Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Dear Gordon: why we need an Iraq inquiry
11th February 2008
Dear Prime Minister
Next month will mark the fifth anniversary of the House of Commons' debate on military intervention in Iraq in March 2003. I believe that this would be the right time for the government to set out plans to ensure the lessons from Iraq are learnt and inform the future of British foreign policy, by announcing an independent public inquiry into the Iraq war.
Iraq has been the most significant foreign policy and military engagement of the last decade. It has also been the most controversial and publicly contested episode in British foreign policy for half a century, since Suez, dividing Parliament, political parties and the country.
An inquiry can not change the course of events since 2003. But there is widespread recognition, among those who took different views about the war, of the need to learn lessons from the Iraq war and its aftermath. A full inquiry would ensure that a rounded assessment of the pre-war diplomacy, the intelligence failures regarding Iraq's WMD programme, the conduct of the war itself, and the difficulties of post-war political and economic reconstruction could inform future policy.
This is a particularly important moment for the future of foreign policy. The US election has provided a natural moment for America to take stock at the end of a political cycle: it is striking that the theme of change has been central to the campaigns of leading candidates for both parties. With a growing awareness among political leaders and broader public opinion in the United States of the limits to what even the most powerful nation in the world can achieve alone, it is important to show that working together for stronger international cooperation can provide a more effective alternative.
Britain, our European partners and other allies can make a major contribution to leading an international public debate about how we can work together to strengthen multilateral institutions for an age of growing interdependence. This should lead to new thinking about how to address the global challenges of our age, including security and terrorism, climate change, the responsibility to protect human rights, and spreading global development and decent chances in life to all.
This agenda should also be at the heart of the Labour Party's thinking as it creates a new progressive foreign policy agenda to put forward at the next General Election in Britain, and the party should seek to reach out and work with those outside party politics who are working on these great progressive causes.
But our ability to pursue this debate within Britain and beyond, and to engage people in it, will depend on acknowledging and learning the lessons of Iraq, showing a clear commitment to building from these to create the new internationalist agenda we need for the future. A public inquiry into Iraq would be an important way to achieve this.
As the Washington clocks strike twelve on 20th January 2009, listen carefully and you might just hear a swooshing sigh of relief travel around the world. The Bush Presidency will not leave the legacy its architects intended. But a critique of what should have been done differently since 2001 is not enough. This blog is about the new ideas which can create a 'new multilateralism' to tackle the global challenges we face.