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Accountability, Dutch Style

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Perhaps there is hope for government after all. Oh sorry, you thought I was talking about the U.S. government. Actually, I'm thinking of the Dutch government.

If any government is going to make progress it must be willing to acknowledge past mistakes. As all governments make mistakes one might think governments would constantly be reviewing the past to see what they should do better and what they should not be doing at all. Fighting unnecessary wars should be a topic particularly worth of review.

A few days ago, while blogging over at the Partnership for A Secure America I wrote how important it was for the United States to undertake a fact based investigation into the decisions by the Bush Administration to invade Iraq in 2003. I did not want yet another investigation by special commissions or congressional committees into what the intelligence community knew or didn't know, or what pressure they were under to cherry pick information. Instead, I meant an investigation into what former President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and other cabinet officials knew and did, day by day, leading up to the invasion.

I pointed out that this is hardly a novel idea. In Great Britain they have been conducting an inquiry, officially launched 30 June 2009, known as the Chilcot Inquiry, after its chairman Sir John Chilcot.

The obvious point is that if Great Britain, the country that gave the world the concept of Big Brother and the Official Secrets Act can do this so should the United States. Not to do so is to dishonor the memories of all those killed in a war that did not have to happen.

But as it turns out another country has gone further. The Dutch have just had their investigation. While not a public inquiry the results were public and the committee of inquiry was independent. You can find the conclusions and summary, in English, here.

Just consider some of the procedures followed:

In the course of its activities, the Committee of Inquiry on Iraq made use of various sources. Written material was obtained from public and non-public sources (including archived state secret documents and third-party communications) and oral information was obtained from interviews. Details of the sources used are given in the Committee of Inquiry's report, which was published today. The volume of public written material consulted was very considerable: it included six large files of parliamentary documents, inquiry reports and other documents from other countries, and countless reports, resolutions and accounts released by the United Nations. The Committee was also provided with previously published material by the Association of Investigative Journalists (ONJO). In addition, 104 contributors from around the country made use of the response form on the Committee's website, www.onderzoekscommissie-irak.nl to submit information.

Now let's consider just a few of the committee's 49 conclusions.

There was no major public debate about Iraq, although the subject was addressed by certain circles in the media.

The decision to express political support for the war, despite the fact that it had not been mandated by the Security Council, was inconsistent with the majority view of the Dutch public.

The Dutch government lent its political support to a war whose purpose was not consistent with Dutch government policy. It may therefore be said that the Dutch stance was to some extent disingenuous.

In the policy principles laid down by the Minister of Foreign Affairs in August 2002, the question of legitimacy under international law was subsidiary. Similarly, insufficient importance was attached to the information provided by the intelligence services and the weapons inspection reports.

The committee questions the classification of some state secret documents made available for its perusal. The policy is considered to impede historical research and fact-finding to an unreasonable degree.

Now let's consider what is going on in the Netherlands.

The BBC reports that the Dutch government has collapsed over disagreements within the governing coalition on extending troop deployments in Afghanistan. After marathon talks, Christian Democratic Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende announced that the Labour Party was quitting the government. Mr Balkenende has been considering a Nato request for Dutch forces to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2010. But Labour, the second-largest coalition party, has opposed the move.

Just under 2,000 Dutch service personnel have been serving in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan since 2006, with 21 killed. Their deployment has already been extended once.

The troops should have returned home in 2008, but they stayed on because no other Nato nation offered replacements. The commitment is now due to end in August 2010.

The Dutch parliament voted in October 2009 that it must definitely stop by then, although the government has yet to endorse that vote. Mr Balkenende's centre-right Christian Democrats wanted to agree to Nato's request to extend the Dutch presence in Afghanistan.But this was bitterly opposed by the Dutch Labour Party.

The finance minister and leader of the Labour Party, Wouter Bos, demanded an immediate ruling from Mr Balkenende. When they failed to reach a compromise, Labour said it was pulling out of the coalition.

Mr Balkenende said he would offer the cabinet's resignation to the Dutch Queen Beatrix later on Saturday following the collapse of the government.

At least the Dutch are beginning to operate on the basis of what is in their national interest.