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Friday, November 18, 2016

Critical response to John Rentoul's "Chilcot Report: Politicians"

PREFACE: I responded to The Independent journalist and University of London professor John Rentoul's 28SEP16 article, Chilcot Report: Politicians. Professor Rentoul's e-mail in the exchange is omitted.

from: [me]
to: [John Rentoul]
date: Fri, Nov 18, 2016 at 11:19 PM
subject: Critical response to "Chilcot Report: Politicians"

Professor Rentoul,

Your article, "Chilcot Report: Politicians" at, diminishes Prime Minister Blair with an unwarranted excuse that devalues Blairism in the relevant aspect.

On the facts, PM Blair's decision with President Bush for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) was consistent with PM Blair's precedential decision with President Clinton for Operation Desert Fox (ODF), correct on the law, and justified on the policy to strictly enforce the basic norms essential for the liberal international order.

Excuse for the UK is maybe warranted regarding the difficulties in the OIF peace operations (PO) before the PO were recovered with the counterinsurgency "Surge" and Awakening.

Excuse for the UK is certainly warranted for President Obama's destructive choice to contravene the Strategic Framework Agreement (2008) with Iraq in order to deviate from his predecessors' American leadership of the free world.

However, excuse is not warranted for Blair's decision for OIF, which on the facts was correct on the law and justified on the policy.

The format for my response quotes from your article and interjects my comments and topical references.

[Note: Quotes from the article were italicized in the e-mail and block-quoted here.]

The invasion of Iraq had terrible consequences
_Before President Obama's deviation in 2011, the beneficial consequence of OIF was achieving the primary policy objective of Iraq's mandated compliance with the UNSCR 660 series. By the same token, with the Surge, the peace operations with Iraq were succeeding - again, before Obama deviated.

UNSC statement: Security Council Takes Action to End Iraq Sanctions, Terminate Oil-For-Food Programme as Members Recognize ‘Major Changes’ Since 1990, 15DEC10:
OIF FAQ: "Was Operation Iraqi Freedom a strategic blunder or a strategic victory":

_As for the "terrible consequences", war, and for that matter, constructing peace from the destruction of war, is not usually antiseptic. A clean solution for the vicious unbounded parties we've competed against in Iraq - the very elements that are most intolerable in the Blairist worldview - would be unusual. In fact, OIF's casus belli includes the Saddam regime's "all-pervasive repression and oppression sustained by broad-based discrimination and widespread terror" (UNCHR) in breach of UNSCR 688. Saddamists adapted the Saddam regime's terrorism to derail post-Saddam Iraq.

UN Commission on Human Rights [UNCHR]: Situation of human rights in Iraq, 19APR02:

_The OIF invasion by design was as humane as was reasonably attainable. The planning for the peace operations was also informed by the decade-plus enforcement of UNSCR 688. However, the humane design of the OIF invasion and planning for the PO counter-intuitively may have helped facilitate the "terrible consequences" of the terrorist insurgency that chiefly targeted civilians and civil infrastructure.

Can Another “Iraq” Be Prevented? by USAF JAG Maj. Gen. (ret.) Charles J. Dunlap Jr., 27SEP07:

The Chilcot report ensures that it will be, and means that the judgement of history may be harsher than is justified.
_The Chilcot report needs to be corrected in the discourse. It's skewed by the faulty premise that Iraq policy was based on pre-war intelligence estimates that "assumed" Iraqi WMD. Actually, the relevant law and policy plainly show that Iraq policy was based on enforcing Iraq's compliance with the "governing standard of Iraqi compliance" (UNSCR 1441), including the UNSCR 687 WMD-related disarmament mandates.

OIF FAQ: "Did Bush lie his way to war with Iraq":

_Iraq's guilt of proscribed armament was "assumed" because it was established by IAEA and UNSCOM as baseline fact in the UNSCR 687 disarmament process. Upon the established fact, Iraq's guilt of proscribed armament was presumed until Iraq satisfied its burden to prove it disarmed as mandated. The pre-war intelligence was weighed in that context. Whether Iraq was disarmed as mandated was neither guesswork nor intelligence work. The question was answered by the measurement of the UN inspections according to UNSCR 687. Enforcement versus the "threat" (UNSCR 1441) of Iraq's unaccounted for WMD was pegged to the assessment of its noncompliance.

The Chilcot report in effect reverses the relationship of the intelligence and the UN inspections in the UNSCR 687 disarmament process. Although it's true the UN inspections informed key assessments, the Chilcot report devalues the UN inspections to a mere consideration vis[-à-]vis the pre-war intelligence estimates. Actually, the operative role of the intelligence was ancillary, to assist the UN inspectors measure Iraq's mandated compliance. While the pre-war intelligence was a consideration, the decision for enforcement was keyed in on the prescribed measurement of Iraq's mandated compliance.

By procedure, OIF's casus belli was established by the 06MAR03 UNMOVIC report that found Iraq was not disarmed as mandated. Iraq was as noncompliant in Saddam's "final opportunity to comply with its [Iraq's] disarmament obligations" (UNSCR 1441) as when the 15DEC98 UNSCOM report triggered ODF.

