Iraq Inquiry: 21st day of public hearings with Alastair Campbell

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    13th January, 2010

    On Iraq, Campbell said he was “very, very proud” of the part he played and that “Britain as a country should be incredibly proud”

    Thanks due entirely to Julie’s ThinkTank here for the post below.

    Iraq Inquiry: 21st day of public hearings with Alastair Campbell

    By Julie

    Alastair Campbell arrives to give evidence to the Iraq Inquiry

    Today, a very crucial and interesting hearing took place when Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former Director of Communications and Strategy, gave evidence. I for my part think he did incredibly well and had a lot of praise for Tony Blair and his decision to go to war with Iraq.


    These are the most significant quotes from twenty-first session of the Iraq Inquiry

    You can read the full transcripts of the session here and here

    And you can watch the video here

    21st day of public hearings

    12th  of January 2010: Morning and Afternoon session: Evidence

    • Alastair Campbell (Tony Blair’s Director of Communications and Strategy, from 1997 until 2003)


    “I think in terms of — if I can take you through a week, as it were, the Prime Minister used to work phenomenally hard at weekends in terms of reading; reading not just official papers, but reading history and all sorts of things. He would use the weekend to give himself time for — I suppose you would call it a bit deeper reflection.

    “Look, people can disagree with it or not, but Tony Blair held a fundamental view about this, about this being a real threat, the context for which was completely changed by September 11th. Interestingly, again, when I was preparing for this, I was reminded of — on September 10th 2001, we went to a lunch at The Guardian and Mike White, the then political editor, reminded me, post-September 11, at that lunch on September 10, Tony Blair had said the really big issue coming down the track is WMD/rogue states/terrorist organisations. The next day he had that view pretty firmly cemented, and from that moment, as he said, I think, when he gave evidence to the Butler Report, it was the context that changed then, that containment, which in any event was becoming less successful, people were feeling was more difficult to pursue, not necessarily having the effects that people wanted for it, that the tolerance level, if you like, of allowing Saddam to carry on defying the United Nations Resolutions in which he was in defiance, that that is what changed and the context changed. Now, that is a real security issue and his judgment, as the Prime Minister, ultimately, that is why he is there and I’m not and other people aren’t. He has got to make those big strategic judgments based upon what he knows, and it was a genuinely held strategic judgment about British security interests.”

    “There was a timewhen I was journalist, if my predecessor in Downing Street, said, you know, “There is some story going around about intelligence. We never comment on intelligence matters”, that was the line and people more or less accepted that and that was it. But I think that just no longer — is no longer tenable. So what he wanted to do — and I think — I really think it is — it is a shame in a way that the controversy that subsequently followed about the dossier was as intense as it was, because I think actually in an exercise in openness and much more open government and trying to share with the public information that is really quite sensitive, but which he is trying to share with the public so that they can be informed about all the factors going into his decision-making process.”

    (Talking about the September 2002 dossier) “Now, the Prime Minister was absolutely clear — and I think he was right about it as well — and John Scarlett was very, very strongly of the view — that — John used the word “ownership”. If we were saying this was a document that was, as it were — the main interest of which was the intelligence base of it, then he wanted to be 100 per cent in charge of that process.”

    (Talking about the September 2002 dossier) “Now, if people were expecting a document that said we are all going to be sitting cowering in our homes because Saddam Hussein is about to launch off nuclear weapons at Peterborough, that was not what was being said. Therefore — I think the Butler Report pointed out that, when the dossier itself was published, lots of the media said it was very dull, very cautious, nothing much new, but we never wanted it to be anything other than setting out — people talk about it being the case for war. It was not the case for war, it was the case why the Prime Minister had become more concerned. Now, if somebody in the press office thought it wasn’t this, and it wasn’t that, fine, but I thought it was a very, very serious, solid piece of work.”

    “Now, once he has made that decision, as the Prime Minister, and ultimately the head of the intelligence services as well, then, where I sit, I have to kind of do my part of that — the job that follows from that, and they have to do it, but at no point did anybody, from the Prime Minister down, say to anybody within the intelligence services, “Look, you have got to tailor it to fit this argument, that argument”. It just never happened.”

    (On Tony Blair) “He said in terms intelligence can’t give you the whole picture, intelligence is not necessarily always going to be right, but the intelligence he saw, both in terms of — and as it was explained to him and as he had repeated discussions and meetings about it, it led him to the conclusion, as he set out in the foreword, that he did believe it was established beyond doubt that Saddam had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons, that he continued to put his efforts to develop nuclear weapons, and that he has been able to extend the range of his ballistic missile programme, and he sees WMD as essential to his political survival.”

    “I think the — again, I think somebody — one of your earlier witnesses talked about this iconic 45 minutes – and again it certainly wasn’t us that made it iconic and again I noted in the Butler Report that — I had forgotten this, but that the Butler Committee wrote to 60 editors and senior journalists to ask whether the government had been seeking to promote this 45 minutes point as a major part of the September dossier, and uniformly they said, “No, we had not.” It wasn’t within the discussions, to be frank, it wasn’t that big a deal. And you may say, “Well, it was mentioned here and the Prime Minister mentioned it in his foreword, he mentioned it in the house.” That’s true, he mentioned lots and lots of different things: he mentioned lots of different arguments, he mentioned lots of different parts of the dossier. I have made two points on this. I mean, the original intelligence, as you say, says 20 to 45 minutes. If we had been in the sexing up game, I think we would have said, “Come on John, can’t we do the 20 minutes rather than the 45 minutes?” That discussion never took place.”

