06 March 2010

Did Chilcot let him off the hook?

Is this clash of views inexplicable? I don't think so. The Guardian reports:
In four hours of testimony shorn of the electricity surrounding Blair's grilling a month ago, he also risked the wrath of military top brass and bereaved families by firmly rejecting criticism that he deprived the armed forces of equipment. "The one fundamental truth", he said, was "that every requirement made to us by military commanders was answered; no request was ever turned down".
Former senior military figures took issue last night with those comments. Admiral Lord Boyce, the chief of the defence staff up to the beginning of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, said that the MoD had been "starved of funds". "He's dissembling, he's being disingenuous. It's just not the case that the Ministry of Defence was given everything it needed," he told The Times.
Colonel Stuart Tootal, a former commander of 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, said: "I am quite staggered by the lack of any sense of responsibility. He was the man with the purse strings."

The point to bear in mind is that the extra costs attributable to the Iraq war (and subsequently to Afghanistan) were financed from the Contingency Fund and not from the Ministry of Defence's regular financial allocation. Mr Brown and the Treasury may well have approved the extra costs demanded under the former arrangements (although it should also be remembered that military supplies cannot be picked off the trees - additional helicopters and armoured vehicles, even body armour, take time to arrive). At the same time, they kept the regular financial allocation to MoD firmly screwed down. It is thus possible for Mr Brown to argue that "no request [for extra war equipment] was ever turned down", while the military chiefs argue that they were short of resources.

Unfortunately, neither the Chilcot Committee nor the commentators, still less the military top brass, appear to have grasped these distinctions. Was Brown dissembling? Well, he was not entirely frank, let us say. But nobody on Chilcot put him on the spot.

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