UNMOVIC: Unresolved Disarmament Issues Iraq’s Proscribed Weapons Programmes 6 March 2003:
President Clinton letter to Congress on the legal authority for Operation Desert Fox, 18DEC98:
President Bush letter to Congress on the determination to use force and legal authority for Operation Iraqi Freedom, 18MAR03:

The important criticism of the report is that Mr Blair could and should have known that Iraq was likely to descend into sectarian civil war if Saddam Hussein were removed. He was warned, by academics and some Foreign Office officials, that it would be hard to keep order in a country ruined by dictatorship, in which the Sunni minority had ruled over the Shia majority. But he was also told by the Americans that they had a plan, and by the British military that they could handle the occupation.
... He knew that, despite what the Americans told him, they didn't have a plan, but he must have assumed that such a rich and powerful country would be able to manage the occupation
_Blair ["]must have assumed["] correctly. The initial post-war plan was overcome by the enemy but, with great cost, the US eventually adjusted with the Surge.

The notion that "[the Americans] didn't have a plan" is incorrect. In fact, the US planned extensively for the peace operations. The US had worked with Iraqi dissidents inside and outside Iraq, eg, the Iraqi National Congress, in relation to UNSCR 688 since 1991. Following the implicit executive policy, peace operations with post-Saddam Iraq were explicitly codified in the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998.

However, the long UNSCR 688 enforcement may have contributed to the post-war difficulties by imposing accrued human rights policy and notions of Iraqi society that were outdated by the time of OIF. Consistent with Blairism, Bush's decisions [for the war and post-war] tracked the human rights-based UNSCRs and related US law and policy. Which may have handicapped response to the needs on the ground in the immediate post-war.

Feith (War and Decision): Selected documents on Post-War Planning for Iraq, 2008:
"10 year anniversary of the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom: thoughts" - excerpts from UNSCR 688-related US law and policy, UNSCRs, and UN findings:

_The false notion that the US did not plan for the PO seems based on a misinterpretation of the initial "light footprint" post-war plan which was intended to, one, avoid a WW2-type "heavy footprint" military-centered occupation and, two, feature the international community in the nation-building of post-Saddam Iraq. The initial post-war plan assigned the military a support role tasked to "secure access" and facilitate the collaboration of civilian GOs and IOs, and under their umbrella, NGOs, who would work with the Iraqis on the bulk of nation-building tasks.

However, the military failed to "secure access" versus the terrorist insurgency. With the necessary foundation of security and stability denied, the rest of the initial post-war plan was shattered. The civilian GOs, IOs, and NGOs were severely restricted or run out of Iraq altogether, and their Iraqi nation-building partners were terrorized. The military was forced to shift drastically from its initially assigned post-war support role to the lead PO role and take on the bulk of nation-building tasks dropped by terrorized civilians. As such, what's often characterized incorrectly as a lack of post-war planning by the US was really the terrorist insurgency successfully breaking the initial "light footprint" PO plan, which compelled a new "heavy footprint" military-centered PO plan to be developed on the fly.

Bush White House: Briefing on humanitarian reconstruction issues, 24FEB03 (framework of the initial post-war plan):
"10 year anniversary of the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom: thoughts" - discussion of the failure of the initial post-war plan from a policy and military perspective:

_The US, including Ambassador Bremer, was well versed in Iraq's sectarian make up with over 2 decades of continuous engagement with Iraqis by 2002-2003, with the last decade-plus in the UNSCR 688 context. The US planned for Iraq's sectarian fault lines. However, the insurgency was not primarily sectarian in nature. Rather, the "sectarian civil war" was primarily terrorist in nature with the exploitation of Iraq's sectarian fault lines.

The critical flaw in the pre-war PO planning appears to be a significant under-estimation of Saddam's terrorism, especially Saddam's "considerable operational overlap" (IPP) with the al Qaeda network. Contra the "Camp Bucca" narrative, the rapid rise of the terrorist insurgency that blindsided the US and UK in Iraq is most readily explained by a [strategic] conversion of Saddam's terrorism rather than a [sectarian] spontaneous development.

Note the significant pre-war and post-war difference [in the assessment of Saddam's terrorism]:
Brookings: Iraq and the Global War on Terrorism by Daniel L. Byman, 01JUL07 (based on pre-OIF assessment of Saddam's terrorism):
US Joint Forces Command Iraqi Perspectives Project [IPP]: Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents, November 2007 (analysis of captured regime materials):
Kyle Orton: The Islamic State Was Coming Without the Invasion of Iraq, 12DEC15:

And he was warned, by the Department for International Development, that post-invasion Iraq would face a humanitarian emergency, needing food and medical supplies.
_The humanitarian piece was a primary focus of the invasion plan and was a success. The OIF invasion didn't cause a humanitarian crisis for Iraq. However, the subsequent terrorist insurgency did.

he chose to believe the British military, who were proud of their record of working with populations in Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Sierra Leone
_I can't speak to British PO planning, but I do recall early on a British pundit citing to experience in Northern Ireland to explain the relative calm in Shia districts in contrast to the restive Sunni districts patrolled by Americans. It made sense to me until the Iranians set off their complementary insurgency.

Thus Mr Blair made the wrong decision.
_That's a subjective opinion. Objectively, PM Blair correctly decided on the facts according to the operative enforcement procedure. The OIF decision is [a] straightforward fact pattern.