    (Talking about the February 2003 dossier)”Look, I absolutely accept that this — the integrity and the professionalism and the meticulous nature of the September dossier, I will defend to the end of my days. In relation to this, somebody within the CIC who was putting it together, he made a very, very simple but quite serious mistake, which is that he put information into it that — the accuracy of which, by the way has not fundamentally been challenged. It was from a leading expert, a gentleman by the name of Dr Al Marashi. It was part of the historical section. It wasn’t in the section that had any of the intelligence in it. That’s what made it subsequently very controversial. We didn’t know that until later in the process. In fact, we didn’t know that until the media informed us of that when the story first broke, and then that — so that’s where the mistake was, and, fair to say that, when Lady Prashar talked earlier about trust, then that was a — that did not help, put it that way.”

    (On the possibility that there were no WMDs in Iraq) “Yes, in answer to your question, was it an issue? Yes. Had we thought about it? To the extent that people had been suggesting it, as it were, those who were very, very strongly opposed, as I said to you this morning, when, for example, the Prime Minister was having discussions with Jacques Chirac, who was fundamentally opposed to the decision that was finally taken, there never appeared to be any doubt in his mind that, yes, there were weapons of mass destruction.”

    “When we just talk about the Iran/Iraq war and we say 1 million casualties, people hear that and you have to kind of find ways of saying, “Listen”. So rather than just saying that, you – you might look for a list of all the towns that have a population of 1 million people, and people go “Oh, yes, I had forgotten about that”. Halabja, it is one of those incidents — the impact at the time was profound, but now you say “Halabja”, and people say, “Oh, yes, chemical weapons, I remember that”. So in a sense you are trying to get over to people that when we have say these things, Iran/Iraq war, annexation of Kuwait, the death squads, the intimidation, taking the tongues out of people who speak against the regime, it is worth listening to some of that. It is worth understanding that is why the Prime Minister is so concerned about this regime, a regime that, if it has used chemical weapons before, what is to stop him doing it again, particularly if the United Nations walks away from this.”

    “The day before — I will check the chronology on this — he did a speech. We met some Iraqi exiles in a hotel in Scotland, who had got in touch with me actually and said — because they sensed the UN thing going wrong, and they just came and said, “Look, he has got to see this through. He has got to see this through. We have got family back there, we know what Iraq is like. You have got all these people on the march, no doubt well-meaning, but they just do not understand the reality of this regime. Please.” I took some of them to see the Prime Minister and he then made a speech where I think the line that was taken out of it by the media, he made what he called the moral case for war, because people were talking about the moral case, those on the march, the moral case for inaction, and the Prime Minister really just set out that there is a different view to take here and, ultimately, he didn’t — he always used this word. He said, “I don’t disrespect those who have come to a different conclusion.” But he is elected as the Prime Minister and I saw the seriousness with which he took the decision, I saw how much it weighed upon him, but, equally, I saw somebody who fundamentally really deeply believed that, unless the world confronted Saddam Hussein at that time, ultimately, sadly, in that way, because the diplomatic route failed, then there would be a bigger day of reckoning later on, and I think he still believes that now.”

    “The only other thing I would say is that I think it is — ultimately, you can have — there is a point I have sort of made: you can have all the advisers you want, whether it is people like me or it is the diplomats and the military and in the end, but ultimately the guys who are elected, at the top, they do finally have to make decisions, and I hope that, as a result of the totally understandable remaining divisions and difficulties over the policy on Iraq, that we don’t put a future generation of leaders in a position where the really, really, really difficult decisions can’t be taken.”

    Important exchanges

    LYNE: “You said in your diary that you weren’t a traditional communications director. You have said that you, basically, were there to do whatever the Prime Minister asked you to do. Would that be accurate?”

    CAMPBELL: “Look, if he asked me to jump off a building, I wouldn’t have done it.”

    LYNE: “Being serious.”

    CAMPBELL: “If he asked me to do anything which I thought to be silly or improper, I wouldn’t do it, but he never did. What’s more — I think it is really important to set a context for this in terms of, when I talked earlier about the changing nature of the media, it has had a significant impact upon policy, policy-making, upon government institutions, and I guess my job was to try to advise him, and also other Ministers and colleagues in government, through some of the tricky currents that that threw up.”

    LYNE: “In your diary of 7 April 2002 you wrote of yourself and Jonathan Powell: “What we did was largely driven by what TB wanted us to do and what our personalities best allowed us to do.” So that’s pretty broad. How close would you say your relations were with the Prime Minister?”

    CAMPBELL: “Very. And — but I think that the — you know the Prime Minister, and he is somebody who understood that the job of leadership that he had, he could not do it alone. He was dependent upon political colleagues, some of whom he would be personally very close to, others that he wouldn’t, but all of whom would be giving him something by way of the nature of the job that he was trying to do.”

    LYNE: “Now, why should the director of communications and strategy have been included in such a sensitive meeting with two senior officers of the SIS when it did not concern information that was publicly usable?”

