25 April 2011

Libya and the Iraq Inquiry

An earlier post about the Iraq Inquiry wondered what issues its report would address that hadn’t been covered in 2004 by Lord Butler and his comments on the machinery of government. Now the Inquiry is faced with the problem that what will be known as the Chilcot report (after its Chairman who is likely to present it to the Prime Minister this summer) seems to have been overtaken by the UK’s becoming involved in the conflict in Libya. It’s worth repeating the Inquiry’s terms of reference:
"Our terms of reference are very broad, but the essential points, as set out by the Prime Minister and agreed by the House of Commons, are that this is an Inquiry by a committee of Privy Counsellors. It will consider the period from the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009, embracing the run-up to the conflict in Iraq, the military action and its aftermath. We will therefore be considering the UK's involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned. Those lessons will help ensure that, if we face similar situations in future, the government of the day is best equipped to respond to those situations in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country."
Seemingly the Inquiry is not an academic or legal exercise but is aimed at assisting the current Coalition and future governments to deal with Iraq-like situations in an optimal fashion (note ‘best’, ‘most’ and ‘best’ again in the last sentence) from start to finish. However, lessons about ‘sofa government’ seem to have been applied anyway. According to Anthony Seldon:
… Cameron was equally clear that his premiership would see a return to formal Cabinet government. Cabinet meets for between an hour and a half to two hours each Tuesday. Regular meetings include the National Security Council [NSC], which he established at the outset.
On Libya, he [Cameron] is relying on Ricketts’ [Peter Ricketts, National Security Adviser] advice daily, not least at the daily meeting of the NSC’s Libya committee.
So presumably the making of judgements about the UK’s developing involvement in Libya is being very properly documented. This should please contemporary historians in years to come when (or if) the NSC files are released by The National Archives. They may even be able to conclude whether the formality of the decision-making made much difference when, inevitably, there were major uncertainties as to the course of the conflict and the nature of post-conflict Libya.

Arguably, the UK’s involvement in Libya is putting into practice ‘liberal interventionism’. This was the subject of an earlier post which looked at the contribution of Sir Lawrence Freedman, a member of the Iraq Inquiry Committee, to Tony Blair’s Chicago speech in 1999.

ADDENDUM JUNE 2011: This later post might also be of interest..

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