Simon Carr: You can catch an eel by the tail but it can still bite you in the face


What an eel he is. You can't keep a hold of him.

Oh, but the energy of the fellow, the memory, the capacity, the capability, the survival instinct. And the hands! They should be set to music, the way he uses them; the gestures are so big you want to shout at him: "I'm not deaf!" He's got a new big forefinger – as he wags it at us, it quivers slightly with certainty and sincerity.

He can contradict himself with such solidity it's hard to see the sleight involved. He's asked whether he agrees with a proposition that he probably doesn't. "Absolutely," he says, "in this sense." That's called keeping your options open. He likes to do that. It means you can do something or its opposite and still have a clear conscience.

He rested his legal case for war on the novel idea of being able to ignore "an unreasonable veto" at the UN. Asked how that worked, he said it wasn't a legal point he was making but a political one. You catch an eel by the tail but it can still bite your face.

His arguments are powerful, interlinked and interlocked. And when they're not it doesn't matter. Then he produces an entirely unrelated series of facts, assertions or a medley of previous hits.

Chilcot asked whether he was aware that Goldsmith "felt discouraged" about giving his legal advice that the existing UN Resolution 1441 wasn't enough to go to war on.

Eventually his reply got to the words: "I should say something about my relationship with the Attorney General's office: 20 or 30 years ago..." But by then no one remembered the question he'd been asked. He is never going to give short answers by choice – he will never behave like a man in the dock. The inquiry hasn't found a way to deal with that.

He does seem to be mainstreaming his account a little more these days. He is free with talk of regime change now in a way he never was at the time.

Maybe in a decade he will be able to give his nothing-new-here account of the death of David Kelly.

It's on the subject of Iran that he can make his critics short of breath. "At some point," he said, "the West has got to get out of its wretched posture of apology." Oh yes, our lie-down-and-take-it-up-the-tailpipe attitude. It was almost as though we hadn't killed half a million Middle Eastern Muslims in the past decade.

He said that al-Qa'ida was deliberately destabilising Iraq (what cheaters they are). The appetite for terror and war goes deeper into Islam than people will admit – he said – and it has to be confronted. Or... Or what? It's unsayable yet, but when the time comes, it'll be unspeakable.

He stands by every word, every action, every impulse. So he has to attack the future on the same premises as the past. To do anything else would be an admission of guilt, or error. That is something he's never done.

But to go through life never doing anything wrong – for that to work, you have to adjust the whole world around you to keep yourself in the right. That way madness lies.