    CAMPBELL: “Probably because – the short answer is probably because the Prime Minister wanted me to be, and I suspect that Richard Dearlove may have done as well. I don’t know. I happened to be at a lot of the Prime Minister’s meetings, but at that time the heads of the intelligence agencies, I suppose, were spending more time in Downing Street than they normally might and I happened to be there. I was also, at that time, as that entry makes clear, involved in the process of the production of the September dossier. I don’t think there was anything inappropriate about that at all.”

    CAMPBELL: “Sorry, what were you saying that Christopher Meyer said? I read his evidence, but I was –“

    PRASHAR: “He said they weren’t there to talk about containment or sharpening sanctions.”

    CAMPBELL: “I thought in several respects Christopher Meyer’s evidence didn’t actually portray an accurate effect of Crawford at all, nor, indeed, of the speech that followed.”

    PRASHAR: “That aside, do you agree with the Prime Minister’s views on regime change?”

    CAMPBELL: “If you are saying to me, do I agree with Christopher Meyer’s analysis that, at Crawford, the Prime Minister shifted his position from one of containment and disarmament through the United Nations to one of regime change, then I don’t accept that analysis at all.”

    PRASHAR: “I’m talking about the meeting in Crawford.”

    CAMPBELL: “I know.”

    PRASHAR: “I’m really asking you again: did you agree with the Prime Minister’s views on regime change? It is your views, not Mr Meyer’s.”

    CAMPBELL: “I agreed with the Prime Minister’s views, which were — the Prime Minister was not saying at Crawford, “We now have a policy of regime change”. The Prime Minister was absolutely clear, both before Crawford, at Crawford and subsequent to Crawford, that the policy of the British Government was to pursue disarmament of Saddam Hussein through the United Nations, and I think that was very, very clear in his public policy at the time. It is — and the reason why I think it is important to point out that I think Christopher Meyer’s rather overstated things there. For example, he made a point about the speech that the Prime Minister made the next day at the George Bush Senior Presidential Library. This was first time he had ever attacked about regime change and so forth. If you actually read the speech, he talks about the three previous occasions on which he had been involved in regime change: the Taliban, Sierra Leone and Kosovo. So I don’t really accept this analysis that at Crawford there was this fundamental shift of approach and policy by the Prime Minister. On your point about, did I support the Prime Minister in relation to his pursuit of disarmament of Saddam Hussein in the way that he did, yes, I did.”

    PRASHAR: “You did support him?”

    CAMPBELL: “I did.”

    PRASHAR: “What about the others in the close circle, like Jonathan Powell, were they of the same view?”

    CAMPBELL: “I think you’d have to ask them. The short answer is yes, but I think it is unfair to expect me to put their position when I know that they are coming to the Inquiry as well.”-

    PRASHAR: “The analysis was about the extent of the threat?”

    CAMPBELL: “The analysis was about the threat that Saddam Hussein posed, both to stability in that region, the security in that region and also to the authority of the United Nations, and the Prime Minister emphasised that the whole way through. So what came out of — I’m trying to remember what he actually said at the press conference afterwards. He talked about, “Leaving Iraq to develop WMD in flagrant breaching of United Nations Resolutions, is not an option”. He goes on to say, “The response to Iraq will be calm, measured and sensible. All the options available will be considered.” Now, at the same press conference, George Bush restated, “The policy of my government is the removal of Saddam”. That was, since Bill Clinton’s time, the policy of the American administration.

    PRASHAR: “Did the Prime Minister make clear to him that that wasn’t the UK policy?”

    CAMPBELL: “Yes. They knew that anyway. The Prime Minister made clear throughout this that our objective was disarmament of Saddam Hussein through the United Nations, forcing him to comply with a stream of United Nations Resolutions. Now, what I think then followed — and the reason again — sorry to go back to –

    PRASHAR: “Can I just interrupt here? When the President talked about military action, how did the Prime Minister respond to him?”

    CAMPBELL: “The President wasn’t talking about military action. He was simply saying that their policy is regime change. Bill Clinton’s policy was regime change.”

    PRASHAR: “That’s true.”

    CAMPBELL:George Bush wasn’t sitting there saying, “We are about to go to war”.”

    PRASHAR: “But you can’t have regime change without taking some kind action. It would either be through a coup or possibly military action.”

    CAMPBELL: “My point is about the discussion, the discussion that they had was about — there was a discussion clearly about Iraq, and again, when — you have no doubt seen the records of the — of that visit, but also you will have the opportunity to speak to Tony Blair himself — but in terms of the context that I’m trying to give you, it is not that George Bush is saying, “Come on, Tony, we have got to go to war”, it wasn’t like that at all. He was saying, “We have got this real problem with Saddam Hussein. Post-September 11th, both of us share that analysis”, and Tony Blair — he mentioned this in his very, very first statement after September 11, his genuine fear of WMD, failed states, terrorism, coming together with absolutely lethal devastating consequences. They shared that analysis. They clearly shared the analysis that Saddam was an awful, brutal, dictatorial, barbarous regime, they shared the fear about his WMD programme, and George Bush is simply saying, as he said publicly at the press conference, “Our policy is regime change”. Tony Blair was making clear that the British policy was to pursue disarmament to force him to face up to his obligations in successive United Nations resolutions. As I recall it — again, I wasn’t at that meeting, but I recall some of the discussion afterwards — the — as I understand it, what President Bush had said to the Prime Minister was that there was a very small team over there looking at military options and –“

    PRASHAR: “Is it your understanding that when President Bush talk about the planning going on in the states about military planning going on, did the Prime Minister give any commitment of the British troops to that planning?”