He had long thought that Saddam was a threat to the region and the world
_Saddam's threat was not a "long thought" guess. Saddam's "threat" (UNSCR 1441) was objectively assessed with the Gulf War ceasefire measures that were mandated to satisfy "the need to be assured of Iraq's peaceful intentions [and] ... to secure peace and security in the area" (UNSCR 687). According to the operative enforcement procedure applied by Presidents HW Bush, Clinton, and Bush, and Prime Ministers Major and Blair, Saddam was in categorical breach of the Gulf War ceasefire and thus measured accurately as a "threat to the region and the world".

OIF FAQ: "Why not free a noncompliant Saddam":
"A problem of definition in the Iraq controversy: Was the issue Saddam's regime or Iraq's demonstrable WMD?" (historical context):

he thought the consequences of getting rid of him were manageable. He planned for a humanitarian crisis, and dismissed warnings of a quagmire as the kind of exaggeration to which analysts are prone when they are looking for reasons not to do something.
_There was no ["]quagmire["]. The Surge was completed 5 years into OIF with post-Saddam Iraq on track. Building a nation does not happen faster than raising a child. Oftentimes, the post-war has not yet or only barely begun at the 5-year mark. The consequences of deposing Saddam proved to be manageable. But President Obama chose to stop managing them with much harm resulting. If President Eisenhower had similarly disengaged the vital PO from Europe and/or Asia during the analogous stage of post-WW2, much harm would have resulted, too.

The terrorist insurgency and the Surge were not the 1st instance in either American or British military history that a capable enemy managed to blow up an initial plan and compel urgent adjustments that resulted in eventual success. To pick two famous examples, the Battle of the Somme (WW1) for the UK and Kasserine Pass (WW2) for the US.

Due to the asymmetric nature of the particular enemy the US and UK confronted in OIF, the critical adjustment for success was compelled during the peace operations (post-war) rather than during the major combat operations (war) where it's usually expected.

Nonetheless, as GEN Petraeus stated, “If we are going to fight future wars, they’re going to be very similar to Iraq,” .... adding that this was why “we have to get it right in Iraq”:

_And we did get it right in Iraq. But then, abnormally, the next Commander-in-Chief chose to throw away the hard-earned peace - earned in no small measure with allied British sacrifice - in order to reify a radical deviation of US foreign policy to purposely empower the illiberal enemy.

Mosaic Magazine: Obama's Secret Iran Strategy by Michael Doran, 02FEB15:

Sir John Chilcot and his colleagues were right to be stern with Mr Blair, and with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, on that point. Other Cabinet ministers, MPs and members of the public could not have been expected to know enough about Iraq to be able to judge the likely effects of the invasion. If a fraction of the intelligence effort devoted to weapons of mass destruction had been devoted to war-gaming the consequences of toppling Saddam, a better decision might have been reached.
_With the complicity of Russia, France, Syria, Iran, et al, Saddam had broken the 'containment' by 2000-2001. Saddam was in fact rearming and an expanding terrorist in breach of UNSCR 687. When considering the alternative to OIF, recall that the baseline of the Gulf War ceasefire enforcement was Saddam's track record. The presumption was he would act consistent to his track record if Iraq did not comply with the Gulf War ceasefire mandates that were purpose-designed to reconstruct Iraq. WMD was not by itself the substance of Iraq's "threat" (UNSCR 1441). Saddam's rule, noncompliant, unreconstructed, and ambitious, was the disease that the Gulf War ceasefire was purposed to cure.

Iraq Survey Group [ISG]: Regime Finance and Procurement section, 30SEP04:
Bush White House: A Decade of Deception and Defiance, 12SEP02:
National Review: Saddam: What We Now Know by Jim Lacey, 14SEP11 (Lacey authored the IPP report):

But the Chilcot report should have been clearer about what such a decision by the British government would have meant. The US invasion would have gone ahead anyway, and the situation in Iraq would be roughly what it is today.
If the British government had held back from taking part in the invasion, it would presumably have offered its forces to try to help to rebuild the country afterwards. The situation today would be the same, but the UK, and Mr Blair, would have had no responsibility for it.
It is a shame that Chilcot did not do more to counter the Anglocentric view of the invasion, still generating headlines such as ‘Blair set the Middle East ablaze’.
_The situation in Iraq is what it is today not because of the OIF invasion but because of Obama's deviation.

"An irresponsible exit from Iraq" [sources and commentary]:

_The Anglocentric view is correct. Bush was no more or less committed to invading Iraq than Blair pending receipt of the UNMOVIC assessment. Just as in 1998, the threat of regime change was necessary to enable the UN inspections against Saddam's "intransigence" (Clinton). Just as in 1998, the enforcement decision pivoted on whether Iraq proved the mandated compliance. The difference is in 1998, Saddam hadn't been free from UN inspections and evidentially rearming for 4+ years via corruption of the Oil for Food program with the complicity of UNSC members, while also expanding his (under-estimated) "regional and global terrorism" (IPP).

OIF FAQ: "Why did Bush leave the ‘containment’ (status quo)":
[OIF FAQ: "Why did resolution of the Saddam problem require a threat of regime change":]

_Your counter-factual is implausible on its face. While the US was the heavyweight and practical leader of the Iraq intervention, Blair was senior to Bush as a policy maker in the US-UK partnership enforcing the UNSCR 660 series. The OIF decision was substantively and procedurally correct, consistent with the precedential ODF decision made by Blair and Clinton upon receipt of the 15DEC98 UNSCOM report while Bush was still governor of Texas. Thus, it doesn't stand to reason that upon receipt of the 06MAR03 UNMOVIC report, Blair would break character to buck his own ODF precedent within the operative enforcement procedure that Blair developed and Bush only inherited.

