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John Rentoul

John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, and visiting fellow at Queen Mary, University of London, where he teaches contemporary history. Previously he was chief leader writer for The Independent. He has written a biography of Tony Blair, whom he admired more at the end of his time in office than he did at the beginning.

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Dishonourable Self-Deception

Posted by John Rentoul
  • Tuesday, 2 February 2010 at 10:21 pm
I like and admire Clare Short. (I really do, even if we all know that there is going to be a "but".) She was a passionate, effective and forceful Secretary of State, creating and directing a new department.

All the sadder, then, that she should be reduced to today's appalling refusal to take responsibility for anything for which she has ever been responsible. Her evidence to the Chilcot inquiry, which has been lapped up by the BBC bulletins all day although she has said it all before, ever since her final change of mind three or four years ago, is a rewriting of history.

She changed her mind after she voted for the war. This was an important decision; so important that if she had doubts about the legal position, which was much debated at the time, she could have acquainted herself with the facts. Instead of leaving it to the Cabinet three days before the invasion. When she was "jeered at", she says. That is a feeble excuse.

She was then responsible for much of Britain's part in managing post-invasion Iraq. If the main justifiable criticism of Tony Blair and the Government is that it failed to plan adequately for the occupation, she ought to bear a heavy responsibility. If we planned for a humanitarian crisis instead of a breakdown of security, she is implicated. Instead, she found a pretext to resign and has been rewriting history ever since.

First she accused Blair of an "honourable deception", but put a question mark after the title of her memoir. Later, she rewrote history again (despite having actually written it in a book) and dropped not just the question mark but the "honourable". Today, she just accused Blair of deceit.

It is a sad and dishonourable end, lashing out and abusing others rather than take responsibility for her decisions that she now regrets.


Short petty and immature
mikeclark1 wrote:
Tuesday, 2 February 2010 at 11:26 pm (UTC)
Good points, John.

Short’s criticism are all about minor process points. It’s hardly very damning. She claims the AG misled here. But it was well known that there were different opinions about 1441 – she didn’t need the AG to tell her that – and what the AG advises might happen at a court is different from giving his own final opinion of the legality.

Her other great claim of lies is that Tony Blair told her the UN would be involved after the invasion and there was going to be a Palestinian state. Now, it was always clear that Mr Blair wanted more UN involvement after the war, but it again was fairly obvious that this might not happen to the extent that he desired. Everybody knew the Bush administration’s views on such things. And as for a Palestinian state, again Blair lobbied hard for this and did get Bush to sit down with Abbas and Sharon, but such a process can never be guaranteed. It’s nonsense to say this was some big lie.

This is very weak from Short. It’s of a completely lower order to the claims of others who assert Blair invented the whole threat and lied over the big issues. Simon Hoggart sums up her evidence very well – it’s petty and immature.
Short is a smear merchant
mikeclark1 wrote:
Tuesday, 2 February 2010 at 11:29 pm (UTC)
There has been some speculation around that Short is not taken seriously by some just because she comes across as an old fishman’s wife, sexism blah blah.

I disagree. The fact that she can present these petty issues as “big lies” with a straight face, and has no embarrassment about her own behaviour, makes her more dangerous. She was bascially allowed to speculate today about her theories without being able to produce any evidence. She has no honour and does not care if people call her bitter. This means she will just blurt out opinions as if she was talking at the dry cleaners and can get away with saying things that others could not. She’s a walking smear merchant.
Passing the buck
bob_idle wrote:
Tuesday, 2 February 2010 at 11:53 pm (UTC)
So now you are trying to make out that Clare Short was responsible for the lack of security in Post War Iraq?

In her ministerial role Clare Short was involved in the planning of humanitarian considerations after the invasion (food, water, medication, doctors) but her department was not responsible for providing security.

She has said the Geneva conventions require an occupying power to provide humanitarian aid (which was her departments responsibility) and to keep order (which was not).

The UN which could have taken a lead in the post-war security was cut out by the Americans who wanted to bypass it in their rush to war.

Tony Blair has admitted that his planning was based on wrong assumptions.

1. He assumed that no outside forces such as Al Qaeda would intervene to add to the instability created by the toppling of the regime.

2. He assumed that there would still be a stable and functioning civil service in Iraq after the fall of Saddam.

Neither of these things have anything to do with Clare Short. In fact, her letters published on the official enquiry website show that she tried to warn the PM he should not rely on "naive assumptions that there will be no major problems and that conflict will be swift".

It has been pointed out by a military chief that there were much fewer soldiers per head of the population in post-war Iraq than there were in Belfast during the troubles. That's why it was impossible to keep order. Clare Short was not at all responsible for that side of things.


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