Today’s testimony of Lord Goldsmith before the Iraq Inquiry (BBC report) was mostly focused on revisiting the revival argument for the invasion of Iraq. Lord Goldsmith gave a reasonably strong performance in defending his sudden change of position in the advent of the war, when he in the space of a few weeks or so first provisionally advised that Resolution 1441 was insufficient to revive the UNSCR 678 authorization to use force, only to come the other way around in his final advice just a few days before bombs started raining on Baghdad. Though my impression is that the Inquiry members were less impressed by his testimony than they were by the FCO legal advisors’ yesterday, it still cannot be said that the Inquiry exposed Lord Goldsmith as cravenly caving to political pressure or giving manifestly mistaken advice – he is far too good a lawyer for that to have been reasonably expected, let alone happened.
In short, his explanation of his change of position was as follows: it was the result of his combined discussions with Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the UK ambassador to the UN at the time, Jack Straw, and US legal advisors in Washington, who were all intimately involved in the drafting of Resolution 1441. Their account of the drafting history, which he took into consideration, was that the Americans had a so-called ‘red line:’ because they already thought that they had implied UNSC authorization to act and did not need Resolution 1441 for that purpose, they would have never allowed the adoption of this resolution if its terms held or implied that a further UNSC decision would be needed for the invasion to take place. Thus, because it would have been highly improbable that the resolution as adopted did this since the American negotiators were far too skilled to have allowed this, Goldsmith now thought that the better view was that the Resolution did not require a further decision, implicitly or otherwise, and that the revival of the prior authorization could properly take place.
Now, this is all extremely confusing, and both Goldsmith and his most persistent inquisitor, Sir Roderick Lyne, were running circles around each other for quite some time. Sir Roderick rightly pointed out that this argument presumes that the American negotiators could not have failed in their endeavours and that other parties did not have their own ‘red lines’, and also, as Michael Wood said yesterday, that it is somewhat odd to rely so much on essentially private accounts of the drafting history, rather than on the officially recorded public statements made by various state representatives in the UNSC after the adoption of Resolution 1441. These are all valid criticisms – but there is also a more subtle non sequitur here, which the questioning did not expose fully.