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Singapore’s Iraq policy was clear as mud

By Tan Wah Piow

Following the Chilcot Report last Wednesday, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Britain John Prescott now believes that the Iraq War was illegal. He had previously voted in favour of the war. Another former UK Cabinet Minister also accused Tony Blair of “twisting the facts”. Meanwhile, the Sunday Times (July 7) reveals that Tony Blair is now acting as “paid adviser on a new oil and gas pipeline that could help unlock natural gas supplies in northern Iraq.”

Photo from Iraq Inquiry's official website
Photo from Iraq Inquiry's official website

While the Chilcot Report continues to make news headlines in the UK, the Singapore political establishment which was the Iraq War’s loudest advocate in Asean is strangely muted.

In 2003, the Singapore government was quick to rally around George W Bush's call for the invasion of Iraq based on the claim that the country was in possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and Saddam Hussein was about to deploy those weapons.

Goh Chok Tong as the then-Prime Minister, Tony Tan as his Deputy PM and Defence Minister, and Prof S Jayakumar the Foreign Minister collectively sang from the same hymn sheet prepared by the George W Bush and Tony Blair.

On the March 14, 2003, six days before the United States invasion of Iraq, S Jayakumar announced in Parliament Singapore’s willingness to undermine the authority of the United Nation (UN) Security Council by supporting an invasion of a country without a UN Mandate.

“Iraq’s possession of illegal WMD is, post 9/11, an unacceptable threat. If Iraq gets away without disarming, it will send a very bad signal to extremist groups across the world. The fact that the Security Council cannot reach consensus on a second resolution cannot be taken as an excuse for inaction.”

S Jayakumar was a Professor of Law, and presumably the legal brain in the cabinet. But he was not a weapon expert. He ought to know that the UN weapon inspector Hans Blix and his 700 staff were not supportive of any claim that there was an arsenal of WMD in Iraq.

Singapore’s support for the American’s invasion of Iraq reach such hysterical height in 2003 that former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong made the now infamous remark that “It is clear to everyone, unless that person wears blinkers, that this is a war to remove the weapons of mass destruction from Saddam Hussein.” At the time when the remark was made, United States was internationally isolated, and 2 million people had marched in London protesting against the War.

Likewise, Tony Tan, now the President of Singapore, but in 2003 was Deputy PM and Minister for Defence took the opportunity during his official visit to Arizona, USA in April 2003 to pledge allegiance to United States. Tony Tan said in his speech:

“The development and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction pose a grave threat to international order that cannot be ignored. Singapore recognises the importance of what the US-led coalition is doing in Iraq, and supports the coalition's efforts for the immediate disarmament of Iraq.”

After the Chilcot Report, we now know that Premier Goh Chok Tong’s view on Saddam Hussein’s possession of WDM was as clear as mud, and the war was waged without any preparation to cope with the aftermath.

Foreign and defence policies of Singapore appear to be based on a blinkered pro-Uncle Sam doctrine. They mirrored the position of Tony Blair who, before the launch of the war, wrote a private memo to George W Bush stating “I will be with you, whatever.” This is one of the many revelations in the Chilcot Report.

Whatever “factual” evidence George W Bush and Tony Blair fed to Goh Chok Tong and the PAP ministers, they were flawed. Those Singapore politicians who were the cheerleaders for United States and Britain should now be even more embarrassed by another revelation in the Chilcot Report which stated that a faked claim about Saddam Hussein holding chemical agents in glass containers was inspired by a 1996 action movie, The Rock.

The Chilcot report states:

“It was pointed out that glass containers were not typically used in chemical munitions, and that a popular movie (The Rock) had inaccurately depicted nerve agents being carried in glass beads or spheres.

“The questions about the use of glass containers for chemical agent and the similarity of the description to those portrayed in The Rock had been recognised by SIS.”

When Goh Chok Tong committed Singapore to support the Iraq War, it was explained in Parliament as done in the interests of nation. In the light of the Chilcot report, it is incumbent upon him to explain to the Singapore people why it was in Singapore’s national interest to undermine the authority of the UN Security Council by supporting a war without a UN mandate.

He should also explain how it was to Singapore’s national interest, and ethical, to aid and abet a war that resulted in the death of 200,000 Iraqis, and the destruction of the country?

Tony Tan as the President, should explain how it was to Singapore’s national interests in 2003 to support a war when, according to the Chilcot report, it was foreseeable at the time that it would result in the increase of the terrorists threat to Britain?

The Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong should also explain whether Singapore’s support for the Iraq War is linked to the current heightened ISIS threat?

Unless Singapore comes clean on its blinkered pro-American Iraq War policies, its future policies over the unfolding tensions in the South China Seas involving the United States and China could be viewed scepticism.