Stephen Walls, Iraq Inquiry: Jacques Chirac wanted to “destroy Tony Blair”

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    Or –

    20th January 2011

    Click to Buy Tony Blair’s ‘A Journey’


    Écoutez, mes amis! Je veux détruire Tony Blair.

    Pour la France! Pour liberty!

    Il est un anglais qui sait tout, et il pense qu’il sait mieux que moi.

    Il sait la merde, rien. Le cochon américain aimer!


    Excuse the tabloid-inspired title and headline. But that’s what one has to do to be noticed in this spinning world.

    Sir Stephen Wall, the former head of the cabinet’s European secretariat, told the Chilcot inquiry he regretted not advising Tony Blair to consider more seriously the views of the anti-war French president Jacques Chirac. Photograph: Jacques Brinon/AP

    Anyway it’s true. More or less. As true as anyone’s opinion or recollection or hearsay.  More or less. As true as any of the 57 varieties of evidence and opinion we have heard and are ever likely to hear before the Iraq Inquiry folds up in a few weeks and the panel retires to write its conclusions. More or less.

    I bet they can hardly wait.

    I haven’t been following the Iraq Inquiry since it re-started this week. Tomorrow I’m off to the main event anyway. So that’ll be fun, as it was last time.

    The usual suspects have been proving to us in their various ways just how evil that former prime monster minister was in their various ways. The Guardian praised the former director of communications at the Foreign Office, John Williams.  Presumably he deserves praise for saying he had “argued strongly against ” publication of the WMD dossier. Not because he didn’t believe it was accurate, mind you. He accepted its accuracy, as did everyone in that circle at that time. He just believed it could be a hostage to fortune.

    Still, at least he was against being open about the evidence. So that’s something.

    We all love openness, don’t we, oh great Guardian of truth, light and selectivity?

    Quote from The Guardian:

    John Williams, who was director of communications at the Foreign Office at the time of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, said he had “argued strongly” against publication with then prime minister Tony Blair’s communications chief, Alastair Campbell.

    In a written statement to the Iraq Inquiry, released today, Mr Williams said he thought he had won the argument, only for Mr Blair to announce in September 2002 that the government was going ahead with the dossier.

    “The burden of my argument was not about the quality of specific intelligence, which I never dreamed of judging, but my strong sense that we should not take on ourselves the burden of proof, when all the UN resolutions put the burden on Saddam Hussein to show he had destroyed his weapons,” he said.

    Actually that IS a fair point. But only when you read ALL the transcripts and thoughts of those around the small circle of power do you come to understand the complexities surrounding these decisions.

    Snappy headlines won’t do it, though they do it for the anti-Blair press.

    Still for once I have some kind words to say about The Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor’s take on anything to do with Tony Blair.

    Their headline kind of hints at, sort of, partially, perhaps, at a little bit of responsibility lying not ONLY in the hands of  prime minister Blair –  “Advisers ‘regret’ not warning Tony Blair enough about dangers of invading Iraq”

    Of course I am comparing The Guardian to the The Independent. So not a lot of competition there for plaudits.

    Evidence to Chilcot inquiry reveals concerns by senior ministerial advisers over weakness of intelligence and case for war

    Sir Stephen Wall, head of the cabinet’s European secretariat at the time, told the inquiry he regretted not advising Blair to consider more seriously the views of the anti-war French president Jacques Chirac. “Chirac knew about war,” Wall said.

    Only when you listen to, read and understand ALL of what Stephen Wall had to say do you get a fuller picture, and are able to se how our journalists change or interpret words and meaning to fit their own agendas. Disgraceful that they are seldom pulled up for this deceit.

    Wall says in his evidence, towards the end, that he was not in favour of the invasion. However he also said that he didn’t think those who were were holding that opinion for the wrong reasons.

    On the destroying Blair business, Wall’s actual words, at around 100 minutes into the video –

    “I think there was certainly a moment when I think that a number of things combined and that was possibly a gleam in President Chirac’s eye, and there was certainly a feeling, you  know, around that period of real — reports were reaching us that he was basically saying, “I am determined to destroy Tony Blair politically”, but, I mean, I don’t think that there was a really kind of  thought-out plan.  I mean, Chirac is an interesting person.”

