At the moment when the prime minister has announced his decision to intensify the war in Iraq and when more British troops may well be sent there, the time has come for new policies to be adopted since we know, in great detail, all the key facts from very authoritative sources.
We know from Paul O’Neill, George Bush’s first treasury secretary, that the new president took the decision to invade Iraq when he entered the White House – almost a year before the attack on the twin towers – and that no one in Washington or London really ever believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the atrocity.
The real reason for the invasion was to topple Saddam, seize the oil and establish permanent US bases to dominate the region. And we know that Tony Blair privately shared these objectives, and used the weapons issue to persuade parliament and public.
We also know, from the recent report of the Iraq Survey Group, that Baghdad did not possess weapons of mass destruction. Neither the president nor the prime minister has been concerned to discover that they misled their own people and the world on this question. And it has not led them to reassess their arguments for going to war.
No serious thought was given by Washington or London as to the likely consequences of the war and what policies should be pursued after the war was won. The warnings they received that an occupation might lead to chaos were dismissed out of hand.
Many Iraqis held in detention have been tortured and abused by the forces of those who argued that they were there to stop those very practices, introduce democracy and safeguard human rights. And no attempt has been made to count the number of Iraqis killed or injured, which reveals a complete failure of respect.
The supposed transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi government has now been proved to be illusory, since Ayad Allawi has about as much sovereign control as Fidel Castro has over GuantÃ¡namo bay, where the US base remains against the will of the Cuban government.
Kofi Annan, as secretary general of the UN, has now told us that that war was illegal and contrary to the provisions of the charter – which only provides for military action in self-defence or when authorised by the security council – which must mean that those Iraqis now defending their own country are acting within the law.
Yet, at this very moment, we are hearing threats issued against Iran for its nuclear programme, not least from Israel, which has a huge nuclear arsenal and might even repay its debt to Bush by bombing the Iranian nuclear plants, as it did to an Iraqi installation in 1981.
All that is on the record, and we have to decide how we should respond. Some are calling for the prime minister to apologise, which would be a meaningless gesture, while others want impeachment. But whatever political impact a short debate on that might have, the House of Commons voted for the war and MPs are unlikely to go into the lobby to condemn themselves.
The appeal to the international court to rule on the legality of the war is more substantial, because were the court to decide that it was illegal, it would deal with the issue comprehensively and might avert future acts of aggression – but it would take years.
Moreover, this is a war that cannot be won – not least because it is being seen as a crusade against Islam. What is needed now is a vote in parliament to withdraw the troops on a fixed date – perhaps the end of this year – and for Britain to sponsor a resolution at the security council calling on the Americans to do the same, and for a genuinely independent UN intervention to help with the elections and with the task of reconstruction after all coalition forces have gone.
Next week in Brighton the Labour party conference could and should demand such a withdrawal, asserting its right to compel a change of policy by a democratic vote. And Labour MPs should do the same when parliament meets again next month.
This might also prove to be the best way of saving the Labour party from the folly and misjudgment of New Labour and its leader, remembering that Clem Attlee dissuaded Truman from using an atom bomb in Korea, Hugh Gaitskell passionately opposed the Suez war, and Harold Wilson refused to send troops to Vietnam. That is what we are entitled to expect from a Labour government.
Tony Benn’s latest book, Free Radical, is published by Continuum; he is president of the Stop the War Coalition.