Alex Massie

Delaying publication of the Chilcot report is the right thing to do

Delaying publication of the Chilcot report is the right thing to do
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I don't know about you but I tend to think Sir John Chilcot's report into the Iraq war should not be published before it is finished. Actually, I do know about you and I know I hold to the minority view on this matter. So be it. Fashionable opinion is not on my side. Then again, fashionable opinion thinks Tony Blair is a war criminal so we may safely treat fashionable opinion with the contempt it has earned. It can go hang.

Nevertheless, as Isabel says this new delay will feed a perception the report is crooked. That is, zoomers zoom and morons gonna moron and there's nothing anyone else can do about it. But you would think the Deputy Prime Minister might do his bit to reassure people that Chilcot is an honest process. Instead, with typical snivelling wretchedness, Clegg panders to the conspiracy theorists whose minds were of course closed long ago. In doing so he undermines Chilcot and, not that this may matter much, his own seriousness.

Because, look, if Chilcot had published three years ago the same people preparing to be outraged now would have been outraged then. Cover-up! Conspiracy! Whitewash! You know how it goes. Chilcot can only satisfy the Truthers by ignoring the truth himself.

So, naturally, up pops Norman Baker to opine that publishing the report when it is finished and not before is "a shocking development. It is a betrayal of the British public who are entitled to see this report before the election.” Not, I should have thought as shocking as elevating this crank to ministerial status but I guess your mileage may vary on these matters.

Nor has it been explained quite why Chilcot should publish before the election. He just should! Because, er, Blair lied and people died and we need to be reminded of this before we choose whether David Cameron or Ed Miliband should lead the next government. Aye, Chilcot will make all the difference. Why? Because, just because.


The crux of the matter, yet again, is the old question of whether or not George W Bush and Tony Blair invented Saddam's WMD programmes to provide an excuse for war. We already know the answer to this question but that, again, does not matter very much.

That Saddam was protecting his WMD facilities is an idea so preposterous, incidentally, that in addition to being shared by pretty much every single western intelligence agency it was also held by senior members of Saddam's regime who assumed the old brute must be hiding something somewhere. Like foreign observers they couldn't understand why he acted the way he did. (Unlike some foreign observers they wondered why Bush et al didn't make sure they 'discovered' WMDs in Iraq anyway. It would have been easy to do so; easier, certainly, than not finding them.)

These are things worth exploring and it is important, actually, that Chilcot provides a full account explaining just how and why so many people were so mistaken. His report will not, I fancy, make for comfortable reading. It will, I suspect, provide a full and chastening account of a misadventure so enormous it now seems an act of monumental folly. A warning about hubris, too. Many people were right about this, though for the wrong reasons just as many others were wrong about it, though for the right reasons. (It is also worth recalling that leaving Saddam and his sons in power would not have been a cost-free exercise either. Not, probably, as costly as removing them but not cost-free.)

In any case - not that I suppose anyone cares - the delay in publishing Chilcot's report is hardly unusual. The Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday took 12 years and though it ceased hearing evidence in 2004 it did not report its findings until 2010. Naturally, that delay was also held to be unconscionable and a betrayal of 'the families' and all the rest of it.

And you know what? That was weapons-grade twaddle. The report was published when it was ready to be published. When it was published the delay - and frustrations - melted away. It no longer mattered. What mattered was what was in the report.

The Bloody Sunday Inquiry was - does this need to be said? - a much smaller, simpler matter than Chilcot's Iraq Inquiry. Moreover, since Chilcot has been tasked with writing the history of Britain's involvement in the Iraq War I am neither surprised nor appalled that this has taken some time. In the circumstances - that is, considering the brief - I'm not even persuaded he has taken an undue amount of time to finish his report. There is a large amount of territory to cover. Furthermore, if you accept (as you may not) that individuals singled-out in the report should have the opportunity to respond to the report then a further delay in publication is neither surprising nor shocking.

Then again, trumped-up outrage is the currency of our time and so of course the people who complain the report is being delayed for 'political advantage' are hellbent on using Chilcot for their own narrow, selfish, political advantage. C'est la vie. Most of these people want to be appalled by Chilcot's findings (sorry, by Chilcot's whitewash) and, lo, they will be appalled by his report whenever it is published and whatever it contains.

Which is also why it doesn't matter when it is published and why it doesn't really matter what it contains. The can be no satisfying people who add #warcriminals to their Tweets. They don't even want to be satisfied.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.