    CAMPBELL:No, I think I think that really goes way beyond the nature of the discussion at the time. But, look, you can ask the Prime Minister about this. I think this is — anyway.”

    PRASHAR: “Did he share the means to that end?”

    CAMPBELL: “Ultimately, when it came to the invasion, clearly he did, but the whole way through, he was trying, if you like, to – he really believed, and still does believe, that in these situations you have to try exhaustively to go down the diplomatic route, but when you are dealing with somebody like Saddam Hussein, you have to have the genuine threat of force there alongside it. I think that sums up his approach the whole way through. Again, Christopher Meyer read to you an extract from the speech that the Prime Minister made in 1998, and I think it sums up his position then and it summed up his position the whole way through. Saddam Hussein was a genuine threat. He was in defiance year, after year, after year of the United Nations.”

    PRASHAR: “We know that. What I’m trying to establish is: at what point did Tony Blair commit to Bush about regime change?”

    CAMPBELL: “He committed to — and again, bear in mind this is the Prime Minister. It is — he is not doing this because George Bush wants to do it. This was his genuine belief that Iraq had to be confronted over its continued defiance of the United Nations and over its continued attempts to develop its WMD programme in defiance of the UN. Now, that is his position, and that is a policy that he pursued the whole way through right to the point of the House of Commons vote, when you had, as you heard from Mike Boyce — you heard Mike Boyce on the end of a telephone to America. Right to that point, the Prime Minister was hopeful that, actually, this thing could be resolved peacefully, right up to that point. The whole way through understanding that, if it did come to military action, if that became the only feasible route to go down to make this disarmament happen, then he would want to persuade the Cabinet and Parliament and the country to commit forces to that.”

    PRASHAR: “Okay. Then I move on to the September 2002, when you accompanied the Prime Minister to Camp David for a further meeting with President Bush and I think you participated in a discussion, which was to build a kind of international support for action against Iraq.”

    CAMPBELL: “Yes.”

    PRASHAR: “What were the rationales discussed for the regime change and for taking action against Iraq at this meeting?”

    CAMPBELL: “I think that was one of the key moments in this whole — this whole history, because the — as I think David Manning told you, the Prime Minister really was being asked by the President to persuade his Vice-President that it really was the sensible thing to take this down the United Nations route, and, again, I thought Chris Meyer was remarkably churlish about the Prime Minister’s contribution to that. I think the Prime Minister really did make a difference in persuading both the President and the Vice-President –“

    PRASHAR: “So what you are saying to me is there was a fundamental agreement on the fact that Saddam had to be dealt with. That’s fine. But there were differences in terms of emphasis, because they were saying regime change –“

    CAMPBELL: “Well, I have given you one at the press conference, where George Bush stands up and says “Regime change”, Tony Blair says, “United Nations”.

    PRASHAR: “Mentioning it, but was there proper planning in terms of –“

    CAMPBELL: “As to when actually – don’t forget, at that time, you were a long way off military action and the genuine, genuine attempt that the Prime Minister is leading on behalf of the British Government is to make sure that this thing a resolved peacefully. I don’t know when. You would have to ask people who were more directly involved in the planning than I was, when, as it were, specific detail aftermath planning began, I don’t know, but certainly everybody was conscious the whole way through this that there would come a point — if it came to military action, there would come a point where you were into post-conflict Iraq and big questions arose from that, and I think people were starting to think about those questions — I couldn’t say when the planning started, but people were always conscious that it was something they had to think about.”

    PRASHAR: “Okay. Can I come back to the question of the multiple reasons for wanting to take action against Saddam? Why did the UK focus its case on WMD?”

    CAMPBELL: “There is never — in all of these questions there is no – there is never just one single thing. If you read the Prime Minister’s – I mean, I went back in the last few weeks, when I knew — when I was going to be at the Inquiry and we read all the Prime Minister — Tony Blair’s speeches on Iraq going way back and there is a whole panoply of arguments that are put there. Why did the issue of WMD become so central? Because that was what gave rise to the fear and the sense of a serious and credible threat to regional stability, and, also, as I mentioned in relation to September 11th, the Prime Minister was absolutely seized, and I think still is, seized of the view that, unless the world is absolutely totally vigilant on this issue of WMD, it is only a matter of time before something really terrible happens in relation to them linking in with the terrorist groups. That’s his mindset, and people can disagree with it or not, but that is where he was coming from. So WMD — was the regime part of it? Of course. Would somebody like Tony Blair, from the day he went into politics, think that somebody like Saddam Hussein should be got rid of? Yes, he would. Was that the policy he was pursuing the whole way through? No. He was trying to, through the UN, lead the British Government in the direction of pursuing a policy that would lead ultimately to the disarmament of Saddam Hussein. When it came to it, when the diplomatic process clearly was not going to resolve the issue, post 1441 and when the French pulled the plug, then military action became the only means of response.”

    PRASHAR: “I understand that. So privately, he seems to me to have had a strong conviction about regime change, but publicly there was a policy to actually focus on WMD?”

