Britain Islam Politics

The Chilcot Report – A Retrospective View into an Unjust War


Its over two million words long and I have no intention of reading it.  Life is too short. The Chilcot report’s conclusions after years of investigation are not really surprising.  It is easy to be wise after the event.  Sometimes in life you have to take a stance which is unpopular and arouses a great deal of anger.  I remember when we were discussing the proposed Iraq war, that it was not a clear cut case of this is the right thing to do…and just as with other big issues (like the Scottish and EU referendums) good people disagreed.

I remember being immensely proud of the British Parliament and the debate it had – I watched the whole thing and was totally convinced by Robin Cook, my local MP in Livingston, who I had come to admire.  His principled stand and resignation from the government was one of the finest things I have seen.


Charles Kennedy, my other MP (for my home area of Ross-shire) and also a political hero was called a coward and disgrace for this speech….but the Chilcot report has vindicated both him and Cook.


Rather than go over the whole thing again (hindsight is a wonderful thing) I thought I would reproduce here an article I wrote on the Free Church website before the war. Although written over 13 years ago I think that the Chilcot report has vindicated this as well.   Like the EU debate this is something on which I changed my mind, and which resulted in a lot of people accusing me of idealism, ignorance etc.  Remember that though there were those who opposed (Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn, Peter Hitchins) the vast majority of the ‘experts’ and Establishment supported it…Polly Toynbee, Christopher Hitchins, the Labour and Conservative parties, the Scottish Parliament, amongst others…

The following quotes from the article below have been proven to be right:

“By confusing the war against terrorism with the war against Saddam we are in grave danger of giving the terrorists precisely what they want. Tony Blair, in supporting Bush’s position and in attacking Iraq, has guaranteed that for many years to come Britain will be a terrorist target. Is that a price worth paying?”

“To some if America does not go to war it will seem like a defeat. To others of us a victorious war could actually be a greater defeat.”

“There is an enormous danger to the Christian gospel here – that our political position will be equated with the gospel. In particular there is a danger that Bush’s foreign policy will be regarded as synonymous with the gospel and that he will be seen as a crusader launching the new crusades. That would be a disaster and we must do our utmost to counter that.”

A Just War?

A couple of weeks ago I began to write an article on why it was right for Britain and the US to go to war against Iraq. I did so reluctantly because my natural inclination was to be opposed to such a war. My mind has been in turmoil about this issue and like many others I did not know what to think. As one friend said to me “every time I listen to the peace movement it turns me into a warmonger; every time I hear Donald Rumsfled it turns me into a peacenik”. But after weeks of thinking it seemed to me that there was little alternative other than to support a limited and just war against Iraq.   My reasons for supporting the Bush/Blair stance were all tied into Augustine’s Just War theory. Let me remind you of what that is.   Basically Augustine tried to approach the question of war from a Christian perspective and in particular the questions of “when it is permissible to wage war (jus in bello) and “what are the limitations on the ways we wage war (jus ad bellum) ?”.   In doing so he, and later developments of his theory, argued that a just war must have proper authority, proper cause, reasonable chance of success, and proportionality.   To my mind the war with Iraq fitted those criteria.

1) Proper Authority – Augustine meant by this that war is not to be waged by private citizens but rather by properly constituted governments. In that respect there is no doubt that America and Britain are properly constituted governments. Furthermore it seemed as though the United Nations was about to sanction such a war given that Iraq was in breach of United Nations resolutions.

2) Proper cause – We are not to go to war for revenge nor as Augustine put it ‘the lust for dominating’.   The primary reason for going to war is self defence. America feels threatened by Iraq. If Saddam was to develop weapons of mass destruction and give them to international terrorists then one can only imagine the devastation that could be wrought in American cities. If there is a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam then surely George Bush is right to seek to defend his own country. And Britain is right to stand beside our American allies and friends. A further just cause for war is that Saddam is a tyrant who has used chemical weapons on his own people and who would not hesitate to use them again. Surely it would be right and better for the people of Iraq if there was ‘regime change’?

