For a moment – one of those temporal intervals loved by Jacques Chirac and despised by the neocon rabble of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz – I thought better of dwelling on the Iraq business. But then, Big Al has gone into excuse-o-matic mode following his live car crash on yesterday’s Andy Marr Show, so I’m going to dwell anyway.
Campbell is clearly sore about his coming off second best in what he might have hoped would be a relatively softball session with Marr. And he’s particularly taxed by the figure of 600,000 Iraqi dead pitched by his inquisitor. Big Al points to the vastly improved child mortality figures for the country, but I feel he protests too much.
Behind the arguments deployed by Campbell and former boss Tony Blair to the Chilcot enquiry is the idea that the UK’s involvement in the 2003 invasion had some kind of inevitability to it. It did not. I accept that the Bush administration was hell bent on military action, a course taken alongside widespread and flagrant misinformation put before the American people, falsely connecting the Ba’athist régime to al-Qaeda and to the 11th September attacks on the USA.
However, the idea that we needed to accompany the US into Iraq is fatuous – and there is a significant parallel here, that being the escalation of the war in Vietnam. Lyndon Johnson, whose Presidency was brought low by his inability to curb the military, wanted the UK not merely to sound supportive, which they did, but to commit troops, which they did not.
Johnson, a legendarily persuasive man, could not bring Harold Wilson round to his point of view, probably because Wilson could see the growing unpopularity of the war, and Roy Jenkins, his Chancellor of the Exchequer, had made clear that the country could not afford it. On a visit to Washington DC, Johnson invited Wilson to a White House dinner where he instructed the band to play “I got plenty of nothing”. He might as well not have bothered.
Having experienced the less than inspiring leadership on the economy shown by Wilson in the mid 70s, I never thought I would revise his stock upwards so many years later. But for keeping us out of Vietnam, he and Jenkins deserve our gratitude.
And Blair and Campbell should stop flannelling about the inevitability of war. For us it was not so.