    CAMPBELL: “No, he had an absolutely fundamental view about disarmament. As David Manning reminded you, even George Bush and I can remember in a separate discussion Condoleezza Rice accepted that if Saddam Hussein did comply with United Nations obligations, if Hans Blix had been able to say, “Yes, I have been there. I have seen the lot. I have seen where all the leftovers are. I have been right through the clusters document. We’ve got all the paper. We have seen all the evidence. He has got rid of the lot of it”, that would have been regime change in that it would have been a different sort of regime. So I don’t accept — you seem to be wanting me to say that Tony Blair signed up to say, “Regardless of the facts, regardless of WMD, we are just going to get rid of the guy”. It was not like that.”

    LYNE: “So there were times, even in, perhaps, a slightly formal way, with Cabinet Ministers and others, experts on the region, the Prime Minister would have sat down and said, “Here is the problem with Iraq. What are the possible ways, the possible strategies for dealing with it, and what is the downside of this, that and the other as well as the upside?”

    CAMPBELL: “He would.”

    LYNE: “Those sorts of discussions did take place?”

    CAMPBELL: “They did.”

    LYNE: “The Prime Minister, therefore, was pretty fully aware of the risks of going for a policy that might eventually lead to military action?”

    CAMPBELL: “Yes, he was and I would say — look, he is somebody who I think always will weigh up very candidly upsides and downsides of a particular course of action, and none of these decisions were straightforward. None of them were ever black and white, 100 per cent, absolutely obvious, every step, you couldn’t see any other way of handling it. There is always another way of handling these issues, but, ultimately, he has to take decisions.”

    LYNE: “My question was: if the United Nations did not support confronting Saddam Hussein, was the Prime Minister still, as you say, fundamentally of the view that he had to be confronted with or without the United Nations’ support?”

    CAMPBELL: “I thought it was interesting in Jeremy Greenstock’s evidence where I thought he made a really telling point at the end of his evidence about the — it is almost a philosophical discussion about “What is the United Nations?” It is not a kind of arbiting body, the United Nations is a collection of the nations, and what you ended up with was a fundamental agreement within the Security Council and the whole of the United Nations. If the United Nations en masse had said, “Hold on a minute, Prime Minister Blair, this whole Iraq thing is overblown”, and all the rest of it, but nobody was saying that. Even the French were saying there – “

    LYNE: You still haven’t answered my question.”

    CAMPBELL: “But your question depends on there being a single view that is defined as the United Nations’ view.”

    LYNE: “There is a single view if the UN Security Council adopts a position.”

    CAMPBELL: “Right. But if the British — you are saying they adopted a position that the British Government and the American Government didn’t agree with.”

    LYNE: “If the British Government and the American Government were not able to get the support of United Nations Security Council, the Prime Minister was prepared to go ahead without the United Nations?”

    CAMPBELL: “Ultimately, when it came to military action, he believed that that route, having persuaded George Bush to take the issue to the United Nations, having made clear that, in his view, the United Nations had to resolve the issue and not avoid the issue, through some extraordinary diplomatic work, not least by Jeremy Greenstock, Resolution 1441 is unanimously agreed, but then, when it came to the next step, elements of the United Nations, and in particular the French, walked away from anything that might lead to, in their view, the United Nations authorising military action.”

    GILBERT: What was the consensus or the view or the views as to what the UK would do if the UN route failed?”

    CAMPBELL: “I think the position at that time was very much, as he said publicly on a number of occasions, and as he said right up to the point of the invasion, that, in his view, this was the best route to resolve this issue peacefully. He still believed, right to the end, I think, that that could have been done, if Saddam had responded in a different way and, in particular, if some of the bigger powers in the United Nations had responded in a different way, as it were, during the denouement just prior to — in March. As to — I think he had a genuine fear as well that, if the United Nations did not resolve this issue, and was not seen to stand up for what it had been calling for over such a long period of time, that there was the potential of damage to the United Nations as well. I think this may seem counter to what was the kind of conventional wisdom on this, although I thought it was interesting, I think Jeremy Greenstock seemed to be making a similar point that, actually — there was a challenge the whole time in what he was saying to the United Nations, in saying you have gone on for so long, we the United Nations have gone on for so long, in stating publicly again and again and again what he has to do and he doesn’t do it and we all know that he doesn’t do it, and occasionally there is a little skirmish and there is a diplomatic kerfuffle, and very occasionally there is the kind of military operation there was in 1998, but actually Saddam Hussein is effectively getting away with it the whole way through.”

    GILBERT: “Damage to the United Nations doesn’t resolve the issue as to what Britain is then going to do.”

    CAMPBELL: “What Britain does then — again, I think it is to the Prime Minister’s credit that this happened in the way that it did, that despite the terrible divisions that there were, and they really were pretty profound at the time, but actually in part because he had been so aggressively and so volubly pursuing the United Nations route and emphasising the importance of the United Nations that actually the United Nations were able to get involved in the aftermath more quickly than otherwise they might have done, had it been down just to the United States. So there was certainly in his mind that part of the argument here was: how is the United Nations going to rebuild these relationships in the immediate aftermath of an invasion, should that be necessary?”

    GILBERT: “But the subtext or the square bracket is that if the United Nations route failed, Britain and the United States would have to take military action.”

    CAMPBELL: “I think, once 1441 was agreed and once the French had failed to get 1441 to say what they wanted it to say, then I think that is the obvious logical conclusion.”

    GILBERT: “But not before? That was not discussed before?”

    CAMPBELL: “I don’t think before, no.”

