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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.

"The Independent's must-read man" - Daniel Finkelstein

You can contact John in the comments area or email him at j.rentoul@independent.co.uk

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Here we go again

Posted by John Rentoul
  • Thursday, 12 March 2009 at 09:58 pm
Yes, we get it. You did not agree with the war. Another conspiracist Freedom of Information anti-war special. Apparently some emails that were disclosed to the Hutton and Butler enquiries,* but not published at the time, say much the same as emails that were published.

One that seems to have the Stoppers particularly excited is from Desmond Bowen, head of the Cabinet Office defence secretariat, to John Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, saying: "The question which we have to have in the back of our mind is 'why now?'"

Funny, that. It was the same question asked by that great opponent of the war, Alastair Campbell. His diary for 3 September 2002 records that "we went through some of the hard questions on Iraq" before Tony Blair's monthly news conference in Sedgefield. "The hardest was, 'Why now? What was it that we knew now that we didn’t before that made us believe we had to do it now?'"

Interestingly, it was a question that was best answered by the sainted hero of the anti-war faction, David Kelly. His sister, Sarah Pape, gave evidence to the Hutton Inquiry:

The only other thing that we have not covered, although I know other people have mentioned it, was my brother’s attitude to the second Gulf War. Certainly I myself, and my husband, and I know from conversations my younger brother, we were not convinced of the need for war now. We could not understand: why now? Why not last year? Why not next year? Why now? And in discussions that we have had since my brother died we have realised that each of us changed our minds before the war itself actually happened and that we attributed our change in mind to individual conversations that we had with my brother. I actually thought he would agree with me that there was no new indication for war. I knew that he felt that the sanctions had hurt the Iraqi people very hard but had not made that much difference to Iraq’s ability to produce weapons of mass destruction, and I was very surprised when he was absolutely and utterly convinced that there was almost certainly no solution, other than a regime change, which was unlikely to happen peacefully, and regrettably would require military action to enforce it. He explained it in detail that I probably did not understand at the time, in a very convincing way, and made me realise that the war was not only inevitable but that it was entirely justified in the light of what the Iraqi regime could produce in the future. I know my husband, when we were talking about this, said that he had said to my brother: “Oh, but surely if they just relax a bit and give Saddam Hussein enough rope, he will hang himself.” My brother said: “That is absolutely what we cannot do because if you had any idea of the consequence of what he might do if we take our eye off the situation, it would affect many, many people, civilians quite likely, and it would just be unacceptable to allow that to happen.
 
*According to the BBC report: "The Cabinet Office said the documents had been made available to the Hutton and Butler inquiries which examined the government's use of intelligence in the run-up to the war."
 

Comments

Why now? Regime change?
zansal wrote:
Friday, 13 March 2009 at 08:05 am (UTC)
I don't remember "Regime Change" being used at the time to justify "why now?".

Kelly knew in his heart that the problem was not Iraq but the Hussein Regime. Kelly also knew that over time Hussein would become more powerful, not less.

However, the US & UK Governments invented and changed intelligence to make it look like Hussein was connected to the 9/11 attacks, was procuring nuclear technology and had WMD ready to fire at Israel and the UK.

This "sexed up" information was used to render obsolete those assurances that UN SCR 1441 would not be used for pre-emptive military action.

For a long time now Blair has denied political interference in the intelligence gathering and reporting process and used the Hutton inquiry findings as proof of this.

Now, from these secret emails, we know that the UK Gov. did interfere in the process and the dossier was definitely "sexed up".

If anything Blair, Campbell etc. at the least owe the BBC an apology.

A full Iraq Inquiry will happen. As soon as the next Conservative Government is formed. And if there is any justice people like Blair will be held to account.

Any rational and objective person with no agenda would acknowledge that the UK & US Government acted without a UN mandate, engaged in pre-emptive military action without clear authorisation from the international community and without any clear and present danger of attack from Iraq on UK or US interests.
kassto wrote:
Friday, 13 March 2009 at 10:43 pm (UTC)
John, have you written an article giving a general evaluation of the Iraq War that is available online?
General evaluation
j_rentoul wrote:
Saturday, 14 March 2009 at 11:49 am (UTC)
Come to think of it, no. I wrote this on the eve of the 2005 election about the leak of the Attorney General's detailed legal advice:
http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/john-rentoul/john-rentoul-beware-the-playground-chants-of-liar-liar-526760.html
Since then I have tried, without much success, to prevent exaggerated estimates for the post-invasion death toll in Iraq from becoming widely accepted:
http://johnrentoul.independentminds.livejournal.com/19018.html
And I do think that the hopeful signs from Iraq over the past year or 18 months are beginning to change the long-term calculus.
I am gearing up to produce a fuller assessment for the Queen Mary course on the Blair Government, and will post about it when ready. Meanwhile I can only recommend the chapter "A Just War" by Ted Bromund in The Blair Legacy, edited by Terrence Casey, published in January.
Re: General evaluation
kassto wrote:
Saturday, 14 March 2009 at 09:46 pm (UTC)
Thanks, John. Getting a sane view on issues that have become deeply entrenched orthodoxy is damned hard.
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