Should Balkenende step down over Iraq?

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The Balkenende government seems to have narrowly averted a full-blown crisis by admitting that “in hindsight” it could have done better in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The admission did not come easily, following a day of tense deliberations between government parties.

The special committee of inquiry, chaired by retired supreme court judge, Willibrord Davids, did not mince words in its description of the political failures that paved the way to the invasion of Iraq.  Its conclusions resonate with critical appraisals of the decision-making process leading up to the war in the UK and the US: politicians based their views on poor intelligence data and they deliberately misconstrued the little information they did get.

The legal case for an invasion was exaggerated, with precedents from international law misinterpreted through wishful thinking. After a limited number of executives decided to go through with the war, little room was left for debate. These failures had varying political consequences in different countries.

Not all Western countries fell victim to what might be labeled groupthink. France and Germany, notably, refused to support the American invasion of Iraq, which makes the question why the decision making process in other countries had such a different outcome all the more relevant.

What do you think? What could the Netherlands have done better in the run-up to the invasion? Has Balkenende done plenty by admitting some fault, or has his position been so badly damaged that he should step down?

(NRC - 2010)

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