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Davids fells Goliath

18 January 2010

Davids fells Goliath

Jan Marijnissenby Jan Marijnissen

During the process which led to the formation of the present governing coalition, the Christian Democrats (CDA), who had been in government also in 2003 when the war on Iraq was launched, demanded that there should be no parliamentary enquiry into the question of the Dutch government's support for the US/UK attack. That was one of the reasons why any question of the SP governing in coalition with the CDA was impossible. I have never understood how a political party could accept such an undemocratic demand, one which takes out of the hands of parliament its most important weapon.

And I was not the only one. The great majority of the population agreed that an enquiry should be established as soon as possible into the real motives behind the decision by the government of the day to give its support to an illegal, criminal war. Last year Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende came under pressure in both houses of parliament to drop his resistance to such an enquiry. Deciding that attack was the best form of defence, he set up a Commission under the chairmanship of Willibrord Davids. His goal was to reduce the pressure and prevent a possible parliamentary enquiry, which, unlike the Davids Commission, would have the power to summon witnesses and hear their testimony under oath.

This Willibrord Davids is an uncompromising sort of a fellow. With his commission he published a report of more than five hundred pages, a report which drew tough conclusions. Firstly, that the prime minister had given no clear leadership during the process of determining the government's position. Secondly, that no sound mandate existed in international law. Thirdly, that reports from the security services had been used selectively.

The second and third conclusions must in particular raise serious concerns in a democracy. It seemed to me likely that Balkenende would decide to resign in order to preserve his own integrity.

The opposite occurred. Balkenende launched a counter-attack and treated with contempt the commission which he himself had established. After a long day and night of waiting and debate, in the face of a motion of no confidence, the Prime Minister escaped. Yet this motion hangs nevertheless over his head, because parliament has as yet not had time to study the details of the Davids report.

Davids has felled Balkenende. Since the Second World war our country has always – in relation to Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Israel, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, to the WTO, the World Bank, to the UN, to NATO, and so on and so forth – clung blindly to the United States' coat-tails. That's why the then Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was so ready to say, at the time, "The US and Britain want war? Then we'll support it. Full-stop." Everything which followed was no more than a series of consequences deriving from this fundamentally erroneous choice, results of this enormous political mistake.

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