    (Referring to the September 2002 dossier’s foreword)

    FREEDMAN: “Beyond doubt” sounds like beyond anybody’s doubt.”

    CAMPBELL: “Yes, but at that time, if you would have spoken to the head of the French intelligence service or the German intelligence service — even the countries that ultimately did not go with the United States and the UK and the other allies in this, nobody was really saying that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction and that he wasn’t a potential threat with them.”

    FREEDMAN: “Let me stay with the nuclear issue. It seems from what we have already looked at, that, on the presentational side, there was a concern particularly about the thinness of the material.”

    CAMPBELL: “Not by me, and not by the Prime Minister, more importantly.”

    FREEDMAN: “I’m not just talking about John Scarlett — a situation in which the overall view was that five years after the ending of sanctions could produce a nuclear weapon to one where the Prime Minister stands up in the Commons, doesn’t mention the five years but says: “There will be others who say, rightly, that, for example, on present going, it could be several years before he acquires a usable nuclear weapon. Though, if he were able to purchase fissile materiel illegally, it would only be a year or two.” So this is now highlighted.”

    CAMPBELL: “I don’t accept that it is highlighted. What he has done – and also you could have added at the end of that: although the Institute of Strategic Studies, a hugely related body on this issue, says it could be nine months. So I think — I’m sorry to repeat myself but I think we are in part having this discussion — I completely accept that there is an argument to be had about whether intelligence material should be used by an elected Prime Minister in explaining to the public the decision-making process. I think it is a good thing. I think actually it showed much greater openness in government. I think it was a genuine attempt to take the public into his confidence about why he was as concerned as he was. I really do believe that it is only because of the subsequent controversy that we are still talking about this line, that line, this paragraph, that paragraph, and some of the changes that took place in the drafting process. And all I can say — I’m sorry, I’ll just repeat myself because, when it came to it, I was not being accused of, sort of, you know, moving this line and moving that line, shifting this paragraph, shifting that paragraph; I was being accused of distorting intelligence, of forcing intelligence officials to do things that they didn’t want to do, and it was simply untrue. Now –“

    FREEDMAN: “On this basis, you will be delighted to know I am now going to turn to the 45 minutes claim. Now, this has been a subject of great interest, a number of inquiries. It has been established that you didn’t make up the claim and that you didn’t insert it in the dossier.”

    CAMPBELL: “It has been established, yes.”

    FREEDMAN: “So when you saw, Evening Standard: “45 minutes from attack. Iraqis could have N bomb in a year. There are some Brits 45 minutes from doom … ” A reference to Cyprus. Express: “Saddam can strike in 45 minutes.” Were you surprised by those headlines?”

    CAMPBELL: “I’m not surprised by anything that most of the British newspapers write on a daily basis, but all I can say to you is it was — when we were preparing that — and it is really why it is so unfortunate that the debate developed as it did subsequently, when the BBC broadcast the broadcast that they did — actually I think it was a very, very important development in government communications, and I think — I think there is a risk arising out of this that in future very difficult international crisis situations that develop, because of the controversies that have subsequently flowed, the politicians and –they should. I still — I defend every single word of the dossier, I defend every single part of the process, and I think it was a genuine attempt by the Prime Minister and the government to engage the public properly in trying to — in understanding why the Prime Minister’s thinking was developing as it was.”

    CAMPBELL: “I really think I should have the opportunity to respond to this because I think it is — I think it goes to the heart of it. You say the dossier is regarded negatively. Now, actually, a lot of people do not regard it negatively because they understand that the basis of the case that the Prime Minister made is contained within there, about a genuinely perceived threat. If you have a media culture that decides that, because a certain Inquiry did not find, as they kept telling their views and listeners and readers they were going to do, on the points that you have just been raising, and day after day after day they tell people, “Actually, they didn’t get to the truth, only we can get to the truth,” then no wonder people end up thinking, what was that about, and then, when they deliberately conflate with the paper that we will no doubt come on to in February — so they routinely say that the dossier we have been discussing was lifted off the Internet — it is no wonder the public start to think, what was that all about.”

    FREEDMAN: “But the reason why the document became controversial and the issue arose in the end was because unfortunately a lot of the material that was contained within it, when tested against what was actually in Iraq after the invasion, turned out not to be there. The big problem was that –“

    CAMPBELL: “I see. Then you have the debate about the intelligence, which the Butler Inquiry — that’s what that was about. But my point — I think actually that point makes my point for me. Lord Hutton stated in terms: even if the intelligence turns out to have been wrong, it did not justify the reporting of the issue, and my point is it is the reporting of the issue and the controversy that caused, and indeed the tragedy that caused — that is what makes it viewed by some in the way that you described, and, I’m sorry, that is my very strongly held opinion, and I cannot see it any other way.”

    LYNE:So you certainly still stand by the words “beyond doubt”?

    CAMPBELL: “I do, because at the time that was the judgment that he was led to make. I would also stand by — I know that the Butler Report felt that it overstated things, to talk about “extensive” and “detailed”, and so forth, and “authoritative”. I stand by that as well, because I think the document had the full authority of the Joint Intelligence Committee. It was detailed, and it wasn’t just about the intelligence that had come in in the last couple of days and I think some of the caveats were in there. You could certainly make the point, as both you and Sir Lawrence have now done, that there could have been more in terms of the public presentation, putting over the case about why those caveats were important, but I think, ultimately, in terms of what the public would have taken out of it, it wouldn’t have made that much difference, because it was a cautiously put case.”