President Clinton announcement of Operation Desert Fox, 16DEC98:

So the Chilcot panel's central judgement is harsh enough. Yet its members seemed to feel the need to add redundant criticisms, as if seeking to head off the baying mob who might be disappointed that it found Mr Blair did not lie and did not falsify the intelligence.
_See parts 5-7 of the aforelinked OIF FAQ answer to "Did Bush lie his way to war with Iraq".

The report says that military action was unjustified because it was not a last resort. That could be a criticism of George Bush, but it is not likely to persuade anyone who supported the war at the time. A last resort can always have a further resort beyond that. What military action could possibly pass that test unambiguously? This finding simply takes us back to the endless argument over whether the weapons inspectors should have had ‘more time’, after Saddam had been given by the UN a ‘final opportunity’ to comply with UN resolutions and was still not complying with them.
_[ISG confirmed, "the Iraqis never intended to meet the spirit of the UNSC’s resolutions". Once Saddam failed the UNSCR 1441 "final opportunity" UNSCR 687 compliance test, t]he alternative to OIF was compromising the "governing standard of Iraqi compliance" (UNSCR 1441) to free an unreconstructed Saddam who was in breach of the terrorism-related mandates and humanitarian mandates as well as the disarmament mandates.

The proposed alternative to OIF disarmed the threat of regime change that was the only tool left [after 12+ years of noncompliance] that could compel even deficient cooperation from Saddam. At the same time, the [Blix] proposed alternative fundamentally altered the standard of compliance below the minimum acceptable to the US and UK.

So, while the notion that the last resort was not exhausted is technically true, it's not effectively true for the "governing standard of Iraqi compliance" (UNSCR 1441) enforced by the US and UK since 1990-1991. Accepting the [Blix] proposed alternative effectively meant disarming the threat of regime change that was necessary to compel Saddam's mandated compliance and possibly accepting an UNMOVIC verification without Saddam actually complying and disarming as mandated.

There is nothing in the HW Bush and Clinton administration records indicating that less than the mandated compliance by Saddam was acceptable. I expect the same is true for the Major and Blair administrations.

[Note: Keep in mind that demonstration of Saddam's WMD was not the essential issue of the Gulf War ceasefire. The essential issue of the Gulf War ceasefire was the mandated reconstruction of the "Government of Iraq" to satisfy "the need to be assured of Iraq's peaceful intentions [and] ... to secure peace and security in the area" (UNSCR 687). The essential threat posed by the "Government of Iraq" was the nature of the Saddam regime, rather than Iraq's armament. The ceasefire-prescribed disarmament of Iraq's WMD program was only a measurable symptom, albeit Iraq's WMD breach was an especially dangerous symptom. The essential purpose of enforcing Iraq's compliance with the WMD disarmament mandates of UNSCRs 687 and 1441, and all the Gulf War ceasefire measures, was to assess whether the nature of the "Government of Iraq" had been reconstructed "to be assured of Iraq's peaceful intentions" (UNSCR 687). In that regard, the improvised Blix alternative pushed by Saddam's accomplices that proposed to change the standard of compliance from the "governing standard of Iraqi compliance" (UNSCR 1441) would have failed to reconstruct the nature of the "Government of Iraq" to the mandated standard and by the same token, not made Iraq compliant and disarmed in accordance with UNSCRs 687 and 1441.]

OIF FAQ: "Did Bush allow enough time for the inspections"[:]
[OIF FAQ: "Did Iraq failing its compliance test justify the regime change":]

Then the report says that the British process for obtaining legal advice was unsatisfactory. That sounds like code for saying the Chilcot panel didn't agree with the advice that was given. That in turn merely draws attention to the nature of international law on such questions, which is that they are matters of opinion rather than of fact. There is no court that could try a decision such as that to invade Iraq. The British government needed to be satisfied only that its decision to take military action would not be successfully challenged in any court—and no such challenge has even been accepted as actionable in thirteen years.
_The UNSCR 660 series had been enforced since 1990-1991 with regular invasive military actions while the Gulf War ceasefire enforcement progressed to its coda with Saddam's "final opportunity to comply" (UNSCR 1441) in 2002-2003. The legal character for OIF was the same as the legal character for ODF, the no-fly zones, and other military enforcement actions.

OIF FAQ: "Was Operation Iraqi Freedom legal":

Finally, and least convincingly, Chilcot says that Mr Blair didn't have enough meetings and didn't write enough down. This is classic mandarin-hindsightism. Most of the Cabinet didn't want more paperwork because they agreed with the policy, and all they wanted to hear from the Attorney General was whether it was lawful, not the detailed reasoning. What they should have done is to ask more questions about what could happen afterwards, but I am not sure they needed a 2.6-million-word report to tell them that.
_By 2002-2003, the case versus Saddam and operative enforcement procedure for the Gulf War ceasefire, including the regime change "consequence", was[were] mature. In fact, they had matured with the ODF decision. While some reinventing of the wheel by Bush officials [new to the ceasefire enforcement] made some sense, reinventing the wheel made no sense for the [ceasefire enforcement veteran] Blair officials, such as AMB Greenstock, who had put the finishing touches on the wheel in 1998.

