James Forsyth

The Tories need to get serious about Iraq

The Tories need to get serious about Iraq
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As Tim Montgomerie points out, it is a sad indictment of the Conservative party that the only time it seems to be able to get excited about Iraq is when it is calling for an inquiry into the war. Reading William Hague’s speech yesterday, one couldn’t help but notice the difference from his pre-war contributions, when his statements about WMD went far beyond what even the government was claiming and he was happy to throw around the term “appeasement”.

Take the intervention that Hague made on 24 September, 2002:

“Does the Prime Minister recollect that, in the half-century history of various states acquiring nuclear capabilities, in almost every case—from the Soviet Union in 1949 to Pakistan in 1998—their ability to do so has been greatly underestimated and understated by intelligence sources at the time? Estimates today of Iraq taking several years to acquire a nuclear device should be seen in that context, and within that margin of error. Given that, and the information from defectors five years after the Gulf war, that 400 nuclear sites and installations had been concealed in farmhouses and even schools in Iraq, is there not at least a significant risk of the utter catastrophe of Iraq possessing a nuclear device without warning, some time in the next couple of years? In that case, does not the risk of leaving the regime on its course today far outweigh the risk of taking action quite soon?”

It is also rather galling to hear Hague calling for parliamentary scrutiny, when on the 25th of February, 2003, his idea of this was to take time during a debate to ask Tony Blair if he would “accept from a long-standing critic and opponent that his policy is absolutely in the interests of this country and the wider world?”

There is an unpleasant and deeply unserious whiff of opportunism about the Tory volte-face on Iraq. The party supported the war in the Commons and failed to make the case for a change in strategy during the first three, failing years of the war, it then became an advocate of the deeply flawed but establishment-backed Baker-Hamilton approach. At a time when this country is fighting two wars, any potential government needs to show that it will always put high principle before cheap popularity. On Iraq, the Tories have not demonstrated this.

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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