The British Iraq War Inquiry has been dragging on since July 2009, and it’s ending is almost in sight. It’s chairman, Sir John Chilcot, hopes to issue a report by year’s end. It is increasingly clear that whatever tangible results that report may contain, they are likely to become lost in yet another wave of political bickering. Initially, its aims were laudable, even though controversial in some circles. Chiefly, to consider:
“ . . . the UK’s involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned. Those lessons will help ensure that, if we face similar situations in future, the government of the day is best equipped to respond to those situations in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country.”
The Inquiries scope was too large to begin with, spanning the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009, covering the run-up to the conflict, the military action and its aftermath. Quite a few commentators, as well as reasonably-minded laymen, have lamented that fact that the terms of reference had not been more neatly compartmentalized.
Perhaps as a result, the Inquiry has devolved into a series of rancorous, ill-informed partisan debates. Each side (and there are several) fields battalions of analysts, bloggers, political pundits and would-be future candidates to deride the claims of its opponents and testimonies of witnesses. If the amount or ordinance lobbed into Iraq during the war had been equivalent to the amount of verbiage expended attacking and defending political positions, not a man, woman or child would have survived.
At some point, some “brilliant” parliamentarian will no doubt conclude that what is actually needed is a public inquiry on how to manage public inquiries!
Of course, such panels are necessary from time to time. When a course of action yields less than optimum results, it is worthwhile to step back and ask, “Why?” Democracies in particular need them in order to maintain the citizenry’s faith in the mechanisms of government. The Americans did this after 9/11. Up to that point in time, America spent something on the order of $20 billion or more annually on intelligence gathering and analysis. No matter: nineteen terrorists managed to highjack four aircraft and inflict a hitherto unimaginable amount of death and destruction on America.
America’s inquiry into those events resulted in a 900+ page report that contained over one hundred recommendations. To date, many of these have been implemented. Partially due to the implementation of these recommendations, but mainly as a result of the zealousness of law enforcement, there has been no repeat attack of such scale. However, many of the recommendation still have not been implemented. The reasons for non-implementation are numerous, including entrenched bureaucracies, limited budgets, legal challenges and the fluidity of events since the report was issued.
The difficulty of implementing lessons-learned is something that the British public, I suspect, is about to realize.