Andrew Grice, Political Editor / The Independent – 2007-07-11 08:34:56
LONDON ( July 9. 2007) — All of Tony Blair’s closest aides had “severe moments of doubt” about his decision to join the American invasion of Iraq, Alastair Campbell reveals in his diaries, published today.
Downing Street’s former director of communications suggests that Mr Blair was the only member of his inner circle who did not have private reservations about the decision to topple Saddam Hussein.
The Blair Years describes the scene in the former prime minister’s Commons room after he won the crucial vote on the eve of the war despite a rebellion by 139 Labour MPs. He wrote at the time: “All of us, I think, had had pretty severe moments of doubt but he hadn’t really, or if he had he had hidden them from us. Now there was no going back at all.”
The previous day, the Cabinet met without Robin Cook, who had resigned over the war. According to Mr Campbell, John Prescott, John Reid and one or two other cabinet ministers “looked physically sick”.
Clare Short, who did not resign for another two months, told colleagues: “I’m going to have my little agonising overnight.” Mr Campbell accuses her of “making a complete fool of herself”.
In a prophetic remark, Mr Reid told the Cabinet: “We will be judged by the Iraq that replaces Saddam’s Iraq, and by the Middle East.” Lord Irvine of Lairg, then Lord Chancellor, warned that the public would think America and Britain needed a further United Nations resolution before taking military action because the Government had made so much effort to get one. Mr Blair admitted that public opinion in Britain was less favourable towards intervention than in the United States.
The Campbell book sheds light on a dispute at the highest levels of the Bush administration over whether it should back Britain’s call for another UN resolution. Six months before the invasion, Karen Hughes, President George Bush’s communications adviser, said “not too convincingly” that the US President was always going to go down the UN route, Mr Campbell writes. But Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, “looked very sour” throughout talks at Camp David because he favoured immediate action. “After dinner, when TB and Bush walked alone to the chopper, Bush was open with him that Cheney was in a different position,” says Mr Campbell.
President Bush joked to Mr Campbell: “I suppose you can tell the story of how Tony flew in and pulled the crazed unilateralist back from the brink.” Mr Campbell insists the President is “far more impressive close up” and believes he “comes over better than people might expect” in his book.
Extracts from his diaries were released on Mr Campbell’s website ahead of the book’s publication today. The entries he made in nine years as Mr Blair’s closest aide run to more than two million words and he is issuing the first 700-page instalment in an attempt to shape Mr Blair’s legacy. He admits he has omitted details of Mr Blair’s “pretty tense” relationship with his successor Gordon Brown to avoid handing the Tories “a goldmine” to use against the new Prime Minister.
In a television interview yesterday, the former chief of communications at No 10 sought to play down the doubts about the Iraq war he had at the time, saying he believed Mr Blair did “the right thing” in what was “clearly the most difficult decision of his life” and “one that he is going to have to live with for the rest of his life”. But he admitted the aftermath of the invasion was not “as well planned as it should have been”.
Mr Campbell told the BBC’s Sunday AM programme that he felt partly responsible for the death of Dr David Kelly, the government scientist who committed suicide after being the source of a BBC story claiming that Downing Street “sexed up” a dossier about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.
He described it as “the worst period of my life” with the possible exception of family deaths and his own breakdown in the mid-Eighties. “It was like a collision course that perhaps we all should all have seen coming,” he said.
“I was a player in a series of events that somehow or other led to a man deciding he had to kill himself. I can defend every single thing that I did, and every single thing that I said. But we all of us have to accept that as that was happening there was stuff going on that frankly was leading people, leading that particular individual David Kelly, to feel despair.”
Mr Campbell admitted he was “raging” at the time, but only because of the seriousness of the allegation “of deliberately lying, falsifying intelligence, so that the prime minister could persuade Parliament and the country to go to war on a lie”. Mr Campbell admitted that he was an aggressive character who got “very, very angry” with the media and that he had regrets over the way he became the story.
* Three British soldiers died in Iraq in as many days over the weekend. Rifleman Edward Vakabua, 23, of 4th Battalion The Rifles, died in an accident at the Basra Palace base in the centre of the southern city on Friday.
L/Cpl Ryan Francis, 23, of the 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh, was killed when his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in Basra’s Hay al-Mudhara district early on Saturday. A third soldier, of the 3 Regiment Royal MP, died yesterday after suffering serious injuries in the same operation, the Ministry of Defence said.
The thoughts of Alastair Campbell
Bill Clinton [The then US President accuses Campbell of briefing against him as Blair presses him to deploy ground troops in Kosovo]
MAY 18, 1999: He [Clinton] said it may play well with the UK media and public but “there is a price to pay and you will pay it.”
May 19, 1999: TB said BC’s outburst was “real, red-hot anger”… it had to be understood he could not be briefed against like this.
Blair on Thatcher
AUGUST 30, 2000: TB said it was important I understood why parts of Thatcherism were right. TB said [to his advisers]: “What gives me real edge is that I’m not as Labour as you lot.” I pointed out that was a rather discomfiting observation. He said it was true.
Blair’s departure [Blair originally planned to serve only two terms as Prime Minister]
July 11, 2002: He [Blair] said: “In truth I’ve never really wanted to do more than two full terms.” The big question was … does it give him an authority of sorts, or does it erode that authority, and do people just move towards GB?
Princess Diana [Campbell meets the Princess]
May 4, 1995: “It would make a very funny picture if there were any paparazzi in those trees,” she said. TB was standing back and Cherie was looking impatient and I was just enjoying flirting with her.
[After the Princess is involved in a car crash in Paris]
August 30, 1997: He [Blair] was really shocked. I don’t think I’d ever heard him like this. He was full of pauses, then gabbling a little but equally clear what we had to do …
Northern Ireland [The first visit to Downing Street by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness]
December 11, 1997: TB said he would not be a persuader for a united Ireland. The principle of consent was central to the process. Adams said if TB could not be a persuader, he could be a facilitator.
Paddy Ashdown [Like Gordon Brown, Tony Blair planned to bring Paddy Ashdown, then leader of the Liberal Democrats, into his Cabinet]
April 26, 1997: He [Blair] stunned me straight out with the boldest plan yet. “How would people feel if I gave Paddy a place in the Cabinet and started merger talks.” He had the Clause 4 glint in his eye. He was making a cup of tea, and chuckling. “We could put the Tories out of business for a generation.”
9/11 attacks [Blair was due to address the TUC annual conference in Brighton when news of the attacks on the Twin Towers emerged]
September 11, 2001: I turned on the TV and said to TB he ought to watch it. We didn’t watch that long, but long enough for TB to reach the judgement about just how massive this was. TB was straight onto the diplomatic side, said that we had to help the US, that they could not go it all on their own, and that this would be tantamount to a military attack in their minds.
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