However, the purpose of the Chilcot report was to ‘identify the lessons that can be learned’ for today's leaders and those of the future. And asking questions about what could happen afterwards is the lesson. Imagine the worst that can happen.
_I suppose Bush officials could have imagined the significantly deeper Iraqi state terrorism capability and "regional and global terrorism" (IPP) network reported by IPP [in November 2007] that were under-estimated by the intelligence community before OIF.

With the information on hand and balancing the various policy considerations, the initial post-war plan did make sense on paper. As is, they got a lot right. But the enemy exploited the one thing they got wrong which ruined the rest of the initial post-war plan.

Part of that lesson is to avoid confirmation bias. It was reasonable to assume that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, but someone should have thought of the possibility that he was bluffing. And beware overconfidence. Just because one lot of experts warned you not to do something and turned out to be wrong—those who said Slobodan Milosevic could never be defeated from the air, for example—it doesn't mean that the next lot are mistaken.
_The "confirmation bias" that triggered OIF was the confirmation [in fact] by UNMOVIC of Saddam's "continued violations of its obligations" (UNSCR 1441). The "assumption" of Iraq's proscribed armament was the baseline fact of Iraq's proscribed armament established by UNSCOM (see A HISTORICAL ACCOUNT OF IRAQ’S PROSCRIBED WEAPONS PROGRAMMES in the 06MAR03 UNMOVIC report). While the OIF decision was not triggered by the pre-war intelligence estimates, the pre-war estimates were assessed with sound data indicating proscribed activity, including the UN inspections, on top of the established fact of Iraq's proscribed armament.

Saddam was bluffing, which breached UNSCR 687 by itself, but he wasn't only bluffing. And ISG isn't sure to the extent to which Saddam was bluffing. Saddam's intent to rearm breached UNSCR 687 by itself, and Iraq was in fact engaged in WMD-related and conventional armament activity in breach of UNSCR 687.

The Iraq Survey Group report is heavily qualified with significant evidentiary gaps, especially regarding Iraq's BW program. That being said, in addition to corroborating UNMOVIC's confirmation, ISG confirmed Saddam's intent to rearm, a secret chem and bio lab network and large covert procurement program in IIS, ready convertible chem and bio production capability, missile development, nuclear program revitalization, and concealment and deception.

Saddam's WMD-related breach of UNSCR 687 was established by UNSCOM, decided by UNSC, confirmed by UNMOVIC, and corroborated by ISG. Saddam's terrorism-related breach of UNSCR 687 was confirmed by IPP. Saddam's human rights-related breach of UNSCR 688 was confirmed by UNCHR. Across the board, Saddam was far beyond the red line in Iraq's "final opportunity to comply" (UNSCR 1441).

["10 year anniversary of the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom: thoughts" - discussion of the manufactured intelligence or "confirmation bias" accusation:]

The lesson of Iraq, as of the poll tax and the EU referendum—to take two other bad decisions of recent British history—is to think through how things could go badly wrong and then to work back to make sure that they don't.
Which is, of course, easier for Sir John, and me, to say than to do.
_Your ["]lesson[ of Iraq"] doesn't match the competitive realm of war and peace, which is won by adjustment more often than perfection. The standard of perfect preemptive anticipation, preparation, cost accounting, and execution that critics apply to OIF is ahistorical in military history. I agree we should do what we can beforehand to prepare. However, that the learning curve for victory in post-war Iraq was driven by necessity on the ground is consistent with military history. The enemy surprises and teaches. OIF just demanded a steeper learning curve for the peace operations of the post-war than the war that deposed Saddam's regime.

The US and UK were right on Iraq. Not perfect, but justified. The war was won handily, then the necessary adjustments were made to secure and build the peace.

The first lesson of Iraq is political. Don't concede conjecture, distorted context (like the Chilcot report), and readily debunked dis[mis]information as the prevailing narrative, especially not for the defining international law enforcement of the post-Cold War whose success was essential to credit the threat/use of force for the deterrence base of American leadership of the free world. The resulting stigmatization of OIF has crippled American leadership of the free world with much harm resulting.

The second lesson is don't elect leaders who use conjecture, distorted context, and dis[mis]information to stigmatize a paradigmatic liberal intervention in order to deviate from American leadership of the free world and throw away a hard-earned peace to empower the illiberal enemy.

Your excuse won't rehabilitate Blair's reputation. It just makes him look small and feckless and devalues a core aspect of Blairism. He deserves better. Blair's decision for OIF was correct and justified.


from: [me]
to: [John Rentoul]
date: Sat, Nov 19, 2016 at 9:51 AM
subject: Re: Critical response to "Chilcot Report: Politicians"

Professor Rentoul,

Pro-war in the case of the Iraq intervention is the same as pro-peace inasmuch one believes enforcement of the integral norms and principles of the Anglo-American-preferred liberal international order is essential for peace.

Blair, Clinton, and Bush understood that the UNSCR 660-series enforcement, which they inherited, was more valuable than just Saddam's breach. From the beginning of the era, the multifaceted Iraq intervention was paradigmatic for post-Cold War American leadership of the free world and thus Blairism in that aspect.

Simply stated, "If we fail to respond today, Saddam and all those who would follow in his footsteps will be emboldened tomorrow by the knowledge that they can act with impunity" - President Clinton on the wider relevance of the US-led enforcement of Iraq's mandated compliance, 17FEB98.

The awful ripple effects from the stigmatization of the Iraq intervention, made keystone in Obama's foreign policy, validate Clinton's prognostication.

