When the Chilcot report was finally published yesterday I took myself up Carn Traonach and had a think about those days.
In the run-up to the war, I recall a conversation in the offices of An Phoblacht just after Prime Minister Blair had made the case for war in September 2002.
Within the confines of 58 Parnell Square, the possibility of British mendacity was discussed
The idea that a major political decision taker in Westminster would mendaciously manufacture a casus belli did not make any of my Republican colleagues gasp.
After all the term ‘Perfidious Albion’ did have some basis in fact, observed one of my co-workers.
Britain’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq probably robbed the British Labour Party of a generation of idealistic, energetic young activists.
In Scotland, the far left Scottish Socialist party were the obvious beneficiaries of that alienation until the Tommy Sheridan debacle.
Those who marched against the invasion of Iraq thirteen years ago will now probably gravitate towards the SNP or the RISE organisation.
The last time a British Prime Minister made such a Foreign Policy misstep it was when Anthony Eden thought he could deploy military forces in the Middle East without the approval of the man in the Oval Office.
Blair’s Iraq decision was based on a clear understanding that Britain was the junior partner in the US imperium, and that was what the UK on the world stage must aspire to be at all times.
A damning revelation was a memo written by Blair to President Bush in July 2002: “I will be with you whatever”.
That word “whatever” seems particularly instructive given how the British Prime Minister kept his cabinet colleagues out of the loop in the run-up to war.
The late Robin Cook resigned as Foreign Secretary and savaged Blair’s style of government as well as the Iraq decision itself.
Chilcot avoided looking into the legal basis for the war as he isn’t a lawyer and this was probably sensible.
Blair is a legally qualified, and he brought all of the forensic sophistry of that profession to his presser yesterday.
Memos unearthed by Chilcot showed that the opinion by Lord Goldsmith on March 7th, 2003 was that the legal basis for going to war was, at best, questionable.
The Attorney General’s initial view was that there was the doubtful legal basis for invading Iraq without a second resolution from the United Nations.
Moreover, Chilcot could not find any discernible reason for his apparent change of view only seven days later.
Chilcot found that the invasion of Iraq was “unnecessary” and that the assertions made by Blair on the WMD threat were “unjustified”.
Of all of the lies, the “45-minute” claim stands out as the most Orwellian.
As the UK pushed for a second resolution in the United Nations, the French were not in favour.
President Jacques Chirac, who had fought in the Algerian war in the 1950s, steadfastly opposed the Iraq adventure.
Blair sneered in private that the old Frenchman simply “did not get it”.
Of course, there were excellent reasons that President Chirac stood against this illegal folly, and he has been totally vindicated by the tragic consequences.
My own trade played a shameful role in the rush to war.
This was a deadly form of succulent lamb as the British tabloids produced lurid front pages about the imminent threat from Saddam’s WMD arsenal.
Any serious journalistic scrutiny of Blair’s case for war before the invasion in March 2003 was conveniently Off The Radar.
Once American and British boots were on the ground they found that their feet were ensnared in a deadly insurgency.
Finally, the British capitulated in Basra and abandoned the people of that city to the tender mercies of the Mahdi Army, a vicious Shia militia.
Britain, in the words of Lt Col Tim Collins, “…caved in….” and it was the US Marine Corps who would re-establish order in Basra after a year of lynch mob rule.
The British troops were, by modern standards, under-resourced and poorly equipped, and some of them died as a result in Iraq.
179 of them would die in Iraq, and thousands more would return scarred and scared.
None of this seems to have exercised Prime Minister Blair at the time.
The sectarian civil war that was unleashed by the 2003 invasion is still raging, and now ISIS control large parts of northern Iraq.
The country itself was a British confection out of the body parts of the Ottoman Empire in 1918.
The birth pangs of the new polity included the war crimes of the RAF bombing defenceless Kurdish civilians.
The munitions used by the British forces against the locals may have included mustard gas and in a War Office minute of 12 May 1919 in which Winston Churchill argued:
“I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. We have definitely adopted the position at the Peace Conference of arguing in favour of the retention of gas as a permanent method of warfare. It is sheer affectation to lacerate a man with the poisonous fragment of a bursting shell and to boggle at making his eyes water by means of lachrymatory gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes. The moral effect should be so good that the loss of life should be reduced to a minimum. It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses: gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected.”
That was when the UK was a major global player and controlled every corner of this island.
Thankfully the writ of the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha clan does not run in my little corner any longer.
Sometimes war can be justified, but the one that Chilcot was examining was clearly not in that category.
The Iraq saga is just another reason to be thankful to be free of Westminster’s murderous grip.
Despite all of the public demonstrations in the United Kingdom, the die was cast, and many innocent Iraqis would do just that, die.
A dispute developed within academe as how to best calculate the amount of people who had died in Iraq due to the invasion.
It was a chillingly instructive debate.
The invading troops had crossed into Iraq after being briefed that they would be “…welcomed as liberators…”
However, the reality was more deadly.
Unemployed Iraqi soldiers rushed to join the ranks of the insurgency and Jihadis poured into the broken country over unguarded borders.
The United States extricated themselves by putting the Iraqi rebels on the payroll.
Perhaps, the impulse that propelled Blair to be at the side of President Bush was perhaps similar to that of some Brexiteers recently; that Britain still is a major player on the world stage
For the avoidance of doubt dear reader, it isn’t.
Like the old punch drunk boxer, they used to be somebody.
Today Iraq is in ruins.
Anyone who thinks that the people of that broken country are in a better situation because of the 2003 invasion are, like Tony Blair, beyond clinical help.
Since playing a central role in an illegal war that killed hundreds of thousands, Anthony Charles Lynton Blair was made a Peace Envoy for the Middle East.
These days he consults with authoritarian regimes and invoices dictators for seven-figure fees.
I’m sure he sleeps like a baby.
The only war I can justify to myself is the type of conflict that occurred in these hills in 1920-21.
As I sploshed back to the home place, I still was no further forward in understanding what takes place in the mind of a Blair, a Bush or a Cheney.