning and fiercer that was anticipated or expected. Indeed Chilcot began his statement by saying: “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.” Unsurprisingly all the national newspapers in Britain printed a picture of Tony Blair on their cover page. The Times called the Iraq war “Blair’s private war”; another Murdoch’s title, the Sun, called Blair “Weapon of Mass Deception”, Daily Mail’s headline was “A Monster of Delusion”, and Daily Express, another British newspaper which supported the invasion of Iraq, referring to Tony Blair’s not-sorry apology, went with this headline: “SHAMED BLAIR: I’M SORRY BUT I’D DO IT AGAIN.
The report, without a doubt, is significant for number of reasons. In particular by questioning the legality of war the report might make it possible to prosecute Blair and other co-authors of this crime. However, while Chilcot’s criticism of Iraq war is fine as far as it goes, the report is astonishing not only for what it says, but also for what it fails to say. I would like to focus on some of these absences.
One of the most significant blind spots of Chilcot report, is, as David Whyte and Greg Muttitt have argued, oil. The report’s 150 pages executive summary only mentions oil five times and never as a motive for war. In the rest of the report oil is buried deep inside despite reference to government documents which clearly demonstrate the centrality of oil in invasion of Iraq. Whyte and Muttit rightly suggest that “Chilcot takes at face value the Blair government’s claim that the motive was to address Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.”
This brings me to the second major absentee from Chilcot repot: Iraqi people. Millions of words, and millions of pounds, and yet nothing, absolutely nothing, on the Arabs of Iraq (and Syria) who have paid and some for the ‘mistakes’ of Bush, Blair and co. Robert Fisk summed up this as eloquently as one can in such circumstances: “We weep for our British military martyrs, for such is how the Arabs refer to their wartime dead, yet scarcely a single suffering Arab was to be heard in the aftermath of Chilcot. The Iraqis were not allowed to give evidence; the dead Muslims and Christians of Iraq had no-one to plead for the integrity of their lives.” It wasn’t just that they were not heard. The “coalition of willing” from the very start refused, nay banned, the tracking of track civilian casualties in Iraq and did not hesitate to attack and even bomb critical media voices. The report has done and will do nothing for Iraqi people in dealing with the colonial aggression against them and the horrific consequences of war. It says almost nothing about the civilian casualties and massive displacement and forced migration of millions of people in Iraq. On this issue too the report sticks with Bush, Blair and co’s claims and conduct over Iraqi’s casualties.
The third astonishing blind spot in Chilcot report is democracy. Terrorism, one of the consequences/products of invasion of Iraq has been mentioned 28 times in executive summary, but democracy, the ‘promise’ of invasion and “regime change”, not even once. The invasion of Iraq, is a telling contemporary example of sense of superiority in which imperial powers enforce ‘democracy’ upon the ‘less enlightened’. We all know how that works. Ann Norton, an American Professor of political science is unashamedly frank about this in On the Muslim Question:
“Muslims have indeed been shown to be democracy’s others. They lack democracy, and it must be supplied to them, albeit by undemocratic means. The advancement of liberal democratic institutions in the political realm inhabited by Muslims, like neo-liberal institutions in their economic realms, is sought within a regime of conditionality. Democracy, like economic development, can be aided only under certain conditions. The objects of efforts to “democratize” the Middle East are required not merely to win the consent and satisfy the demands of their own electoral constituencies; they must conform to the will of the European Union and the United States. The elected government of Palestine must recognize Israel, whatever its constituents may say; the elected government of Iraq must forgo its choice of prime minister (Norton, 2013:11).
The absence of any reference to ‘democracy’ in post 2003 Iraq in the Chilcot report stands in sharp contrast with how that report has been perceived; namely the promise, or indeed, the possibility of ‘inquiry’, the visibility of debate, the importance of ‘rule of law’, and the existence of accountability in a western democracy. Chilcot, as is the case with previous and possibly future inquiries into foreign policies ‘mishaps’ and ‘mistakes’ is a racialised ritual in which the superior race/nation can absolves themselves, ‘learn’ the lessons in a civilised and calm manner and move forward, to the next ‘mistake’. The “feel good factor” around this ritual is as such that one of the first opinion pieces to be published on the Guardian website suggested that the United States needs to have its own Chilcot inquiry!
This act of “detoxing” of our national conscious over yet another imperial aggression is particularly visible in British media, the fourth blind spot of Chilcot report. But one of the major cheerleaders of the invasion of Iraq, the Sun newspaper, went even as far as cleansing some of their stories in 2003 from their website. While the fingers are pointed at Blair (and with justification) the fact is he wasn’t alone. Many British MPs supported him and the mainstream British media, with some minor exception, lied to British people. It wasn’t just Blair that was a “weapon of Mass Deception”, as Sun cried after Chilcot. Neither was this “Blair’s private war” (Times). In fact all of Murdoch’s titles, in Britain and elsewhere, without any exception, were cheerleaders for invasion of Iraq. Rupert Murdoch left no doubt why he was supporting the invasion: “The greatest thing to come out of this for the world economy… would be $20 a barrel for oil. That’s bigger than any tax cut in any country”! Other newspapers didn’t fare much better and much of the coverage of the build up to the invasion and its aftermath by broadcasters were also dismal. The BBC ended up paying a huge price for daring to question some of the lies of British government and after that began to toe the line almost to the full. In one infamous moment from 9 April 2003, the day of “victory” in Iraq, Andrew Marr the then political editor of BBC, standing outside No. 10 Downing Street, glowingly reported that Tony Blair has shown he is not somebody “who is drifted by public opinion, or focus groups or opinion polls”. He continued that “it would be entirely ungracious even for his critics not to acknowledge that tonight he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minster as a result”. It is legitimate to ask how Andrew Marr feels now about his own dismissal of public opinion, opinion polls and simple facts about Iraq and its people.
We knew then that Tony Blair, the majority of British MPs and media were lying to us and were more than ungracious, and in fact resentful to public opinion and democracy. Even after publication of the Chilcot report the majority of those who supported the war or had a key role to play are still “ungracious”. Blair himself remains unrepentant; David Cameron refused to condemn the invasion or to apologies to British people; Paul Bremer is still defending his record as the first governor of “liberated” Iraq; Ann Clwyd, a Labour MP, is still repeating the same lie, etc. What about the British media? What about those editors, reporters, and columnists, that not only failed to investigate the lies but spread them? Nothing suggests, so far, that any lesson has been learned, least of all by British media.
Chilcot remains committed to the imperial sense of entitlement to wage war on “inferior races/nations”, if it received the backing of United Nation Security Council or committed without major national or international opposition. It would be naïve to expect anything else from an inquiry set up by a British prime minister who, as a Chancellor at the time, budgeted for the aggression, and the very same person who in 2005 stressed that “the days of Britain having to apologise for our history are over”! Isolating the case of Iraq from previous colonial aggression as well as post Iraq (Libya and Syria in particular) only serves to erase the much longer colonial histories. Chilcot is an exercise and an opportunity for that history to be protected by offering a ‘possibility’ of a small sacrifice that is Tony Blair. In celebrating Chilcot the British media is trying to redeem itself without admitting to the shameful part they played and without apologising to the British people, to the families of fallen British soldiers, or to the people of Iraq. In 2003 the overwhelming majority of British media remained close to political power, whatever. They demonised, undermined, ridiculed and attacked critical voices. They still do.