Previously unnoticed documents made available to Harry’s Place reveal that large sections of the British media and opposition political leaders may have misled the public over the nature of the Iraq war.
Following the collapse of the frequently repeated claim that the Attorney General changed his mind over the legality of the war and that Tony Blair “lied”, anti-war claims that democracy and regime change were a so-called ‘retrospective justification’ for war have been disproven by new documents published by The Sunday Times.
The fresh information follows the widespread discomfort in Foreign Office, anti-war and media circles when the promised ‘US-imposed puppet government’ (UPG) the main justification given for opposition to the war, failed to materialise.
The embarrassment over the absence of UPG returned to haunt the critics this week when Iraq’s democratically elected parliament produced it’s first freely chosen government.
“There is no doubt that the failure to find UPG, or even a ‘Washington-backed strongman’, or ‘new Saddam’ has been a major blow to the credibility of the critics,” said one expert.
In what has been viewed as an effort to divert attention away from the UPG issue and the growing concerns that democracy might be slowly taking root in Iraq, the media had attempted to switch their focus during the election campaign to questions surrounding the legal advice given to the government.
In particular the critics had been banking on the Attorney General who they believed had been of the opinion that a second resolution would be needed from the United Nations Security Council before a war could be considered legal and that UN resolution 1441 could not be ‘revived’ to legalise an invasion.
But the AG’s March 7 full legal advice, which the media belatedly discovered after over two years, exposed this charge was false.
‘I accept that a reasonable case can be made that resolution 1441 is capable in principle of reviving the authorisation in 678 without a further resolution.’ Wrote Lord Goldsmith.
The AG’s legal advise included a balanced assessment of arguments both for and against the legality of a war but by the time the document found its way into media reports, many of those sections where he suggested there could be a case in favour of legality of an invasion had been removed.
“The media removed the caveats when they presented their final version to the public,” said one senior media source, who admits he was “uncomfortable” with the way newspapers and television presented the case against the government.
“Most arguments in support of the legality of an invasion were removed. Yet for months the media had been insisting that in the public interest we needed to see the full advice. We have to ask the question why they changed their mind? Were their arms twisted by someone?”
Despite the failure to find UPG and the inability to prove the Prime Minister lied or that the war was illegal, the critics had fallen back on their belief that Tony Blair had only ‘discovered’ regime change and democracy after no weapons of mass destruction were found and as a so-called ‘retrospective justification’ for war.
But the documents leaked to the Sunday Times show even that argument to fall down under the briefest scrutiny.
The Downing Street minutes, headed “Secret and strictly personal — UK eyes only”, detail one of the most important meetings ahead of the invasion.
It was chaired by the prime minister and attended by his inner circle. The document reveals Blair backed “regime change” by force from the outset.
In a barely noticed speech, that appears to have been ignored by those critics who have argued the case for ‘retrospective justification’, Mr. Blair is quoted as saying that while disarmament was the legal justification for war there were other good reasons:
If I am honest about it, there is another reason why I feel so strongly about this issue. It is a reason less to do with my being Prime Minister than being a member of the Labour Party, to do with the progressive politics in which we believe. The moral case against war has a moral answer: it is the moral case for removing Saddam.
……Ridding the world of Saddam would be an act of humanity. It is leaving him there that is in truth inhumane.
The discovery that the critics were wrong and that Blair has long been a supporter of regime change and democracy for Iraq led some to call for opposition parties to be punished in the election.
A spokesman for the Win the War Coalition said: “Two million of us didn’t march against the war because we knew there would be no UPG, that Tony Blair hadn’t lied, the war wasn’t illegal and that regime change and democracy for Iraq were the real war goals”.
The anti-war critics have also been accused of ignoring advice and warnings from senior democratic politicians in Iraq. In a recent document, largely ignored, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani warned:
January saw Iraq’s first free and open general election, leading to the first democratically-elected government of our desolate history.
Yet our struggle for a better, emancipated Iraq is only due to the consistent and unwavering support of Prime Minister Blair, the British people, and the coalition of the willing.
For many Iraqis, the positive role that Britain has played is a welcome change.
From our colonial master, Britain has become our democratic guardian.
Yet for almost two years the critics ignored warnings that democracy enjoyed popular support among the Iraqi people. “There was a blind spot,” said one media source.
“So much of the media and the opposition were focused on procedural wrangles in the UK and scoring points against the PM that they barely noticed a fledgling democracy was emerging in Iraq,” he said.
“Serious questions about our intelligence need to be asked”.
(See also what prompted this – Norm’s scoop)