    LYNE: “So if the JIC assessments, when we are able, perhaps — I don’t know if we will be able to publish them, but certainly re-read them — were not to correspond to the phrase “beyond doubt”, and if members of the JIC — and we have already heard somebody who did serve on the JIC, Sir William Ehrman — were to say that “beyond doubt” was not a phrase that was justifiable, would you at that stage say that Parliament had been misled by the Prime Minister saying “beyond doubt”?

    CAMPBELL: “No, I wouldn’t.”

    PRASHAR: “– because you have blurred the lines.”

    CAMPBELL: “No, I don’t think you can say that you blur the lines between intelligence and decision-making. Yes, I think you can say that intelligence became more involved in public communication and public diplomacy than it hitherto had been. That is a development, a response, if you like, to the sort of changing media and political landscape that I talked about earlier. Were we aware that that was a significant change? Of course we were. Were we aware that people might have concerns about that? Of course we were. Was it still nonetheless, despite its unprecedented nature, despite the fact that this was — the intelligence services were being asked to do something that maybe they wouldn’t normally be expected to do? Would the Prime Minister, and, I hope, the intelligence agencies still say that was the right thing to do? I think the answer to that is yes.”

    GILBERT: “You also expressed your concerns at different times that the British public — there was a feeling, sometimes a very strong feeling, that Britain was only embarking on this course of action with the United States, one, because it was what the Americans want us to do, and, of course, to protect our relationship with the United States. How were you able to establish that there was a specific British agenda with regard to Iraq and what was that agenda?”

    CAMPBELL: “With difficulty. Because once — I mean, this was, in a sense, the problem with the whole attempt to communicate on this, because you had — I guess if I can put it in this term, the left of our media, that basically just was opposed to the whole thing and very aggressively ran the kind of “Blair is Bush’s poodle” line. There is a political hit in that, and, on the right, I think a sense that — I don’t know, that once you got into the whole — the dossiers and that kind of thing and the BBC became very, very hostile in its coverage of Iraq, it was quite difficult to get out any messages undiluted on your terms, as it were, other than through just the Prime Minister getting out there and talking. But it was difficult. It was very, very difficult. The sense of — all you can do in the end, all the Prime Minister could do and the Ministers could do was get out there and explain that we are not doing this because George Bush wants us to do it, we are doing this because we think it is in the British national interest.”

    CAMPBELL: “The day before — I will check the chronology on this — he did a speech. We met some Iraqi exiles in a hotel in Scotland, who had got in touch with me actually and said — because they sensed the UN thing going wrong, and they just came and said, “Look, he has got to see this through. He has got to see this through. We have got family back there, we know what Iraq is like. You have got all these people on the march, no doubt well-meaning, but they just do not understand the reality of this regime. Please.” I took some of them to see the Prime Minister and he then made a speech where I think the line that was taken out of it by the media, he made what he called the moral case for war, because people were talking about the moral case, those on the march, the moral case for inaction, and the Prime Minister really just set out that there is a different view to take here and, ultimately, he didn’t — he always used this word. He said, “I don’t disrespect those who have come to a different conclusion.” But he is elected as the Prime Minister and I saw the seriousness with which he took the decision, I saw how much it weighed upon him, but, equally, I saw somebody who fundamentally really deeply believed that, unless the world confronted Saddam Hussein at that time, ultimately, sadly, in that way, because the diplomatic route failed, then there would be a bigger day of reckoning later on, and I think he still believes that now.”

    GILBERT: “Was this moral case one that you were then able, in the short time that remained before the debate, to promulgate in some way through your efforts?”

    CAMPBELL: “Well, he made a speech, and the speech got considerable public attention. Then up to the — the other thing I would say at this time is that in terms of the really big moments — I mean, like, yes, we all drafted and we all chipped in and we all had thoughts and so forth, but when it came, for example, to the speech in Parliament, that was very much the Prime Minister’s hand, and, yes, people would fill in thoughts and so forth, but — you know, that’s why I always find — look, like him, I understand why people reached a different position. You had members of your — I can remember the Monday after the march. There were several people within the room who had members of the family who’d gone on the march. I think a majority. So people knew from within their own households how divisive and how difficult this issue was, and that’s why I say, yes, people can reach a different conclusion, but, for heaven’s sake, let’s do away with all the conspiracy theories that it was about oil, it was about George Bush telling Tony Blair what to do. Somebody who has been elected Prime Minister and wants to get re-elected, does not do something as difficult and controversial unless they really, really, really believe that they should be doing it. “

    GILBERT: “You, yourself, had no doubts about the moral case?”

    CAMPBELL: “I supported him right the way through. I won’t pretend I did not have doubts about all sorts of things throughout that process. Of course you do. One of the doubts was whether he would survive. I remember myself and Sally Morgan actually saying to him at one point, “Are you so sure about this that you are going to put your entire premiership, your entire reputation, the lot, on the line?”, the way it seemed to be and I think I recorded it in the diary. He said, “Look, Saddam has been a threat for far too long, the world has stood aside for far too long. Sometimes you have just got to do the right thing regardless of what people around you may be saying”. He believed that. I respect him for the way that he did that, and I supported him the whole way through with doubts along the way. Of course I had doubts. Sometimes, did you think that the Americans were being impossibly difficult to deal with on this or that? Of course you did. But that doesn’t explain — you know, the British Government, in my view, has to stand up for its own policies, its own ways, and I think it is wrong for people to say, “It was all the Americans’ fault”, and all the rest of it. I think Britain, as a country, should feel incredibly proud of the role that we played in taking one of the most brutal barbarous regimes in history, and now you have, a few weeks down the line, elections which look like they are going to go pretty well. “

    LYNE: “Are you implying in your deeply diplomatic way that the Secretary of State for International Development was not regarded as trustworthy or as competent?”

