If they had a scintilla of decency, Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and John Scarlett would not show their faces in public again
Ten years ago today, American and British tanks stormed across the border of Kuwait into Iraq, precipitating a torrent of violence which has since cost more than 100,000 Iraqi and Allied lives.
We, the British people, were told by our leader Tony Blair that the invasion was indispensable to Britain’s national security because Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction which could be used against us.
Soon after Western forces reached Baghdad, it became plain that no such weapons existed.
Moreover, it also emerged that the Prime Minister had assured President George Bush of Britain’s armed support in deposing Saddam Hussein, well ahead of the WMD claims, because he wished to assist the Americans in doing what he considered a good deed in the world.
Blair’s trusted henchman, Alastair Campbell, colluded with John Scarlett, chairman of Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee, to produce a document which afterwards proved to be a mass of falsehoods, offering ‘evidence’ of the case for war.
|Alastair Campbell (left), colluded with John Scarlett,
chairman of Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee, to produce a
document which has proved to be a mass of falsehoods,
offering ‘evidence’ of the case for war
All three men thus committed what seems to some of us a heinous political crime. They concocted a false manifesto to justify taking Britain to war, with the loss of 179 British servicemen’s lives.
Yet a decade on, not only are those responsible walking the streets of London as free men, but they are without shame.
Blair said this week on BBC’s Newsnight that he does not regret the war. ‘If we hadn’t removed Saddam from power, just think, for example, what would be happening if these Arab revolutions were continuing and Saddam, who’s probably 20 times as bad as Assad in Syria, was trying to suppress an uprising in Iraq.’
|Blair, Campbell and Scarlett thus committed what seems to some of us a heinous political crime. They concocted a false manifesto to justify taking Britain to war, with the loss of 179 British servicemen’s lives|
I feel passionate because I was among those duped by the WMD claims.
Before 2003 I wrote many times in these pages that Britain should have nothing to do with a recklessly irresponsible American Republican adventure in Iraq. But then I read the government’s report on Saddam’s weapons. I felt that this had to be believed, and an invasion reluctantly supported.
My wife Penny, who never swallowed Blair and Campbell’s claims, argued bitterly with me. I said pompously: ‘It’s impossible that the Government and the Secret Intelligence Service would lie to us about something this big.’
I was as wrong as I could be. Blair, Campbell and Scarlett made fools of many of us.
What seems to make it all much worse is that they got away with it.
Scarlett, whom Campbell described to the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War as ‘a mate’, was discredited as an intelligence officer by his role in the scandal. He was the professional spook who processed the material he and Downing Street then served up to the nation. He formed an unholy partnership with his political masters.
When it was all over, however, instead of posting him to Ulan Bator as he deserved, Blair rewarded Scarlett’s misconduct by making him director of the Secret Intelligence Service.
Much of the secret service was thoroughly unhappy about the appointment. But the Prime Minister used his power, and Scarlett served his term. Not only that, but having retired from the SIS, he now serves as an ‘independent director’ of The Times newspaper, a role in which Vladimir Putin would be more credible.
Campbell, meanwhile, has become the darling of the BBC, forever a guest on its chat shows and invited to air his views on news programmes as if he was an elder statesman rather than spinmaster of the most mendacious government of modern times.
Campbell’s off-camera behaviour, as a foul-mouthed bully, was brilliantly captured in the political satire The Thick Of It. But the man himself is nowadays welcomed into studios as if he was a national treasure.
Why have we lost our capacity for anger? I suspect that much of the public is content to forgive these people not from Christian charity, but because it does not care much about anything any more.
I spoke at a dinner last week at which a guest asked me how I would behave if Tony Blair walked in. There was obvious surprise and even disbelief when I said that I would decline to shake his hand.
But I meant what I said. It seems outrageous the former Prime Minister is travelling the world, collecting tens of millions of pounds in consultancy and speaking fees, masquerading black-comically as a Middle East ‘peace envoy’, while in Iraq the killing goes on and on. Yet Blair still insists the invasion was a splendid idea.
Amazingly, David Cameron has invited him into Downing Street to give advice — no doubt about how to persuade the British people that we should get stuck into Syria.
Most of Blair’s former Cabinet colleagues, by contrast, have distanced themselves to some degree from the war. John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister in 2003, said this month that the Iraq invasion ‘cannot be justified’ and offered a bizarre excuse for his support at the time — that he thought George Bush had a plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Prescott was, of course, the Blair government’s resident buffoon rather than a serious politician, but at least he has brains enough now to see that he was complicit in a disaster.
Some people think that public and political attitudes to Blair and Campbell (nobody outside Whitehall remembers Scarlett’s name, luckily for him) will change when the interminable Chilcot Inquiry’s report is published later this year.
I will believe that only when it happens. Official inquiries have a long history of making their conclusions so equivocal that, somehow, nobody ends up getting blamed.
A dispute is continuing between Chilcot and the Cabinet Secretary, who has refused to release pre-war correspondence between Blair and President Bush deemed likely to prove that the Prime Minister signed up for the Republicans’ war long before the issue of WMDs was even raised.
Whatever the outcome of this argument, I shall be amazed if Chilcot’s report displays the courage and clarity of thought to say what most of the British people know already — that Blair and his associates are guilty as hell.
Some people say: ‘Oh, but it’s all a long time ago and, anyway, we are out of Iraq now.’
True, but the nightmare Bush and Blair created continues, with scores dead in a bomb blast in Baghdad only yesterday.
The two Western ‘crusaders for freedom’ achieved the remarkable feat of precipitating the killing of almost as many Iraqis as Saddam Hussein accounted for during his murderous rule.
Yet Tony Blair now lives in a splendour that seems to satisfy even his wife’s sybaritic tastes. Alastair Campbell is said to be advising Ed Miliband on how to get into Downing Street and will probably end up with a peerage for his pains.
The former prime minister and his spin doctor have wrought such tragedy and grief in the world that they should be regarded as pariahs. But people choose to forget.
Political rage focuses instead on phone-message hackers from the Press. Yet at least their crimes, repulsive as they were, never killed anyone. That is more than can be said for those of the former tenant of Downing Street.