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Andy Hayes

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Iraq: It's As If It Never Happened

Posted: 24/05/2012 15:54

Maybe it's just my over-sensitivity, but the mooted return of Tony Blair to British politics strikes me as mind-bendingly peculiar.

Or maybe just par for an overly-cynical course.

However you interpret them, the facts are far from pretty.

There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Al Qaeda only crept in after Tony and George invaded, the chaotic aftermath providing Osama bin Laden with the opportunity he needed.

And now we hear that Alastair Campbell, Blair's spin-doctor, is taking his first regular PR role since leaving Number 10.

It's with Portland, which was founded by his former Downing Street deputy, Tim Allan.

The Independent reports that Portland has "provided PR advice to the government of Russia and Kazakhstan's dictatorship."

The roster of clients also includes Tesco, McDonald's, Vodafone and Google.

It seems unlikely that any interview was required.

But, hypothetically, had Mr Campbell been asked about his suitability for the job, it's mildly diverting to imagine one of the main questions:

"Mr Campbell, let's just say that one of our clients, the head of a national government, is intending to invade another country. Now, the reasons given for going into that country are that it has weapons of mass destruction, and is accommodating al Qaeda.

"Neither of these facts is by any means certain. Indeed, intelligence officers are going to the president and telling him that their sources on WMD are rather shaky.

"What's more, a senior politician from another country - a leading ally of our client's nation - is openly questioning whether there's any terrorist link.

"There may not be. WMD could, plausibly, be entirely absent.

"But our client is determined to go ahead. He's acting in 'good faith.' That is, he believes he's doing the right thing, even if many, many others disagree.

"Public opinion is swaying considerably against him. A million people have marched through his country's capital city, saying they want nothing to do with his mooted war.

"So, Mr Campbell, would you have any trouble in advising such a client? If he was a long-standing colleague, with whom you had formed a strong personal and professional bond, then loyalty would come into play. That would be an admirable quality to display.

"But, perhaps more importantly, what if it all went wrong? If there were no weapons of mass destruction, if al Qaeda entered the invaded country after the official war was over and proceeded to cause havoc, if there were tens of thousands of deaths, and no proper reconstruction plan, what would you do next?

"Would you apologize, offer a mea culpa, admit you'd allowed yourself to be pulled into an ill-thought out plan which had led to bloodshed on a horrific scale, or would you harangue the BBC, storm into the Channel 4 News studio, and generally castigate anyone who thought the whole adventure had been an unmitigated disaster?

"The reason we ask is that, as I'm sure you know, once the spinner becomes the story, then he is no longer useful as a spinner. Were one of our consultants to go a bit rogue, then our clients could be damaged."

If I were Tesco, McDonald's, Vodafone or Google, I'm not sure I'd want Alastair Campbell anywhere near my communications strategy.

But he and Tony Blair seem to be not so much coated in Teflon, as genetically imbued with the stuff.

Blair trots around the world, seemingly unembarrassed to accept thousands of pounds simply for making a speech, while Campbell is not short of admirers.

But for what? Andrew Rawnsley's book, The End of the Party, details the way in which the Iraq dossier was arguably systematically stripped of uncertainty, until it was presented to the Commons complete with its notorious 45-minute warning.

If leadership - any position of authority - is often about judgement, then what does Iraq say about Tony Blair?

It says, arguably, that he was wrong. That his judgement was faulty. Yes, Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant, but there were no weapons of mass destruction, and no proven pre-link to al Qaeda.

The British people are still waiting for an apology.

And yet Blair flirts with a return to domestic politics, while his sidekick, Campbell, actually does go back to a prestigious level of spin-doctoring.

It's as if Iraq never happened. But it did. Lest we forget.

 
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