Blair was substantively, procedurally, and essentially right on Iraq, and clarifying that in the discourse is more important than just rehabilitating Blair's legacy. I look forward to your feedback.


from: [me]
to: [John Rentoul]
date: Mon, Dec 5, 2016 at 2:55 PM
subject: 19MAY11 benchmark reference Re: Critical response to "Chilcot Report: Politicians"

Professor Rentoul,

While I look forward to your feedback, I'll add a benchmark reference to the topical references I provided earlier about the beneficial consequences versus the "terrible consequences" (Rentoul) of the Iraq intervention.

[Note: The quotes of Presidents Obama and Clinton were italicized in the e-mail and block-quoted here.]

At the dawn of the Arab Spring, Obama's remarks by the President on the Middle East and North Africa, 19MAY11:

Indeed, one of the broader lessons to be drawn from this period is that sectarian divides need not lead to conflict. In Iraq, we see the promise of a multiethnic, multisectarian democracy. The Iraqi people have rejected the perils of political violence in favor of a democratic process, even as they’ve taken full responsibility for their own security. Of course, like all new democracies, they will face setbacks. But Iraq is poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress. And as they do, we will be proud to stand with them as a steadfast partner.
The speech is a useful benchmark for where we were and what could - should - have been if Obama had stayed the course with Iraq and the Bush Freedom Agenda.

Obama's May 2011 description of the opportunity at hand in the Middle East echoes Blair, Bush, and Clinton's view on the subject:
In the century we’re leaving, America has often made the difference between chaos and community; fear and hope. Now, in a new century, we’ll have a remarkable opportunity to shape a future more peaceful than the past — but only if we stand strong against the enemies of peace. [President Clinton announcing Operation Desert Fox, 16DEC98]
Again, Blair and the UK demonstrably were right on Iraq. The foundation for a new peace was hard-won, but PM Blair and his American partners succeeded in their part of the epochal leadership task. President Obama inherited a winning hand with a historic opportunity, while partnering with a progressing post-Saddam Iraq, to build a generational peace.

Instead, Obama chose to radically alter American foreign policy with disastrous consequences:

It's unfair to hold Blair and Bush, who were right [on Iraq], responsible for Obama's catastrophic deviation.

[Note: The following two e-mails are not part of the preceding thread, though they revisit the same issues. The emphasis on 'foresee' and 'unwise' in my e-mail mirrors Professor Rentoul's phrasing in his e-mail. Professor Rentoul's e-mail in the exchange is omitted.]

from: [me]
to: [John Rentoul]
date: Thu, Jul 6, 2017 at 11:29 PM
subject: In light of Sir Chilcot's latest comments on the Iraq issue ...

Professor Rentoul, ... I reiterate my recommendation to correct the public record on PM Blair's Iraq decision - which was demonstrably correct on the law and facts, justified on the policy, and right on essential principle - with the opportunity opened by Sir Chilcot's latest comments on the Iraq issue.

For that purpose, I recommend adapting the US-oriented content at for the UK audience. For the US and UK regarding the Iraq decision, the facts are the same while the law and policy are parallel.

My critical response to your article, "Chilcot Report: Politicians", should also be useful for that purpose:


from: [me]
to: [John Rentoul]
date: Mon, Jul 24, 2017 at 4:17 PM
subject: Re: In light of Sir Chilcot's latest comments on the Iraq issue ...

Professor Rentoul,

Explain to me how we could and should have foreseen in 2002-2003 that President Bush's successor would radically deviate from standard practice for post-WW2, post-Cold War, let alone post-9/11 American leadership of the free world by contravening the US-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement among the cluster of President Obama's cascading harmful, course-changing choices.

The 1990-2011 Iraq intervention was a (the) categorical, paradigmatic embodiment of the US and UK enforcement of liberal international order (see and thus Blairism in that aspect. As such, your penitent concession of the revisionist OIF stigma is tantamount to discrediting US and UK enforcement of liberal international order and Blairism in that aspect.

Iraq's intrinsic sectarian lines were in fact known and planned for as the organizing focus of the initial post-war "humanitarian reconstruction" plan per UNSCR 688 et al. Thus foreseen, the initial GO, IO, and NGO civilian-centered plan with its "light footprint" support role for the military in OIF's nation-building aspect was reasonable in the operative context of the mandated humanitarian priorities and the known situation. However, what was not foreseen was that as carefully as the factors were considered in the thorough pre-war planning for the post-war, the depth of Saddam's terrorism in and outside Iraq and corruption of Iraqi society, including its sectarian lines, were significantly underestimated before OIF. 'Off the charts' is an apt description. Which was a flaw ruthlessly exploited by the terrorist insurgency that strategically savaged the Iraqi people with the same viciousness that Saddam employed against the 1991 uprisings to compel UNSCR 688 in the first place, in order to exploit the sectarian faults that were enflamed by the Saddam regime to maintain Saddam's terrorist rule. Which set the opening subsequently exploited by the complementing Iran-driven insurgency. Fortunately, coalition leaders recognized that the insurgency was primarily a terrorist problem burrowed in sectarian lines, not foremost an intrinsic sectarian problem. We ultimately adjusted to the terrorist insurgency with the counterinsurgency "Surge" while keeping faith with the Iraqi people and carrying forward the mandated humanitarian priorities that shaped the initial post-war plan. Note, like other pivotal adjustments in military history, the COIN strategy that recovered OIF from early setbacks was not an off-the-shelf strategy that was readily available before OIF, but rather developed through the competition.

