Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire: Bad reasons to go to war

Blistering summary exposes Tony Blair’s failures.

On the 87th page of the pithy 150-page executive summary to the Report of the Iraq Inquiry, Sir John Chilcot quotes the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who had told Chilcot's panel the invading forces could not in 2003 have anticipated how hard the aftermath of the toppling Saddam Hussein might be - not without the advantage of "hindsight".

Chilcot is clear. "The conclusions reached by Mr Blair after the invasion did not require the benefit of hindsight."

It was a point emphasised by the former civil servant, previewing the publication of the inquiry, late on Wednesday night NZ time.

"We do not agree," he said, as part of a poised, quietly devastating speech, "that hindsight is required".

These are not perhaps the most starkly damning words in the report - which, seven years in the making, runs to a staggering 6000-odd pages.

It concludes that the decision to pursue military action in Iraq "was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments. They were not challenged, and they should have been".

Claims about weapons of mass destruction, the very core of the case for war, "were presented with a certainty that was not justified". And diplomatic options had not been exhausted, meaning "military action was not therefore a last resort".

Political leaders had continued to propound an illusory link between Saddam and al-Qaida, while ignoring the potential of an invasion to foment terrorism. The basis on which the legality of military action was determined was "far from satisfactory". Post-war planning? "Wholly inadequate." The British exit from Iraq was "humiliating". Blair had "overestimated his ability to influence US decisions on Iraq".

And then there's the spine-chilling sentence in a memo from Blair to Bush in 2002: "I will be with you, whatever."

But the hindsight thing goes right to the heart of the findings. The invasion of Iraq and its protracted aftermath, with its terrible toll - Iraqi civilian deaths counted in the hundreds of thousands - was utterly avoidable. Robin Cook, Blair's Foreign Secretary, was right to resign in protest. The millions who marched in cities around the world in February 2003 were right.

The millions who marched in cities around the world in February 2003 were right.

Charles Kennedy, Britain's Liberal Democrat leader at the time, was right, too. His opposition to the war earned him the front page of the Sun newspaper, where he was called a "spineless reptile". The Daily Mail branded France and Germany's reluctance to join the occupation as "unforgivable betrayal".

At one point the French even had a Simpsons slur refashioned for them by the New York Post, which condemned "cheese-munching surrender monkeys". In Parliament, Blair implied opponents of the war were like appeasers. Protesters were labelled cowards, idiots, and terrorist-sympathisers.

One of a number of lessons to be drawn from the Chilcot report is that building the case for war with recourse to machismo, polluting the debate with denigrations of those who disagree - and that includes the exhortation by the New Zealand Prime Minister last year that opponents of military deployments should "get some guts" - is a very, very bad way of making an argument.

- NZ Herald

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Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire is a Wellington bred, Auckland based journalist. He writes a weekly column for the NZ Herald, the NZ Listener's Internaut column, blogs for listener.co.nz, and contributes to the Guardian. From 2000 to 2010 he worked at the Guardian in London, and edited the 2012 book The Arab Spring: Rebellion, Revolution and a New World Order.

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