David Blackburn

Straw man?

Straw man?
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The Chilcot Inquiry has at last disclosed something novel: Lord Goldsmith believed at one time that a second UN resolution would be a pre-requisite for legitimate military action. Goldsmith may well have been right, but not on the grounds he stated.

A letter from Jack Straw reveals that Goldsmith misunderstood the wording of 1441. For a man who presented himself last week as a cipher amid titanic events, it’s an extraordinary letter, and its tone, phrasing and even the punctuation are crushingly condescending.

The Attorney General had argued that ‘he did not find much difference between’ the French proposal and 1441’s final wording. Straw replied:

‘With respect, there is all the difference in the world...The French text would have given the Security Council the exclusive right to determine whether there had been a further material breach. We resisted that because it automatically bound us into a second Resolution to authorise the use of force.’

This is key, the US and the UK deliberately worded 1441 to give them wriggling space to a avoid having a second resolution as a pre-requisite for legality. Straw expanded the point:

‘There is, next, the issue on which your draft advice turns, namely what is meant by the words “for assessment”. In fact, however, we need look no further than OP4 itself… The Council decided to convene immediately… ‘in order to consider the situation and the need for compliance.’ What the Security Council agreed to do was just that – “to consider the situation”. We did not agree, as earlier wording had proposed, that the Council would “decide”; if we had wanted that to be the sense that would have been the verb used. Instead we chose the verb “consider” precisely because it covers a range of possibilties.'

Then Straw lets rip at the arch-Tony-crony, whose advice would have undone the US and UK's delicate strategy, by quoting dictionary defintions of “consider”. Straw conclues with particular contempt:

'In the dictionaries I have consulted, definitions of “consider” stop short of “decide”.

This episode discloses just how loathed Goldsmith was among ministers - that is the only explanation for Straw's malice. But it also confirms that Straw, who oversaw the careful drafting of 1441, made an important contribution in the case for war.