Friday, November 27, 2009

The mandarins' revenge

Watching the Chilcot inquiry from afar, and making very little sense of it, one gets the impression that the drama being played out is entirely for the benefit of the participants, a narrow section of the media and a few obsessives.

In essence, there is actually nothing to inquire about in this first phase. We all knew that, for Bush Junior, Iraq was unfinished business – left over from his daddy's time. It was, therefore, only a matter of time before an invasion was launched.

Given that Blair was then in his trans-Atlantic "sucking-up" mode, having got bored with the squabbling of the "colleagues" in the EU, it was a given than whatever Bush decided, Tony would follow.

Where it all came unstuck was Blair's tranzie mentality and his craving for international legitimacy. Thus, instead of declaring, in ringing tones, that the invasion was a matter of national interest, and that a sovereign state needed no higher authority to go to war than its own national law, Blair sought UN approval for the venture. Such was Bush's need for a reliable ally that he went along with it.

Having thus accepted the jurisdiction of the UN, however, the Bush-Blair team had a singular problem, in that the real reason for the invasion – regime change – was not a permissible causus belli in the UN catalogue. This meant they had to invent one that fitted ... hence WMDs, allowing them to invoke the "self-defence" card.

The rest, as they say, is history – except that a powerful and vocal lobby is not content to wait for the verdict of the historians (who will need 30 years before Cabinet papers are released). They want answers now, and in particular, they want an admission from Blair that he dun wrong – so that they can then proclaim the mantra that this was an "illegal" war.

The one thing the obsessives are not going to get, of course, is that admission, which leaves Adrian Hamilton in The Independent whingeing: "The one thing Chilcot won't reveal is the truth."

So the game is on - to get as many of the players as possible to make damaging allegations, just short of the "conclusive" proof that only a Blair admission can bring. Cue, therefore, the FCO mandarins, who are only too keen to punish their former master for the unforgivable sin of backing George Bush.

Star of the show yesterday was Euroluvvy Christopher Meyer whom Chris Ames of The Guardian believes has produced a "game changer". Meyer's evidence "has surely made it impossible to claim that Iraq was about WMD and not regime change", writes Ames, although even he has the grace to add: "Or did we know all that already?" We did.

Nevertheless, such evidence invokes a strangled cry from the Scarygraph's Con Coughlin, who then remarks on being slightly surprised by "the way in which a succession of some of our most senior former diplomats has gleefully attacked the reputation of the former prime minister they were paid to serve."

Like Mrs Thatcher before him, Coughlin observes: "Mr Blair was always suspicious of where the true loyalties of the Foreign Office lay, and the evidence so far presented at the Chilcot inquiry suggest he was right to do so."

Tortured grammar apart, a more naïve commentary would be hard to imagine. When could a prime minister ever trust the FCO? Clearly, Coughlin has never watched "Yes, prime minister" (see above). And the episode played out yesterday in the Chilcot Inquiry could so easily have been entitled: "The mandarins' revenge".