What a blast from the past. The recall of various witnesses — including Tony Blair — to the Iraq inquiry is a gentle reminder to those who may have forgotten that the Iraq Inquiry goes on. Indeed, the surprise highlights that the Iraq Inquiry is — rightly or wrongly — facing something of an existential crisis.
There are several convincing reasons for thinking the report is drifting towards irrelevance. The political fizz has gone since Labour lost the election. The national security council has been formed, the defence review is over, and the big spending decisions have been taken. The inquiry may have missed the boat. At worst, it will be an expensive and time consuming means of passing judgement on yesterday’s men.
Now there were some who always saw the inquiry as a way to put Blair in the stocks and declare the war to be illegal. They were always going to be disappointed. But those who though it had the chance to tell some hard truths should not lose all hope. This inquiry could still have an important role to play.
Why? It is the first time Britain and the securocrats have had an opportunity to reflect on a war that was badly mishandled. Iraq was mentioned just three times in the defence review. That is surely wrong. Britain’s military in particular have yet to really confront the implications of its defeat in Basra. The Iraq Inquiry has the chance to deliver some home truths.
A related point is Afghanistan. While the focus has been on Iraq, one of the most interesting parts of the inquiry has been the detailed questions over military advice that proposed a big new commitment in Helmand just while Britain was facing defeat in Basra. The evidence pointed to persistent cultural and structural problems that will outlast the Labour government.
The report, if pulled together well, will be a powerful and important reminder that Britain needs to adjust to being a declining power on the world stage. It will probably provide some important lessons based on real evidence — if anyone is still willing to listen by the time it is published.