Mark Steel: They believed what suited them, and ignored what didn't

Iraq evidence was collected only to back a decision already made

Share
Related Topics

If you want to understand the details of how we went to war in Iraq, it is probably best not to watch a single moment of the Chilcot inquiry. Because the most glaring points of the big picture seem to get lost, amidst genteel discussions about whose note was at which meeting using which font at what angle.

If there'd been an inquiry like this into how the Second World War started, you'd have had reporters telling us, "The discussion today centred around whether there were seven or eight people present at Germany's decision to invade Poland. Hitler said the confusion might be because Goebbels was there at the start, but had to leave to edit a documentary about improvements in the Post Office."

But a judgement of whether the government lied in the months before the war can't be made without seeing the wider context, in which a decision had already been taken to support the war. So they were desperate to present a case for why we had to take part, and Saddam's weapons of mass destruction appeared the most persuasive. From then on, any snippet from anywhere that backed that case was proclaimed as evidence, and anything that refuted it, no matter how convincing, was ignored. So they announced Saddam had bought uranium from Africa, because someone had seen it on the internet. And included in their dossier evidence that appears to have come from an Iraqi taxi driver, who said he overheard ministers discussing their weapons.

But they ignored Hans Blix, who said he'd found no conclusive evidence, because unlike a reliable source such as a taxi driver or the internet, he was just the chief bloody United Nations sodding bloody weapons inspector, that's all.

If Alastair Campbell had got his way the dossier would probably have included other sections such as "The compelling testimony of Mr Dipworth, who said he saw Saddam personally buying plutonium at a car boot sale", before it emerged this was in a dream he had after eating three packets of Cheesy Wotsits. Or "The evidence of Mr Justin Toper, astrologer for The Sun, who said quite explicitly, 'This is a good time to confront old foes, as they may be hiding something massive'."

Yet Tony Blair said, "I have no doubt Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, no doubt, absolutely no doubt at all." The line they all follow is that they sincerely believed that, which is possible, but not one of them appears to have considered the evidence impartially or they would have had doubts.

We can all be mistakenly certain; I was once sincerely convinced that Doug Mountjoy had been 1978 world snooker champion runner-up, but as various lists and books were presented displaying this to be wrong, I started to have my doubts. But for Blair, the evidence wasn't collected in order to make a judgement, it was only accepted if it backed the decision already made.

Part of the government's defence for going to war is that "everybody" believed Saddam had these weapons, so how were they to know different? But the main reason why many people did believe this, was the government kept saying it. It's like running into a pub and screaming "Fire, for God's sake get out NOW." Then afterwards when everyone's outside and there's clearly no fire, you say, "You can't blame me, everyone else believed it as well."

Or there's the debâcle of the 45 minutes, which was revealed as the time it would take Saddam to launch his deadly weapons. So every newspaper was covered in stories and graphs showing how he could incinerate British bases in 45 minutes before it turned out much later that this only referred to the time it would take to launch his normal battlefield weapons, which any army could do. San Marino could probably get their army together in that time, if they could just find the key to the shed, so maybe we should invade them next.

The government knew exactly what they were doing, and none of them said, "Hang on, you've got this wrong." Similarly, if Blair really believed that Saddam's weapons were the reason for war, and that war could be averted if Saddam complied with the UN inspectors, then subsequently when it was discovered that there weren't any such weapons, why didn't Blair say, "Oh my God, what a mistake. I wouldn't have backed this war if I'd known. Wait till I get hold of that taxi driver."

For months they did all they could to create the impression Saddam had weapons that made him an immediate threat, as they calculated that this was the best way to sell a war they'd decided to have whether he possessed such weapons or not.

And that, if the word is to have any meaning at all, is a lie.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The handling of the tragic deaths of Bobby and Christi Shepherd in 2006 by Thomas Cook was appalling  

Thomas Cook case was a failure of heart

Danny Rogers
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine