So, Sir John Chilcot’s report is going to be “four times as long as War and Peace”, is it? My weariness comes not with the cliché, credited to the usual tiresome “officials”, never mind the insult to poor old Tolstoy. The implication is that the Russian novel is so massive, its characters so many, its historical sweep so vast, its very length so awesome, that we can scarcely grasp its importance. But it’s the wrong book.
True, Saddam idolised a Russian leader (Stalin), but there were no Napoleons in Iraq, whatever Generals Petraeus and McCrystal might think.
We could, perhaps, turn to Tolstoy’s forgotten little masterpiece Hadji Murat, inspired by the author’s experience as a soldier in what is now Chechnya – a novel whose Muslim separatist rebel hero ends up, naturally enough, getting his head chopped off, in this case by some very angry Russian soldiers. But that’s really only a short story.
Surely it’s far more accurate to say that Chilcot’s 2.6 million words will be more than four times as long as the Old Testament. First, the titanic events of that great volume take place in the Middle East, in some cases on the lands that constitute the very same Iraq which we shamefully invaded in 2003. The narrative of the Old Testament is therefore set on familiar territory.
And only this Biblical epic of lies, cruelty, mass killing, ethnic cleansing, enslavement and betrayal comes anywhere close to the story of deceit, genocidal murder and criminality with which Sir John has been wrestling these past seven years.
Mind you, we’re not going to get the story of the war, just Britain’s role. Thus, I fear, save for our comparatively few British dead, the hundreds of thousands of equally worthy but dead Iraqis – give or take half a million – will be cast by the wayside.
I will look for a few tell-tale strands of history. What, for example, of those “conversations with Israelis”, to which Blair made such an intriguing allusion when he talked about the critical pre-invasion meeting with George W Bush at the latter’s Crawford ranch, a reference which Chilcot and his chums either overlooked or chose to ignore during the original hearings?
But yes, we will be able to forget for a few days the vast fires which now embrace almost the entire Middle East and the question of which particular criminal incendiary lit those fires, and once more hunker down to the familiar minutiae of 45-minute warnings and rulings from the Attorney General and fake intelligence reports and “weapons of mass destruction” – a phrase which, when you come to think of it, does have a rather Old Testament ring about it.
But we know what Blair’s going to do after he’s read the whole shebang (if he hasn’t already), because he revealed this very pointedly to Andrew Marr at the weekend: “By the way, the thing that will be important when it [publication] does happen [sic] is that we have then a full debate, and I look forward to participating in that.”
So there you have it. Already this wretched man has decided that Chilcot’s Old Testament will be up for “debate” – a “full debate” no less – and that only then will we be able to decide whether this massive government enquiry actually measures up to Blair’s high standards of probity and due diligence or whether it needs further embellishment. Whether, in fact, it needs a vast addendum which, no doubt, will be written. Thus, Blair promises his “participation”, a revelation which had me gasping.
Until I realised. After it’s all over, in an effort to cast doubt on the Old Testament – and to construct the killer adjective ‘controversial’ around it – we’re going to be given the New Testament according to Saint Tony. This may not be a written text, more a collection of stories handed down by apostles, generation after generation, only later formed into a codex.
Many of these scriptures are already known to us, of course and this will be shorter volume, infinitely humane and humble in spirit, a quality which Saint Tony has never had in short supply. And it will tell a simple story: the unforgettable tale of a hidden, lone Messiah, scorned by his own people; misunderstood, mocked, scourged by his enemies, tried and eventually martyred.
The latter may be a bit too much for Saint Tony, but I suppose political martyrdom will have to do. He was despised and we esteemed him not.
Nonetheless, it will be a continuing story of love, piety and individual conscience, one whose author still insists on his innocence and of the importance of the work he has done, and who goes on and on and on and on repeating himself until – yes, finally, in infinite exhaustion – we shall accept that he has told the Truth, that he was, despite all the vales of grief, truly wise and brave and honest to destroy Satan, without whom we are all far better off.
Saint Tony’s New Testament will survive forever. Eventually, perhaps only hundreds of years after his death, it will supplant the Old Testament and come to be accepted as the true gospel.
There’s just one problem. The Old Testament is not over. The ethnic cleansing continues and the slaughter goes on along with the flight of refugees across the seas for whom, alas, the waters do not part.
And George Senior begat Bill, and Bill begat George W, and George W begat Barack, and Barack begat…
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