    The papers’ headlines was even MORE interesting. Few of them mentioned the opinion held widely within British diplomatic, civil servant and political circles that Chirac never once intended to back the US’s invasion plans.  So Chirac may have been playing a game of bluff, but somehow none of that deception bothers our press.

    According to the papers the highlight was that Blair and Campbell were determined to tell untruths about France’s position in the full knowledge that they were untruths.

    Walls also said:

    John Scarlett said to me, “I really do” — I can’t remember whether he said, “I lie awake at night” or “I rack my brains over whether we have got this right”, in other words, whether we have got the intelligence assessments right. He said, “I really do think we have. I really do think we have got it right.” It stuck in my mind, because my thought at the time was, “Here is the guy who is the sort of supreme professional and they have really worked on this. Whatever else is said …” — I mean, all of us who worked on this issue in any way or in Number 10, and because I had worked on it before for John Major, we never had any doubts that the WMD was there. There are all kinds of criticisms you can make, but that was the given.  I can remember the shock, genuine — I mean, Tony Blair could not have acted the shock I remember when it became apparent after the invasion that it simply wasn’t there.

    He also said:

    Interestingly Iraq didn’t affect the personal relationship between Prime Minister Blair and Schroeder in the way that, in the relatively short-term, because it was repaired, it did with Chirac.  I mean, Matthew Rycroft’s sort of briefing note to the Prime Minister before that meeting of things he might say says, “One of the things you might say to him is he has almost brought about the downfall of your government”.

    So, you know, one can pussyfoot around this, but  I think there is no doubt that Tony Blair and Jack Straw knew what they were doing. Certainly by the time Jack Straw told Cabinet later in the week about Chirac’s outrageous behaviour, he would have known precisely what Chirac had said.  You have to remember at this point the government was fighting for its life. I remember about that time Tony Blair coming into my room, because he was looking for David Manning, and I said to him something fatuous like, “You are going through the mill” or something, and he said, “I am like a man walking across a precipice on a tightrope with only a straw to balance with”. That was a reflection of how dire the domestic situation was, because they did not know whether they would win the vote in the House of Commons. As you know better than me, in British politics playing the anti-French card is a pretty sure fire successful card to play.

    He also said:

    “Tony Blair, as you know, is an honourable and decent man who had the interests of his country at heart, but I do think that that issue of judgment and the way that issue of judgment was tested or not tested rigorously in the kind of way it might have been is to me at the heart of it.”

    Clearly he is questioning Blair’s judgement, but he says that Blair is an honourable and decent man.

    [Aside: George Galloway on Question Time tonight, he who seemed to all intents and purposes, to say that Tony Blair deserves to be assassinated, and if he were, that is entirely understandable, is NOT a decent or honourable man. Just thought I’d throw that in, and I’ll tell him the same if I see him in the morning at the QEII hall.]

    Walls also says:

    I think that Tony Blair’s view was never that it’s war, come what may. I mean,  it’s absolutely the case that his view was consistently that if Saddam Hussein complied and came clean about his weapons of mass destruction and allowed them to be dismantled, then there would be no war, and that was as true on 18th March 2003 as at any time previously, which  is not to say he was not in favour of regime change, but the objective of regime change was not the primary objective. I think from roughly speaking the middle of 2002 and, as I said before, in a way the espousal of the UN route is part of that, I think we were committed to military action if by peaceful means Saddam Hussein could not be persuaded to give up his weapons of mass destruction.  Alistair Campbell in his diary records Tony Blair saying at the beginning of September he, Tony Blair, was developing the line that the UN route was fine if it was clearly a means to resolving the issue but not if it means to duck the issue. I think that was always part of his perception, and if the letter of eight — the eight countries later on carries within it that implication that the UN has to step up to the plate, but if the UN doesn’t step up to the plate, then there is an obligation on those of us who take this issue seriously and see its danger to do something about it and in a sense we will become the bearers of the responsibility of the international community.

    Walls also said:

    “He was convinced that his view was the right view, and if that meant the end of his career as Prime Minister, then that was the basis on which — it wasn’t just gamesmanship. For him that was really — he saw these things as really fundamental issues. So the notion for him of compromising in the way I have suggested I don’t think he entertained it.”

    Read all 96 pges of transcript here

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