3) A reasonable chance of success – Saddam’s army has been severely weakened. It is no match for the technology and military power of the US backed up by Britain. Every thing points towards a short war – a bombing campaign followed by a quick assault on Baghdad and the retreat or execution of Saddam. Although there will be casualties on ‘our’ side they are expected to be small and, if the last Gulf War is anything to go by, are more likely to be caused by friendly fire than anything else.

4) Proportionality – This has come to mean that non-combatants should be kept from harm, as far as possible. The concept of ‘total warfare’ is one that does not fit in with just war theory. Bush and Blair are not proposing total war. They insist on a limited war with strategic aims and limited methods.

On all the above it was clear to me that what our leaders were proposing was indeed a just war and that , however reluctantly, I would support it, pray it would be over as quickly as possible and pray that the loss of life would be kept to a minimum. After all what alternative was there?

But now I am glad I did not finish that column. Because things have changed. Or at least my perspective has changed. So with all due respect to Christians who hold to the position outlined above let me present another alternative Christian perspective on the current situation.   Again based on Augustinian just war theory.

1) Proper Authority –   It is now quite clear that the United Nations security council is not going to give authority to go to war – at least for the moment. For America that may not matter. Or at least for George Bush and those who regard the UN as nothing much more than an irrelevance. However for Blair and for many others it is extremely important. The whole raison d’etre for this war has been that Saddam has been breaking international law – for America and Britain to do the same would be hypocrisy on a breathtaking scale. And it is not just that Russia, China or France, as permanent members of the security council, could veto any resolution. It has become apparent after the extraordinary reaction to Dominique de Villepin’s, (the French Ambassador) speech to the Security Council on Feb 14th (which by the way was a brilliant tour de force) that the majority of the UN Security Council feel the same way. It could be argued that Bush and the US do not need the UN. That they have the right to go to war whenever they want. It certainly seems to be the position that Bush holds. Indeed the whole UN weapons inspection thing is going to be demonstrated as a farce, not because it is not working, but rather because the decision to go to war against Iraq seems to have been made by the US several months ago.   In one sense it would have been more honest for the US just to have got on with it and do what they are going to do anyway. Because right now we have the worst of both worlds – America and Britain seeking but not getting permission from the international community for something they were going to do anyway.

Also in terms of authority Britain and the US are democracies and the authority of our governments comes from the people. One opinion poll I saw suggested that 65% of the citizens of the US are opposed to war without UN backing. Whether that remains the case or not it is now quite clear that Tony Blair does not have the backing of either the majority of members in his party nor the British public. Today there have been the biggest anti-war demonstrations ever in Britain – over one million people marched in London.  I personally have never known such hostility to a particular war. The opposition to this war in Britain is far greater than to the Falklands war, the last Gulf War or the Balkans conflict.   And it is not just the usual peaceniks, socialist workers and trendy left church liberals. It is across the board. In my pastoral visitation over the past few weeks it has surprised me how often the subject is brought up and how almost universal the opposition to war is – especially amongst the elderly. The British government does not have a mandate to go to war in Iraq and that severely undermines the criteria of proper authority.

2) Proper cause – It is here that Blair and Bush have lost the argument. No-one believes that this is just about getting rid of a nasty dictator. On that basis there would be a few other countries which we should also go to war with.   It is also the case that there is no direct threat to either of our countries. No-one seriously expects Iraq to attack Britain or the US.   But many accepted that there was a threat from Iraq to America and Britain through the link with Al Qaeda and the possibility of terrorists getting weapons of mass destruction (WMD). However that has fallen through.   The attempts by both Britain and the US to demonstrate this link have been risible. Tony Blair puts out a document allegedly from British Intelligence which turns out to have been cobbled together from a PhD students thesis posted on the internet.   Colin Powell’s presentation was almost as embarrassing and was rightly corrected by Hans Blix.   We were told that Iraq had hidden missiles which could go about 150km. The only problem was that these were not hidden but had been declared by Iraq.

