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Alastair Campbell is wrong: yesterday’s Blair-Bush revelations were crucial

Nicholas Watt
Guardian

Now we know that while Tony Blair may have been genuine in his efforts to pursue a diplomatic route he was so determined to remove Saddam Hussein that he was committed from an early stage to a military route.

So, once again, we are treated to some “unadulterated, bilious shite” on Alastair Campbell’s blog today.

OK, that language is a bit over the top. But those are the exact words Campbell once used in public to dismiss a Guardian piece I had written.

Now Tony Blair‘s former communications director is denouncing the media in general for its coverage of his appearance before the Iraq inquiry yesterday. He has taken exception to the way the press highlighted a series of notes Blair wrote to George Bush in the run-up to the war in 2003.

Campbell did not mention any newspapers by name in his blog. But the headline on the front page in the Times, Blair gave secret promise to Bush over Iraq invasion, was no doubt in his mind when he dismissed journalists for giving the impression that this was a new revelation.

In his blog Campbell writes:

There were several references in my diary too to private notes sent by TB to George Bush, so why on earth the media were presenting this as some great new revelation says more about their addiction to the whooshery of “breaking news” journalism than it does about the diplomatic exchanges at the time.

Campbell then cites two excerpts from his diary to show how he went into great detail about what Blair wrote to Bush.

There is, however, a flaw in Campbell’s argument. There is nothing in the two excerpts in his diary about the central disclosure in his evidence to the inquiry: that Blair had indicated to Bush that he would support military action if the diplomatic route failed.

This is the key passage in Campbell’s evidence to the inquiry yesterday,as reported in the Guardian:

He said the tenor of the letters was: “We share the analysis, we share the concern, we are going to be with you in making sure that Saddam Hussein is faced up to his obligations and that Iraq is disarmed.” Campbell added: “If that cannot be done diplomatically and it is to be done militarily, Britain will be there. That would be the tenor of the communication to the president.”

This is one of the most important revelations from anybody involved in the Iraq war. It confirms one of the central suspicions of critics of the war: that while Blair may have been genuine in his efforts to pursue a diplomatic route he was so determined to remove Saddam that he was committed from an early stage to a military route.

Campbell and Blair’s phalanx of friends have been able to dismiss such claims until now by saying that no decision about military action was taken until the last minute. Campbell yesterday rubbished Sir Christopher Meyer, the former British ambassador to the US, for claiming that Blair committed himself to military action at a famous meeting with Bush at his Texas ranch in April 2002.

That is all true in a legal sense. From what Campbell said yesterday it is now deeply misleading in a political sense.

So what is Campbell up to? His decision to let slip to the inquiry that Blair had indicated support for the military route is part of a clear strategy by Blair and his inner circle to mount an unapologetic defence of the war.

Just a month ago Blair told Fern Britton that he would still have thought it right to remove Saddam even if he had known Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.

So why is Campbell so annoyed with the media today? It is very simple. Angered by the way that the Iraq war helped scupper his chances of becoming president of the European council, the Blair circle has decided to use the Iraq inquiry to mount a full-throated defence of the former prime minister’s conduct.

This involves delving into areas, such as the Blair-Bush letters, that have been overlooked until now.

The media is beginning to clock this strategy and probe what the Blair crowd are up to. That is guaranteed to incur the wrath of Campbell, who does not understand that journalism is about asking awkward questions.

That may be a surprising view for a former journalist. But he was – and is – in whatever he does, a propagandist for his beloved Labour party and, yes, for Burnley football club too

View the original article at the Guardian

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