Generally speaking, setback and adjustment are usual in zero-sum martial competition, no less with the vicious kind of enemy and the complex conditions we confronted in Iraq. In military history, exemplary leadership usually manifests with resoluteness under tension and adjustment rather than with the (rare) preemptive perfection per which you're judging Blair's decision on Iraq. Such as with the UK's initial engagement in WW2 through the Dunkirk evacuation, we're just accustomed to the larger setbacks and responsive adjustments occurring in major combat operations (war) rather than during peace operations (post-war). With the asymmetric nature of the enemy and the conditions we confronted - and overcame pre-Obama - in the post-war competition for Iraq, however, the larger adjustments in OIF were demanded in the peace operations.

Like the Korea intervention did for the Cold War, the hard-won lessons from the competition for Iraq should have updated the building blocks that American and British leadership need to compete for liberal world order and deter Saddam's fellow travelers, enablers, and accomplices. Instead, you're burying those vital lessons underneath the revisionists' narrative and thereby ceding the competition.

When you weigh the competitive setbacks we faced in Iraq and also the alternative to OIF - ie, winding down the defining post-Cold War international enforcement of Iraq's mandated compliance and normalizing unreconstructed ambitious, noncompliant, rearming terrorist tyrannical Saddam - keep in mind that the Saddam regime's corruption of Iraqi society with its rule by "all-pervasive ... widespread terror" (UNCHR) in violation of UNSCR 688 and "regional and global terrorism" (Iraqi Perspectives Project) in violation of UNSCR 687 were both found to be worse than assessed before OIF.

Saddam's terrorist threat in violation of UNSCR 687 was incorporated in the ceasefire breach-based casus belli for OIF. Among Iraq's violations, IPP found that Saddam deployed terrorists to London. Albeit the OIF casus belli was not preemptive defense distinct from Saddam's ceasefire breach, keep in mind that counter-terrorism is intrinsically preemptive because terrorism like Saddam's "considerable operational overlap" (IPP) with the al Qaeda network can't be tracked like military-based "imminent" threat.

Also keep in mind, contra Chilcot's distortion that the Iraq policy was containment (actually, the Iraq policy was always compliance as mandated), Saddam was no longer contained by 2000-2001, if not before. Saddam did not only dispositively not disarm with UNMOVIC as mandated, which by procedure, established casus belli in 2002-2003 like UNSCOM's measurement had triggered ODF in 1998. The Iraq Survey Group confirmed Saddam was in fact reconstituting conventional and WMD-related armament in violation of UNSCR 687 with the complicity of OIF opponents led by Russia and France. Meanwhile, the ISG non-findings of WMD - prevalently misrepresented as unequivocal - are in fact heavily qualified, as well as irrelevant to the justification of the compliance-based enforcement.

There's no doubt that OIF was a difficult decision by President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. But when Saddam evidentially failed his "final opportunity to comply" (UNSCR 1441), the danger of the alternative to OIF, ie, compromising the Gulf War ceasefire enforcement to free noncompliant Saddam, was foreseeable. Knowing what we know now - including the worse-than-anticipated conditions produced by the Saddam regime that undermined the initial post-war "humanitarian reconstruction" plan - the alternative to OIF of accepting the growing, metastasizing Saddam cancer is more unwise than (belatedly) engaging the invasive cure for the aggressive Saddam cancer. As analogy, cancer treatment usually involves iteratively updated diagnosis and adjustment, too. Like cancer treatment, kicking the can with noncompliant Saddam anymore, which the US and UK had already done for over a decade as the ceasefire enforcement was exhausted against the worsening Saddam problem, would have only enabled the already categorically red-lined Saddam problem to deepen.

By the same token, among President Obama's cluster of harmful policy deviations enabled by Prime Minister Cameron, Obama's premature disengagement of the critical peace operations with Iraq in contravention of the SFA was foreseeably unwise like prematurely disengaging cancer treatment.

The UK's enforcement of Iraq's mandated compliance with the UNSCR 660 series, above all the Gulf War ceasefire measures that embodied the spectrum of essential international norms, was paradigmatic for the Blairist worldview. Alongside Blairite politicians, it was - and is - your duty as a prominent Blairite pundit to uphold the Iraq intervention in the frame-setting, path-setting political competition. Evidently, Blairites lost the political contest in large part because of endemic gaps in basic knowledge that were exploited by anti-liberals armed with revisionist propaganda. Nonetheless, in political competition as in martial competition, setback and adjustment are usual; I'm trying to help you fix the vulnerability that undermined you in the first place. Yet thusly armed with incontrovertible law and fact, rather than mount a concerted correction to discredit blatant revisionists like Chilcot and rehabilitate the vital British leadership that manifested with Iraq, for some reason you're choosing to compound the damage by ceding [to] the OIF stigma, instead, despite knowing that the OIF stigma is demonstrably revisionist and anti-liberals are using the OIF stigma purposefully to discredit your political faction and as a keystone premise for their antithetical redirection of the UK's - and the world's - fundamental course.

If Blairites stand up together from their whipped defensive crouch, you can remedy the initial ignorant failure to clarify the Iraq issue for the public. And you can fight back in the politics for the sake of your political faction, your national character, and the viability of the essential principles embodied by the Iraq intervention for the sake of your grandchildren's world. The controlling law, policy, and precedent, and determinative facts that define the OIF decision are on Blair's side. When appositely viewed in the operative context (as opposed to Chilcot's distorted context), the evidence plainly shows your leader, your country, and you were right on Iraq in the first place.

