Thursday, January 28, 2010

Goldsmith's broad range of one-sided soundings

Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to watch Lord Goldsmith's evidence to the Iraq inquiry live, but after catching some of the snippets on the news a couple of questions are nagging away at me. Goldsmith claimed his biggest problem in arriving at his final legal opinion was the creative ambiguity of UN Resolution 1441, the wording of which meant very different things to the different countries that had voted it through. His moment of clarity seemingly arrived after speaking at length to US lawyers, and pondering on whether the US would really have allowed a resolution to be passed that gave the UN (and by extension France, Russia and China) a veto on war. But couldn't it just as easily be asked - would the French and Russians really have allowed through a resolution that in their view gave the US legal authority to attack Iraq without referral back to the UN? Of course they wouldn't, and in a sense this is a circular argument - if Goldsmith's starting proposition was that resolution 1441 was made deliberately ambiguous to suit everyone, it should hardly have been a surprise to him that US lawyers thought they had got precisely what they wanted out of it. What may be a surprise to others is that an Attorney-General who claims to have taken soundings from all quarters did not apparently see fit to make an equivalent trip to France or Russia to hear the interpretation of lawyers there.

Which leads me neatly on to my second question. Goldsmith claims to have been put under no pressure to change his original opinion that the invasion would be unlawful by Tony Blair or anyone else in the government. But in precisely what sense did the terribly helpful arrangement for Goldsmith of an itinerary of meetings with handpicked pro-war 'experts' in the United States apparently not constitute any 'pressure' at all?


  1. Now now James, you should remember we weren't talking with Russia and France at the time. We'd fallen out.

    You didn't see the indignation on Goldsmith's face when it was suggested he could have diplomatically approached France. It's worth trying to find the clip.

    It all goes to show it was fixed long before then.

  2. I agree, Subrosa, although had Goldsmith found the strength of character to stick to his guns in spite of all the arm-twisting, that's the one thing that could have changed everything. While in theory Blair could simply have installed a new, more pliable Attorney-General, that would have been politically impossible in the circumstances.

  3. Good post James. On the money.