The clumsy metal crowd-barriers going up all over central London are not the only barriers that have been erected in preparation for President Bush's arrival today. A thought-barrier is being created as well, with the sowing in official utterances of a new and pernicious cliché.
Have you noticed how everyone, from the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary downwards, is pleading with us to "move on"? Don't dwell on past differences, they tell us. Your bull-headed refusal to recognise realities only harms "the Iraqi people". What is needed now is a common approach to tackling the "difficult situation" we "all" face.
Far be it from me to spoil this party of amnesiacs, but the "difficult situation" did not exactly come about by itself, nor are we "all" implicated. Yet again, we need to ask the old question: precisely who stands to gain if we obediently agree to "move on"?
Not, I venture, the "Iraqi people", who are stuck with an ineffectual occupation which they are now, not unreasonably, resisting. Nor yet the forces of occupation, who are battling against the odds as they become embroiled in what is increasingly a guerrilla war.
No, there are only two groups whose immediate interests are served by "moving on", and these are the American and British governments. "Moving on" allows them to close off a host of uncomfortable subjects that have still not been thoroughly scrutinised, and must be examined if the necessary lessons are to be learned for the future. Just consider what "moving on" entails.
It means, first, that we close the book on the misjudgements that took us in to the war on Iraq, chief among them the assessment that Iraq presented an "imminent" threat to regional and global security. There is then no need to consider whether the intelligence was flawed, "sexed up" or just plain wrong from the start. It means that we can conveniently forget the non-discovery of those weapons of mass destruction.
WMD? What WMD? Those alarmist British government dossiers can now safely be pulped. Did the Government try to mislead Parliament? Was the Government itself misled, or was it all just a terrible lapse of judgement on the part of a Prime Minister panicked by the prospect of 11 Septembers bursting out all over? Well, don't worry your little heads about it. Move on.
"Moving on" means, second, that we can write off the Hutton inquiry as an engrossing academic exercise in open government, but nothing more. Rest In Peace, Dr Kelly. Your suicide was an unfortunate episode in which many people were implicated and for which no one was responsible. Not even the Prime Minister who, as we learned almost incidentally, chaired the meeting at which the "policy" on releasing your name was agreed. The administration of this country worked as it so often works: quietly, in secret and accountable to no one. But, hey, by the time the Hutton report is finally released, it will be last year's news. Move on.
"Moving on" means, third, that we can consign the splits in the United Nations and Europe to history, and claim that it was really we - the British and the Americans - who were upholding the international order.
So what if the doom-laden forecasts of the French, Germans, Russians and the rest turned out to be rather closer to what happened, than the sunny projections of Mssrs Bush and Blair? We were in the moral majority, weren't we, the new world and new Europe? Surely we can all be one happy family again. And if we can't, then it is all the fault of those supercilious French.
Our own government, it has to be said, offers an example to us all in the art of "moving on". Somehow it is contriving to pretend, at least for presentational purposes, that the British are hardly in Iraq at all. The pretence is assisted by geography - no reporters are based in the south - and by the relative lack of casualties, compared to those suffered by the Americans in and around Baghdad.
These factors alone, though, hardly explain the reluctance of officials to talk about Britain as the second member of the "coalition", to mention the (many) Britons working at "coalition headquarters" or to send any ministers on morale-boosting visits. When was the last time that Jack Straw or Geoff Hoon or even a junior minister even dipped a toe across the Iraqi border, let alone ventured to Baghdad? They, like the Prime Minister, have moved on.
President Bush has "moved on" in his own way, banning television cameras from filming the coffins returning from Iraq and staying away from military funerals. His recent Veterans' Day speech was a model of how not to become bogged down in the presentational business of war, however different the reality on the ground.
On Thursday, President Bush will lay a wreath at Westminster Abbey in memory of those killed in two world wars. We must hope that some of the dozens of poppy wreaths laid on Remembrance Sunday remain and that the lettering on the ribbons will still be clear enough for the leaders of both our countries to read.
"Lest we forget" is a motto that does not apply only to the last century's wars. It is as relevant, and as salutary, today as it was at any time in the past.Reuse content