As a first step towards recovery, I recommend that you publicly retract your blame of the OIF cure for the harms caused by the Saddam cancer, by Saddam's fellow travelers, enablers, and accomplices, and by the premature disengagement of the OIF cure by Bush and Blair's deviant successors, and re-place your blame for the harms onto those responsible parties. Then you should publicly clarify Blair's decision on Iraq while discrediting Chilcot as a stand-in avatar for the lot of revisionist anti-liberals.

[The perseverance in the face of setbacks and adjustment that characterized the American and British efforts with Iraq under Bush and Blair - not preemptive perfection - mark the usual ingredients for success in competition.] President Bush and Prime Minister Blair's imperfect, but by the same token, exemplary steadfast principled leadership with Iraq are the vital kernel needed for the US and UK to effectually compete for primacy of the Blairist worldview. Whereas your penitent concession of the stigmatization of Blair's legally, factually, and essentially correct decision on Iraq can only further empower the anti-liberals employing the revisionist OIF stigma to pull the US, UK, and the world down the essentially wrong path. That's foreseeable as well as observable.


Professor Rentoul's Chilcot article is a representative example of that if Blairites and their American counterparts will talk up the humanitarian liberal Blairist worldview, but they then, to paraphrase Margaret Thatcher, go wobbly when the inhumane anti-liberal antithesis fights back in the real-world dominance contest, their blenching exposes Blairites and their American counterparts as a textbook paper tiger. Which is a shining invitation to illiberal malfeasors like Saddam and his fellow travelers, enablers, and accomplices.

Clarifying and relitigating the Iraq issue means more than the 4 corners of the Saddam problem, Bush and Blair's legacies, and the Iraq intervention itself. The irresolute attitude of Rentoul's Chilcot article exemplifies the essential competitive flaw underlying the Western deficiency that enabled, even enflamed the Rwanda and Dutchbat (Srebrenica) crises, and for that matter, Saddam's rule by "all-pervasive ... widespread terror" (UNCHR) in the face of UNSCRs 687 and 688. Rentoul's takeaway "lesson[s] of Iraq", at best, reduce the humanitarian liberal Blairist worldview to a pretty but really weightless non-competitive concept. At worst, they debase Blairism into a dangerous delusion that contributes to Rwanda, Dutchbat, and Obama's-deviation type crises, and encourage and enable illiberal malfeasors by weakly answering their aggressive posture and advance with hypocritical evasion and retreat.

In fact, Saddam's choice to categorically breach the Gulf War ceasefire rather than submit to his "final opportunity to comply" (UNSCR 1441) was informed by the world's observations of the West giving lie to its self-proclaimed core values by shying away from man-made humanitarian crises during the 1990s, including his own terrorist rule of Iraq, consistently with the debilitating Vietnam War stigma. Saddam believed the enforcers of Iraq's mandated compliance were weak-willed and bluffing. But this time when he called the bluff, US and UK leadership stood fast on principle and competed with the requisite strength to enforce the spectrum of essential norms embodied by the Gulf War ceasefire.

Contrary to Rentoul's UK-enervating "lesson[s] of Iraq", preemptive perfection, while welcome, is neither a usual nor reasonable standard for competition. Rather, the pattern of setback and adjustment that characterized the ups and downs of Operation Iraqi Freedom is typical for real competition, including world-changing contests of war and peace. OIF provided a critical corrective where the US and UK at last committed the degree of resolute perseverance and responsive adjustment that's required to effectually compete for the dominance of the humanitarian liberal Blairist worldview where it's needed most in the world. The counterinsurgency "Surge" passed the competitive test for effectual leadership of the free world. President Bush and Prime Minister Blair raised the competitive bar for upholding liberal world order with Iraq, and it's essential for Blairites and their American counterparts to uphold that bar.

Instead, Rentoul has joined with the anti-liberals' revisionist blaming of the properly decided, resolutely competed, paradigmatically liberal Iraq intervention for the compounding harms from President Obama's anti-liberal deviation with Iraq, Iran, and the Arab Spring, while ignoring the hard-won foundational progress of the OIF peace operations that was thrown away by Obama's inhumane course change.

I've given Professor Rentoul a fair informed chance to correct his position per his public duty as a renowned Blairite pundit. The weakened posture he's advocating for the UK invites aggression by illiberal malfeasors, yet Rentoul seems committed to acting on behalf of the anti-liberals, despite knowing them to be revisionist, to discredit the competitive bar set with OIF that's necessary for the humanitarian liberal Blairist worldview to compete for real.

Critical responses to pundits:
Explaining the grounds for Operation Iraqi Freedom to a law professor (Chibli Mallat);
Correcting Politifact's fundamental distortion of the Gulf War ceasefire enforcement;
Comments on Stephen Knott's "When Everyone Agreed About Iraq";
Augmenting William Inboden's critique of J.E. Smith's Bush biography regarding Iraq;
Objection to Paul Miller's characterization of OIF as an "outlier" in American Power and Liberal Order;
Critique of the Iraq portion of chapter one of Anne Pierce's A Perilous Path;
Critical response to John Rentoul's "Chilcot Report: Politicians".

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