Bin Laden has made it quite clear that he hates the ‘atheist’ Saddam and even in his latest tape (which the Americans were quick to jump on as showing the links between Al Qaeda and Saddam) where he urges Iraqi’s to become suicide bombers against the Americans, he also calls Saddam an ‘infidel’ and says he does not care if he falls. There was no serious and meaningful link between Saddam and Al Qaeda – at least not as meaningful as between the Saudis and Al Qaeda – and no-one is suggesting that we occupy Mecca. The irony here is that, on the basis of my enemy is your enemy, the US and Britain may well have created the circumstances in which there will now be a link.

The question then remains why go to war at all? Leaving aside the numerous conspiracy theories there are two that seem to be sticking in the public mind. Firstly it is unfinished business from the Gulf War. Revenge. The second is oil.   I personally have no doubts that the first Golf war was about oil. Will this one be any different? Well yes because I am sure that America is different after 9/11 and that Bush is genuinely concerned about the security of his own country. However there still remain questions. Oil is at least a secondary issue. Reports were published in British newspapers a couple of weeks ago that our troops were to stay in Iraq for at least three years in order to protect the oil fields. The questions remain as to who is going to benefit from Iraq’s oil. Will it be the multi-national oil corporations or the Iraqi people? Will our ‘regime change’ turn into an occupation of Iraq’s oil fields? Until these questions are answered then many people will remain suspicious as to why we are attacking Iraq when countries such as North Korea seem to pose a much greater threat to world peace.

3) A reasonable chance of success – Although few would doubt that the actual war in Iraq will be won quickly does that constitute success? Let us assume that the purpose of the war is to limit or take away the threat to Britain and the US from terrorist groups then one would suggest that success will be when that threat is removed. On that basis the peace is just as important as the war. The best outcome we can hope for is that in a military sense the war is over quickly, with a minimum of destruction and casualties, and that peace then descends on the Middle East. But is that a realistic scenario? Or is it not more likely that an American and British war against an Arab country in defiance of the UN, whilst supposedly enforcing UN resolutions, will in fact inflame the situation? Especially when Israel is allowed to get away with ignoring UN resolutions and continues its own ‘defensive measures’ against Palestine? Will terrorism, or the capacity to create biological weapons really be removed by ‘regime change’ in Iraq? Ironically a US invasion of Iraq will be playing right into the hands of Bin Laden, ‘proving’ his contentions about ‘US imperialism’ and the New Crusades, and providing him with thousands of recruits. Men who are prepared to die to fulfill their aims are not put off by the threat of violence. By confusing the war against terrorism with the war against Saddam we are in grave danger of giving the terrorists precisely what they want. Tony Blair, in supporting Bush’s position and in attacking Iraq, has guaranteed that for many years to come Britain will be a terrorist target. Is that a price worth paying?

Speaking of the price there are other consequences that need to be taken into account. What will this do to the Middle East? Will it bring stability or will it only add further confusion and strife? What will this do to the UN and Europe? If American and Britain go to war against the wishes of the international community there will be long term consequences and resentment. It may be that America is powerful enough to think that it does not need the rest of the world and that the Pax Americana is possible but it is a very dangerous route to go. Suddenly this whole issue has become about a whole lot more than Iraq.

4) Proportionality – Here again the British and Americans are to be commended. There is a genuine desire to target and to keep civilian casualties to a minimum. However even here there is a problem. Two speeches from the British government have illustrated this. The first was from Geoff Hoon, our defence secretary, where he refused to rule out the first use of WMD. This was a chilling interview and indeed was the jolt that caused me to think again. It became quite clear to me that if the war in the desert was not going well both ourselves and the Americans would be prepared to use WMD in order to win such a war. The unthinkable for our governments is not using these weapons but being defeated. I realize there is a difference of degree but our moral position is severely undermined when, in going to war to prevent the use of WMD, we actually threaten to use them.

