How We Rebuild Trust and Learn the Lessons of Iraq

07/07/2016 08:13 | Updated 07 July 2016
Nigel Roddis / Reuters

Labour is an internationalist party. It is woven through our history and at the heart of a principled desire to change our world for the better. We know that our responsibility to one another transcends national borders and demands that we do not turn the other way from suffering abroad.

The publication of the Chilcot Report will lead to renewed soul searching over our future international commitments. I was neither for nor against the war, rather I served in it. As an elected representative today my duty is to scrutinise the basis for that decision with dispassionate care. We must freely and frankly debate the mistakes that were made so they may never be repeated. We need to undertake our analysis in a forensic manner. Only by doing so will we regain the trust and confidence of the public in making these decisions.

War is hell. Destruction is wreaked and lives are wasted. It always carries a terrible human and moral cost. Iraq demonstrates that the consequences of war and the costs in its aftermath can be far greater than predicted. That places a great burden on decision makers and for the planning of operations.

We live in an imperfect world where both action and inaction have consequences. So there are no perfect options. The right choice will often be contested and unclear, without prior knowledge of the outcomes. Yet we can find broad agreement around the principles of serving the national interest and taking the path that results in the least human suffering.

In an uncertain world we will have to make difficult decisions in the future. There will likely be a time when Britain and our allies find there to be no acceptable alternative to war. So it should be with regret and following the most careful consideration that we decide it is right and necessary to use force. The process to enter any conflict must be exceptional. Public trust is paramount. Maintaining it demands that decision makers apply the same focus throughout the campaign as at the start.

It is an accepted truth that our ability to make these decisions is made more difficult after Iraq. So let us ensure we have a better process in place ready. That means acting on the key lessons in the Chilcot Report as a matter of urgency. In Parliament I asked the Prime Minister to review how intelligence is shared with MPs before votes on military action. I believe this must proceed alongside wider consideration of steps which could improve understanding between MPs, the armed forces and our intelligence services as these decisions are made.

If you break it, you own it. That simple principle should have consequences for how we conduct operations in future. It was a mistake not to adequately plan for the reconstruction of Iraq, just as it was a mistake to disband their security forces. The removal of a dictator altered the regional balance of power with destabilising effects. Today the Middle East is less secure and increasingly volatile. Sectarian tensions which predate Iraq now fuel discord across the region.

Our public debate must also not lose sight of the need to reflect on the Afghan mission. A conflict longer than Iraq which cost many more British lives. In Afghanistan we should have treated societal problems with the same focus and seriousness as the military aspects. That is a lesson we should apply to the region today.

Learning the lessons from conflict contributes to building a more secure world. The sense that we must never again allow the horrors of WW2 provided a catalyst for institutional reforms. It was the post-war Labour government that joined the United Nations and NATO. Labour principles ran through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Indeed a Labour MP and trade union leader, Charles Dukes, served on the drafting committee. Labour should lead this work, just as the last Labour Government finally put the European Convention on Human Rights into British law.

We must actively engage to shape the global system, following in that long tradition of putting Labour principles into action. From failed states, to terrorism and climate change, threats are becoming more diverse and diffuse today. Preventing future conflicts will require us to address underlying causes of insecurity. So we must continue to tackle corruption, to lead international efforts for multilateral nuclear disarmament, towards a more just and equitable world.

Public trust underpins politics. Once lost, as it was following the Iraq conflict, it is hard to regain. The publication of Chilcot demands that reforms happen now so that we never repeat that flawed process. That is how we rebuild trust and learn the lessons of Iraq.

Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central