The publication of the Chilcot report is crucial and the delays are unacceptable - we cannot afford to continue walking in the dark.
The underlying issue which we need to understand and question is the alignment of British foreign policy with American priorities. Has Blair and Thatcher's determination to maintain "the special relationship" benefitted our country? Should we continue in this vein? The Chilcot report, when it is eventually published, must force us to learn lessons for the years ahead: at the moment we are in limbo. In a year when the country will decide who rules for the next five, this is unacceptable.
Tony Blair's determination to stay close to George Bush tested the special relationship almost to destruction. The US response to 9/11 was highjacked by neo-conservatives. Instead of helping Afghanistan fight back against the Taliban, we were diverted into an invasion of Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. American assurances that Iraqis would welcome Western intervention were as faulty as their intelligence on chemical and nuclear weapons. At immense cost to our budget and armed forces, the UK focussed on a lengthy and unsuccessful campaign in Iraq, only to shift back to a deteriorating Afghanistan in 2006. So two wars were fought with resources stretched to "breaking point" and the barest hint of any forward planning.
The failure to stand up to political pressure from the US has been catastrophic. But my fear is that unless the Chilcot report is published, quickly, we will not alter our foreign policy accordingly. Old habits die hard: David Cameron still attaches enormous importance to the style of his reception in the White House, while Ed Miliband worked extremely hard to gain the approval of the US President last summer. Both Conservative and Labour leaders have historically assumed that British foreign policy depends more than anything else on Washington's approval, whichever party and president is in power.
Of course I am not saying that our relationship with America isn't important. But it must not come at the expense of our integrity, our relationships with Europe and our own interests. US foreign policy priorities unavoidably now differ from those of Britain and America's other European allies. China and the Pacific matter much more to Washington - the Mediterranean, North and West Africa much less. Voting patterns in the UN reflect the differences. France votes the same way as the UK far more often than the USA. With the Republicans now in control of both Houses of Congress, the divergence between European and American approaches will widen, most of all towards the complicated problems of the Middle East.
For Margaret Thatcher, our closeness to Washington enabled us to stand apart from the European continent. For Tony Blair, the image of Britain as a transatlantic 'bridge' served a similar aim; he moved away from partnership with France and Germany, towards the USA. But Britain is a European country. We share interests with our neighbours across the Channel, and with them face shared threats. Over the past five years, political and military cooperation between Britain and France has grown, though largely unreported to Parliament or the press, as well as with the Netherlands and the Nordic countries. The Eurosceptic insistence that Britain can stand tall in the world without close cooperation with our European neighbours depends upon belief that Washington still sees the British Prime Minister as 'special' - and special enough to shore us up against the threats.
So in 2002-03, Tony Blair subordinated British interests to American. He did so because he believed that Britain's standing in the world depended above all on our standing in Washington. Jack Straw denounced the French government for failing to support London in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, using arguments that were flimsy at best. And so we followed the US into Baghdad, without any influence over how they designed the occupation regime, behind a US military team that barely understood the distinction between Sunnis and Shias and attempted to impose their own preconceptions on that complicated and fragile country.
We owe our armed forces more than this. We owe their families an explanation. And we owe our country the right to hold their leaders to account: we must sort the delays and publish Chilcot before the election.