The second speech was from our Prime Minister, Tony Blair, when he took the moral position that sanctions were harmful and that war was a better option for the people of Iraq. Why then has he continually defended the use of sanctions? All of us should be thoroughly ashamed that in our name sanctions have been used which have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. War would indeed be better than that. Whatever happens the sanctions are immoral and indefensible. Given that we have used these sanctions with little regard for the loss of civilian life what will we do to limit civilian casualties in Iraq?   Our primary concern is going to be our own troops – the one thing that public opinion will not stand in either Britain or the US is our boys coming home in body bags. Therefore we will bomb and blitz with the intention of getting it over with as quickly as possible with as few casualties to our own as we possibly can. This inevitably means that there will be extensive Iraqi casualties and the possibility of many civilians being killed. How many Iraqis continue to suffer from the use of uranium tipped shells in the previous war?

Given all that the question then remains – is our use of military force in Iraq proportionate to the threat we face from Iraq?

So where do we go from here? Is it the status quo or regime change through war? No. The American and British determination has meant that the UN has finally got some teeth and that the weapons inspections are beginning to work. It is possible to contain Iraq by these means. Having been prepared for war it is now time for our governments to hold fire and to wait. My fear is that Bush cannot do that.   At least some of the American public are geared up for war and it will almost be a let down if it does not happen (even the Free Church Message board has had people on it gleefully claiming ‘Next stop – Iraq’). To some if America does not go to war it will seem like a defeat. To others of us a victorious war could actually be a greater defeat.

And finally….

Wisdom from the pastHugh Miller wrote in the mid 19th century – “that dislike of war which good men have entertained in all ages is, we are happy to believe a fast spreading dislike“. “And of course, the more the feeling grows in any country, which, like France, Britain, and America, possesses a representative Government, the less chance there will be of these nations entering rashly into war. France and the United States have always had their senseless war parties. It is of importance, therefore, that they should also possess their balancing peace parties, even though these be well-nigh as senseless as the others. Again in our own country, war is always the interest of a class largely represented in both Houses of Parliament. It is of great importance that they also should be kept in check, and their interest neutralised, by a party as hostile to war on principle as they are favourable to it from interest.”.

A plea. The above are only my opinions. I did not receive them by divine revelation. I have not had a dream or a ‘Word’ from the Lord.   And they are opinions based upon limited knowledge. They may be wrong and I may change them. Therefore I am not prepared to either preach them or to seek to impose them upon other Christians , or to seek to make them a condition of fellowship. And I would ask that all of us who are believers who have strong opinions about these things remember that we are all similarly limited and that it is only the Lord who knows all things.   There is an enormous danger to the Christian gospel here – that our political position will be equated with the gospel. In particular there is a danger that Bush’s foreign policy will be regarded as synonymous with the gospel and that he will be seen as a crusader launching the new crusades. That would be a disaster and we must do our utmost to counter that.

Pray for our brothers and sisters in Iraq. It is one of the few countries where believers are allowed to meet openly and churches are open. When Saddam is replaced my fear is that Islamic fundamentalism will take power and that Christians will be persecuted and attacked by the new regime.

Pray that our cities would be kept safe from terrorism. That the Lord would stay the hands of wicked men and that our soldiers would be kept from harm.

Let us also pray for Bush, Blair, Saddam and all those involved in making decisions. “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lifes in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy ch. 2 v.1-4

David Robertson – Feb 2003








  1. Probably the first time I have agree with everything you have written, both now and then (apart from the prayer bit but thats neither here nor there in the context). It was a ridiculous war and it is interesting to look back and see the vitriol against those who disagreed with the war.

  2. When serving in the RAF in the first Gulf war and witnessing equipment that I serviced malfunction and as a result a laser guided bomb instead of hitting a bridge explode in a residential area.

    I was as emotional about it as Tony Benn was in this excellent impassioned speech.

    I was astonished with the enthusiasm for a second war in the Gulf post 9/11. Don’t get me wrong, I support the need for the armed services and the brave men and women who have suffered sometimes the ultimate cost.

    However part of being trained in combat is to use a minimum amount of force to achieve an objective. War should only ever be a last resort. I am grateful for the Chilcot inquiry and the conclusion that the last resort had not be reached before engaging with war.

    Can we ever trust our politicians again when it comes to war?

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