The Sketch: Those were the days, when clarity was still a virtue

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The Independent Online

Our guest was a little late yesterday, allowing us time to sit quietly and reflect on the Iraq inquiry.

The heroes of the last couple of days have been the news writers. They've found headlines and stories where we amateurs can only see evasions, qualifications and things already known. We pay tribute to their determination, their courage, their professionalism. They will never be forgotten.

So, the committee has a year to report. Is that a long time? Not when Chilcot says things like: "This is a parenthetical question, so in some sense doesn't deserve an answer." The months will fly by.

Our guest arrived at last. Had he been having his voice implant fixed by the Foreign Office? While the Official Secrets Act has force, we'll never know. It was Sir Christopher Meyer, ambassador to Washington in the run-up to the war. He's the sort of Englishman who makes you like Englishmen, and that's not as easy as it used to be.

He has a lively, direct way about him – and it was very pleasant to hear one ex-ambassador swearing at another. Sir Roderic Lyne chided him for detaining us with a George Bush speech and the fact they couldn't hear whether Bush talked of "a resolution" or "resolutions". Sir Roderic: "That's just a detail." Sir Christopher: "Christ, the devil is in the details!"

Yes, the trigger for war, for instance, that was a detail that hadn't been detailed enough, as half a million dead would testify if only they could. I don't think Meyer said anything new. So the committee was acting as a sort of book club.

There was much of interest. Especially his official telegrams that are missing. More or less every time he went to find his records, they weren't there. Then there was the British national interest. Blair not using his leverage. No useful undertakings on Israel/Palestine. "I sometimes wondered what Mrs Thatcher would have done," Sir Christopher said, to laughter. "She would have demanded clarity." Those were the days, when clarity was a virtue.

The committee seem to be rambling towards the idea that Blair's understanding of national interest was to keep us close to the US to preserve our "special relationship". But there is the shocking idea that could hardly occur to these pride-of-place Privy Councillors. Blair would do anything to keep close to the US so that Tories couldn't occupy political space closer to the White House than his own.

"Wretches hang that jurymen may dine," Alexander Pope wrote. The modern rendering is: "Squaddies die for Tony Blair's positioning." (Work needed on the scansion.)

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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