Friday, December 01, 2006

 

Suez and Iraq: How History Repeats Itself











My two pictures, one of Professor Elizabeth Wilmhurst and the other of the Suez Canal several decades ago are linked by Richard Norton Taylor's excellent article today. The Guardian hack-who seems to spend his life in the Kew Public Records Office- writes of the fact that Eden was warned by his Attorney General, Reginald Manningham-Buller(father of our present head of MI5) on the subject of his proposed invasion of Suez on the clandestinely arranged pretext of 'separating' Israel from the attack it had made on Egypt. 'Sir Reginald Bullying Manner' as he was nicknamed, wrote an angry letter to his PM on 1st November 1956, protesting that the proposed action was illegal.

Other senior figures in the F.O. took the same view and the AG, along with others, was said to have 'seriously considered' resignation. However Eden insisted to the AG and his deputy Harry Hylton-Foster, according to the Cabinet Secretary, the great Norman Brook, that 'the government's decision was taken on the grounds of policy, not of law.' So that was OK then: 'it's illegal but it's our policy'. Brook advised Eden to instruct his ministers 'to avoid further reference to the question of law'.

The parallel with Iraq is inescapable. On 18th March, 2003 Elizabeth Wilmhurst, Deputy Legal Advisor to the FCO, resigned thus to her superiors:

I cannot in conscience go along with advice - within the Office or to the public or Parliament - which asserts the legitimacy of military action without such a [UN] resolution, particularly since an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression; nor can I agree with such action in circumstances which are so detrimental to the international order and the rule of law. I cannot in conscience go along with advice - within the Office or to the public or Parliament - which asserts the legitimacy of military action without such a resolution, particularly since an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression; nor can I agree with such action in circumstances which are so detrimental to the international order and the rule of law.

Both actions were illegal under international law. Eden was reassured by his biddable Lord Chancellor, Lord Kilmuir, that the attack was indeed legal, just as Blair was assured by his own equally biddable law officer - Attorney General Lord Goldsmith - that the invasion of Iraq was 'strictly legit'(to use a phrase beloved of wrestling commentator, Kent Walton when Big Daddy bit off Masambula's nose). Whenever was this phrase more appropriate: "Plus c'est la meme chose, plus ├ža change"?

Comments:
This was the message that came over loud and clear last week at a conference I attended with Dr Hans Blix, Sir Jeremy Greenstock and many others at the heart of the Iraq invasion. It seems lessons cannot be learned from experience.
 
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