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Publish the Blair/Bush Letters

It appears the Cabinet Office has blocked publication of the George Bush/Tony Blair  correspondence that was written in the run up to the Iraq War.  All that can be published is the “gist” of what Blair said and nothing to indicate Bush’s views. The reason for blocking the publication is either for the Cabinet Office’s independent reasons or because they do not wish to antagonise the Americans.

Writing in The Times (subscription required), Melanie Phillips has said:

Publishing this correspondence would breach the understanding that dialogue between world leaders is necessarily private. It would undermine trust that any such future conversations would remain undisclosed, causing lasting damage to Britain’s relations with the US and thus to British interests.

I wish to dispute this premise. The world leaders in question are the then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the then President of the United States of America. Both were elected as leaders in democracies. As such they serve the population that they represent. They made decisions that ultimately led to British and American citizens, who had signed up to the army in their respective countries, going to war and risking their lives. Some died.

Any correspondence between Bush and Blair surrounding a decision to go to war should not remain private for ever. Such conversations are not like those asking each other what they had for breakfast. I do not believe that it is in the interests of the British and American populations that such conversations remain private. They should be official public records. In recent memory we have had a “thirty year rule” before public records come into the public domain. This is gradually being reduced to twenty years. There was a considered proposal to reduce it to fifteen years. In my personal opinion, for a lot of material, I do not see why it cannot be released within ten years or even earlier. It has been over eleven years since the commencement of the Iraq War and I can see no reason why it should be necessary to keep such correspondence away from the eyes of the public.

Melanie Phillips’ concern that publication of the correspondence “would undermine trust that any such future conversations would remain undisclosed,” is misplaced. We should not want our leaders to be able to act with impunity. It would be damaging to a liberal democracy if it were so.  Leaders should be held responsible and accountable for their actions. That would not be possible if those actions were kept secret. It is true that it would be bad mannered for the British government to publish private correspondence from an American President without permission if that correspondence has not yet been made public in America, but I think it is reasonable to suggest that if the British and American governments can cooperate on going to war, they should be able to cooperate on publishing correspondence about that decision.

Hat Tip: The Steeple Times.