    CAMPBELL: “When Clare Short and her department were in support of a Government policy or position, then I think she was both trustworthy and competent, and I think there are people you can talk to in DFID who say that she was terrific at every level. I can remember, for example, during the Kosovo crisis, to go back to that, Clare did an awful lot of pretty extraordinary work at the time. But, look, it is no secret here, she was very, very difficult to handle at times. I think sometimes the military — and I think that emerged in the evidence of some of your earlier evidence. I think the military found her approach to them quite difficult to deal with. I think sometimes there were — there probably were concerns at times about whether — very, very sensitive and tightly held conversations, as to whether, in a political environment, whether sometimes you would maybe be a little bit worried that things would get out into the public domain that you didn’t necessarily want to get into the public domain. Is that diplomatic as well? “

    CAMPBELL: “I know Christopher Meyer used the phrase about the military wagging the diplomat –“

    LYNE: “I’m thinking of evidence from others, like Sir David Manning, Sir Jeremy Greenstock and so on.”

    CAMPBELL: “You can say that, and I also have huge respect for David and for Jeremy, and they both said there should have been more time for inspectors, and that is a view you could take. I think where the Prime Minister was by then, particularly after some of the discussions with the French, which I was present at, which were difficult, I think that he had reached a conclusion that, having persuaded the Americans to go down the United Nations route six months earlier, that having done all the work that was done on 1441 four months earlier, that there came this point where, once the French said, “Look, regardless of what is put down, if there is any suggestion that failure to implement yet another United Nations Resolution with Saddam disarming voluntarily, that there could be no military action ensuing from that”, that was the end of the process, and not least because, within the discussions that were going on, I know Jeremy Greenstock said that he never felt there were more than four votes on the Security Council: America, Britain, Spain and Bulgaria. But the six, the undecided six, I think at various points, my impression from the Prime Minister, who was talking to them the whole time, and other Ministers who were talking to them the whole time, was that actually there did seem to be a point where certainly the three African countries looked like they might come across and then Chile and Mexico, but once the French made that position so clear, their line was basically, “Look, you have got a huge power. We have got these great elephants trampling all around us, and one of the reall big powers has basically said, ‘You can jump if you want, but it is not going to happen’.” I think that totally changed the nature of the debate, and that was — Jeremy, to his credit, kept going, the benchmark test put down, the French immediately went out and said, “These are unacceptable”, and that was the position.”

    LYNE: “You have expressed today your support for the policy that was followed on Iraq with very great conviction. Do you consider now that it has been a success and, looking back on it, what lessons would you draw from it beyond the points that have already been made, for example, just now, about the aftermath, and what regrets, if any, do you have?”

    CAMPBELL: “Do I support it? Yes. I think that, as I said to you just before the break — I think that Britain, far from beating ourselves up about this, should be really proud of the role that we played in changing Iraq from what it was to what it is now becoming and the potential impact that that has on the region. I think, for example that Libya and the moves that it made in relation to WMD, I think — I don’t know because I wasn’t involved in those discussions, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that wasn’t in part driven by them seeing these guys are serious now about this issue. I think that the — when – I saw the Prime Minister as closely and probably as often as anybody else, and I saw somebody of really deep conviction and integrity, who was making, without doubt, the most difficult decision of his premiership, knowing there were going to be consequences, but also understanding there are “what if” questions, had he taken another decision. Again, I thought Chris Meyer was really glib about the potential impact on the transatlantic relationship in relation to that.

    LYNE: “Looking at the huge cost in loss of life over, now, six and a half years, at the effects on the stability of the Middle Eastern region, at the development of international terrorism within Iraq, do you consider that, overall, the policy has succeeded?”

    CAMPBELL: “I do, but not without reflecting often and realising the import of the caveats that you have just put into that. I think, in relation to the Middle East peace process — and bear in mind the road map is still — the outline — and the Prime Minister did get the Americans to go down there. I don’t think they can solely be blamed for the fact there has been such little progress. I think, in terms of security, yes, the death toll has been high in terms of Iraqis, and obviously any loss of any British soldier’s life is not just tragic but it obviously weighs heavily on anybody who was involved in that process, most particularly, obviously, the Prime Minister. But I still think that when you — I mean, he had — and I saw it long before September 11th. He was going on about this, about AQ Khan and about the potential link between WMD, terror groups, failed states — that this is the agenda that he saw that had to be addressed by leaders of the democratic world, and he raised it in his very, very first — he raised it in his very, very first meeting with George Bush: This is going to be the number one issue of your time. That was before September 11th. So I think that — could things have been done differently? Almost certainly. Any decision — you can go back over it but I think on the big picture, on the leadership that he showed, on the leadership that the British Government showed on this issue, I was privileged to be there, and I’m very, very proud of the part that I was able to play.”


    Read about the note Blair wrote to Bush here.

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