Pre-emptive or preventive? Has the mask slipped?

Tony Blair today emphasised the long term implications of Saddam's retention of power. This is further evidence that it was a preventive war and not preemptive.

Tony Blair’s performance before the Iraq Inquiry today was as virtuoso as his supporters hoped and his critics feared.

What is most interesting perhaps from both a historical and legal perspective is his contention that:

“What matters sometimes is not to ask the March 2003 question but rather to ask the 2010 question… I think it is arguable that he was a threat and had we taken that decision to leave him there… with the oil price at $100 a barrel, he would have had the intent and he would have had the means, and we would have lost our nerve.”

As the Guardian’s live coverage noted, Blair did not explain what Saddam’s “intent” would have been but the statement may have been both the most honest and dangerous thing said this morning.

His emphasis on the long term implications of Saddam’s retention of power combined with his fear that at an unspecified point in the future Saddam would have been stronger and the West weaker is further evidence that this was not a pre-emptive war to defend British national interests but a preventive one to defeat an adversary who may pose a future threat. The former Prime Minsiter’s directness in this respect is to be welcomed.

The danger however lies in the fact that if this were his motivation for war he crossed the line between pre-emptive war and preventive war. Pre-emptive war has a clear basis in international law whereas the legality of preventive war is far more controversial.

As the testimony of Foreign Office lawyers, former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, and now former Prime Minsister Blair has made clear, had the precautionary principle been applied to the legality of the Iraq war there would have been no Iraq war.

11 Responses to “Pre-emptive or preventive? Has the mask slipped?”

  1. Nicholas Woolf

    @leftfootfwd raises an interesting point http://bit.ly/dc5gqZ, though it's a tremendously grey area between pre-emptive and preventatve

  2. Jon Herman

    Is Blair's 2010 question on #Iraq valid without explaining what his "intent" was? http://bit.ly/dc5gqZ (via @leftfootfwd)

  3. Early reactions to Blair at Chilcot | FTdotcomment | FT.com

    […] practised exterior. One of those is picked up by Left Foot Forward, the leftwing blog, where Marcus Roberts makes the excellent point that Blair’s explanation of Iraq as a war that prevented a future threat is importantly and […]

  4. Liz McShane

    Great piece by Mehdi Hasan of The New Statesman in today’s Guardian (CIF section online)). He pretty much demolishes Blair’s account of things vis a vis his reasons and rationale for going to war…..:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jan/29/tony-blair-chilcot-iraq-inquiry

  5. John Roberts

    Re Blair’s comment that “with the oil price at $100 a barrel, he (Saddam) would have had the intent and he would have had the means, and we would have lost our nerve.”

    It could easily be argued that one of the reasons why we had $100 oil was precisely because the US and Allied forces failed to ensure adequate security from Day One, resulting in widespread damage to Iraq’s oil infrastructure as the insurgency took hold. This seriously held back production in a country containing the world’s third largest oil reserves. Indeed, it took some four years before Iraqi output climbed back to pre-war levels.

  6. Look Left – The Week in Fast Forward | Left Foot Forward

    […] from Sir John Chilcot and his panel, and today our Defence correspondent Marcus Roberts blogged on the legal difference between a ‘pre-emptive’ or a ‘preventive’ attack: […]

  7. Mr. Sensible

    I know the decision to go in to Iraq was controvercial.

    My personal view, for what it’s worth is that I think a lot of the criticisms are based on hindsight.

    It was easy to say with the benefit of hindsight that we should have tried to get a second UN resolution.

    It’s easy to say with the benefit of hindsight we should have maybe planned better. Maybe we should have; I’m not a defense expert.

    I personally think the war was justified; Blair genuinely thought at the time that there was a threat.

  8. Mr. Sensible

    Yet, I do think a closing statement expressing simpathy for the families of the dead may have been in order, as someone says in the Guardian today I think.

  9. Silver star

    Why are we still debating this? That the Iraq war was controversial is not in doubt, and that many of us were against it is universally acknowledged. That it’s been pretty much an unmitigated disaster so far is also fairly clear.

    What else is going to come out of this enquiry?
    And I agree with Mr Sensible that so much of this is coming with the benefit fo hindsight with knowledge that we simply didn’t have at the time…

  10. ChrisJ

    And where has he gone to now that Gadaffi and he were ‘kissing cousins’ not so long ago !

  11. Keithjop

    Iraq war was poorly planned. I hope the Libyan skirmish has an exit plan!

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