Thursday, September 20, 2012

Alistair Campbell on the Iraq War

The following exchange took place at the Alastair Campbell, Book Launch, 'The Burden of Power: Countdown to Iraq - The Alastair Campbell Diaries' at Mile End Group meeting in June 2012:

John Strafford:
I opposed the war in Iraq.   I did so on the basis that if Saddam Hussain had weapons of mass destruction the most likely time for him to use them would be when he was attacked.   And if he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction then we shouldn’t be attacking him.   So did you take into account the danger of him using those weapons of mass destruction, the impact that they would have had, had he have used them, and what was it that convinced you it was worth the risk?

Alastair Campbell:
That was a very fair question.   I think there is a passage in the book, which even now every time I look at it, it slightly brings hairs up on the back of my neck.   I think Sally was there as well when we went to a briefing at the MOD, where they briefed us on the level of preparedness of British troops in the event of chemical and biological weapon attack.

This is why, whenever people say, “he did it for Bush, he did it for this, he did it for that”, I always say to them, “at least understand that he thought about every single possible ramification”.   And there was very detailed and very specific planning about what would have happened.   And indeed, when the parliamentary vote happened.   Its really funny going through the Cabinet Office process of what we can and can’t say. They still have this thing about you can’t say about the existence of special forces, even though you have hundreds of books out there about them.
The point is, I think a lot of the initial action was in relation to that as well so the fear, it was real.   It was absolutely real.   I think Tony said this when he went to the Chilcott Inquiry. That all of the things that we thought were going to happen and that we worried about didn’t happen and the things that did happen including Al-Quaeda piling in and the Iranians piling in and all the rest of it.
And we thought there was the makings of a civil service structure and it turned out there was a shell.   So all the things that we thought were going to happen, didn’t.   Saddam fell much more quickly I think than had been envisaged.   The attacks against the forces that we worried about didn’t materialize.   And so yes that was all thought about.
Going back to the nub of your question, he either had them, in which case, don’t provoke him or he didn’t in which case don’t attack him.   Tony’s view, absolutely, was that we all thought he had them.   Back to the MOD, there wasn’t a person in that room, who didn’t believe what was being said.   So he’s the Prime Minister, he’s not having to give an opinion, he’s not having to say yes or no in an opinion poll, he’s got to take a decision and I can remember him saying at various points, and Sally and I would have these discussions with him at various points, and I can remember one where Sally was there when I said: ‘look Tony, you do realize there is every chance this is going to be the end of you, don’t you. Is it really, really worth it? And he said: ‘its always worth doing what you think is the right thing and we have ignored Saddam for far too long and that includes Britain”. And that framed his management response to this the whole way through. 

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