May 25, 2011

Scores, Wars and Media Whores: The Genius of Hindsight

As the UK announced the departure of its last few military personnel from Iraq this week, a former general has been telling the press how he knew all along that the "evidence" for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction resources was unreliable.  Maj Gen Michael Laurie, who was head of the Defence Intelligence Staff at the time, claims that Tony Blair's PR guru, Alastair Campbell, distorted the famous "dossier" of evidence to make the case for war.  Oo-er.

The thing is, Maj Gen Laurie, you either thought it was right, or you didn't.  Eight years on since the invasion of Iraq strikes me as a strange time to decide that the information you and your colleagues put together for the Government, and indeed the world to see, wasn't right.  The same can be said of Sir John Scarlett, who was chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee at the Cabinet Office:  Having overseen the compilation of intelligence material from all agencies into a single picture for the Prime Minister, one might have thought he might be held at least partly responsible for that picture's being entirely inaccurate.  Instead, he was given a less central,  less demanding position in 2004 - head of MI6!  During several years in that role, and since, Scarlett has hinted more than once that he never believed in the case for Iraq's continued possession of, or intent to use, WMD.  But he, like Laurie, is eight years too late in saying so.

An inquiry after the war into the catastrophic intelligence failures, concluded that "Scarlett should not be expected to resign".  But why not?  Or perhaps more importantly, why hadn't he and Laurie done so before the war?  As these former intelligence "experts" who compiled the case for war in Iraq would now have us think that they never believed in it, why weren't they resigning on a point of principle?  Even politicians do that!  If Laurie says he was pressured to "make the case for war" by Alastair Campbell, why didn't he complain?  Was he such a shy little major general, to be bullied by a former Daily Mirror columnist?  OK, to be fair, Campbell has a reputation as a tough guy, but having met him myself once and even received a thank you letter afterwards, I don't quite buy it.  And either way, where are the General's principles in serving his nation?  Did he really help send tens of thousands of his fellow soldiers into war while not mentioning to anyone that he thought it was a mistake?  Did he hell.

So all the spooks are saying they knew all along that it was a mistake and they didn't believe their own intelligence reports.  Right.  But they are nothing on the venerable Dr Hans Blix.  The former chief UN weapons inspector was asked to say, or not say, one thing in January 2003: a resolution had been passed, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter (the one that authorises force), saying that there would be "serious consquences" for Iraq (i.e. war), unless Mr Blix reported the "full, final and complete" disclosure of what Iraq had done with the weapons it used to have.  Hold that thought for a second.  

Ever since he left his post, Dr Blix has been tarting around the media all over the world, explaining how he always knew Iraq didn't have any WMD any more.  So what did he do when he had to report back to the Security Council?  Why, he stood up and said "I cannot say that Iraq's disclosure on WMD is either full, final or complete".  Did he know that meant war?  Of course he did.  And did he mention in the speech that despite that, he was sure there weren't actually any weapons left?  Well no he didn't.  Not until after the war had started.  Blix, Laurie, Scarlett and however many others: what should we think of you? You could have said what you thought, blown your whistles or resigned like gentlemen in January 2003, but instead choose to pretend to be wise in hindsight every year since. Liars? Media whores, cowards, or just hypocrites?

And they're not alone.  There was another nice instance of retrospective wisdom and morality recently, again involving some western folk: the awarding of the FIFA World Cup for 2018 and 2022, to Russia and Qatar respectively.  The reaction to that was accusations by Lord Triesman and others from England, and the redoubtable Chuck Blazer from the USA, alleging that the whole process for awarding the tournament is corrupt.  Some have even suggested that FIFA in general is corrupt (I supposed putting it in Switzerland at least gives Executive Committee members an excuse to drop in on their numbered bank accounts).  Now personally, and having been involved peripherally in England's disastrous bid for the 2006 World Cup, I have an opinion as to why Russia and Qatar won: it could be because they were clearly the best, most imaginative, and most committed bids.  

However, that's not the point.  The US lost out to Qatar, a little country, where it is rumoured the population consists of wealthy ragheads who don't go to church.  And England lost out to Russia, despite its not being England.  And neither the Americans nor the English were happy about it.  "Corruption" they cry!  There's no transparency! No accountability!  The system is rotten!  Which begs the question then: why did they go along with it?  If the system's rotten, not transparent, not accountable and the other bid teams are paying bribes to  corrupt members of the Committee, why on earth would you even think about trying to participate?  

Because, one way or another, they hoped to win.  Whether it's former generals or football officials there seems to be a common trait among men of influence in the modern world - never mind the truth while life is still sweet.  Never mind the system.  Never mind the ethics.  It's not crooked if you can still win.  And it's not wrong and it's not worth questioning, until you're safe with your pension and already know the answer, or you've already lost or retired and can prostitute your retrospective genius to the eager media.  Once the blame game is well underway, having someone involved stick a knife in someone else is always going to sell newspapers.

So everything is fine until you screw it up.  But when you do, the system's to blame, you knew all along, and someone will pay you to say it.  Well that's alright then.


Reality please said...


Many of us protested the entry into war but with little support - I would like this group, with Blair at its head to be tried for the murder of every soldier who has died in this meaningless conflict (and I would extend this right up to the Libyan exercise).

As for FIFA - there have been rumours of corruption for years and years. Playing World Cup football in Qatar in the summer I would ony accept after a tournament played in Iceland in mid winter. The shock was nothing to do with the awesome bid, it was the unsuitability of the locations.

The Linoleum Surfer said...

Many protested...about 2% of the voting public. Yet 80% subsequently voted for a political party that had supported it. You get what you vote for. What grates is those who were involved claiming to be wiser after the event than they really were.

As for "Lord" Blair, he isn't going to be prosecuted any more than Gordon Brown's going to be setting up a direct debit to pay back the national debt out of his pension.

Re. the World Cup: Yeah, Qatar's hot. But unlike, say, Mexico in 86 where the temperature was also over 40 degrees, and at altitude too, the Qataris can be trusted to spend the money they promised and deliver their climate controlled stadia: Unlike England, whose government immediately before the voting by FIFA had halved its own olympic funding and broken its pledge about the future of the olympic stadium - happily stiffed the IOC, why should FIFA have better expectations? Add in that Russia and Qatar both offered new stadia ("possibly four" from England, maybe none), new markets (England is the oldest and richest), brand new transport infrastructure completely free to fans (no new British transport, full price train from Plymouth to Newcastle) and a meaningful legacy of stadia for developing countries (vague pledge to "share experience" from England) was just coming from a mile away. And anyway, whatever the merits of the bids or the size of the bribes, all the "requests for favours" etc that are now being aired took place before the vote, and what did they FA say then? They said FA...and would have stayed silent if they won. Hypocrites.