Alistair Campbell didn't concede a whole lot in his Iraq War Inquiry testimony today. But there were a few interesting points of historical perspective nonetheless. The committee members were taking him through the deteriorating conviction that WMDs would be found in Iraq and the related topic of UK-US tensions on how the Iraq war strategy should be communicated.
Campbell mentioned in particular a row behind the scenes at the Hillsborough (County Down) summit between George Bush and Tony Blair on April 7-8 2003 (in which Bertie Ahern was an occasional participant). Condi Rice, seen here with Jack Straw and (we think) James Hamilton, the 1st Governor of Northern Ireland: It became clear to the UK side that Condi was pushing an agenda of marginalizing the role of the UN in post-Saddam Iraq, whereas the UK side was keen for both legal and practical reasons that they should be involved. Campbell claimed that Blair intervened to get the UN role upgraded to "vital" but the assembled hacks smelled a rat and repeatedly pressed what exactly this meant --
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes, I mean, when we say vital role for the United Nations, we mean vital role for the United Nations in all aspects of the issue -- whether it be humanitarian aid, or whether it be helping to stand up an interim authority. The Iraqi people will decide who's on the Iraqi -- the interim authority. The interim authority is a transition quasi-government until the real government shows up; until the conditions are right for the people to elect their own leadership. And the United Nations will have a vital role.
When we say vital role, that's precisely what we mean -- that they will be involved, along with the coalition, in helping to stand up an interim authority. But the Iraqi people are responsible for who's on that authority. And Tony can describe what's happening in Basra. He might describe some of the meetings that are taking place as leadership begins to emerge.
It is a -- it is a cynical world that says it's impossible for the Iraqis to run themselves. It is a cynical world which condemns Iraq to failure. We refuse to accept that. We believe that the Iraqi people are capable, talented, and will be successful in running their own government.
This of course set the stage for the disastrous decision-making that was soon to follow -- the failure to maintain law and order (a legal obligation of the occupying powers of which Blair was clearly aware), the disbandment of the Iraqi army, and the breezy assurances that the emerging Mehdi army would be easily seen off.
George also rallied the Irish peace process --
There is such hope here in Northern Ireland that the past can be broken. And the Prime Minister is right when he says that when the peace process is successful here, it will send a really important signal to other parts of the world. It will confirm the fact that people who have a vision for peace can see that vision become a reality.
Unfortunately, for all of this era's obsessions with "signals", recent events in Northern Ireland show how any signal is highly likely to be obscured by local noise. Hopefully no one abroad is looking to Ireland for good signals at the moment.