The Sketch: Americans knew us better than we knew ourselves

Simon Carr
Friday 04 December 2009 01:00
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There was one gesture from Sir Kevin towards the end; a small, placating, slightly circular sort of gesture across his arm to Lord Boyce (who'd just said that the Yanks' Iraq troop commitment had been "anorexic"). "We certainly encouraged them to have a maximum coalition effort," he said before adding: "That perhaps is the way round it."

There were some big things in yesterday's evidence but it's the little things that last. "That perhaps is the way round it" was a highlight for Sir Kevin Tebbit, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence. It was very nearly a flawless performance – we still need a better way round the lack of a second resolution. He said it didn't matter in the end because it was the result of "unreasonable behaviour by the Security Council". That needs more work. He'd been running interference on Lord Boyce, who'd had a number of frank things to say. "We kept telling the Americans how important to us the UN and Parliament were but there was a complete reluctance to believe us. 'We know you have to say that but come the day you'll be there.'" That's what the Americans said – and how right they were. They knew us better than we knew ourselves.

Boyce also said our Minister of Defence (he was called Geoff Hoon) had held up war preparations by forbidding him from speaking to the US chief of defence logistics – it would be "unhelpful" in getting another UN resolution. It was also quite unhelpful in getting the right kit into the right place at the right time.

And in another victory for Armando Iannucci's film In The Loop, a certain senior US official, Mr Myers, had to be briefed on US policy by him (Boyce) because Rumsfeld wouldn't talk to him. Richard Myers was chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. Sir Kevin had more than one Rolls-Royce moment. His explanation for why some troops didn't have the body armour they wanted finished with the words: "That is not the same as saying they didn't have what they wanted." He'll do well under the Tories.

And indeed, he summarised the case for Blair in a way that looks impregnable. Here it is: "The PM was satisfied the disarmament of Saddam Hussein was the single most important thing to do. It should be through arms control and the UN. And only if that became impossible should it be done by military force."

Some believe there was a deal "signed in blood" between Bush and Blair, without notes or witnesses, that Bush determined on war and Blair went with him regardless, resulting in (who knows?) half a million deaths. But Sir Kevin's case will live forever under the epitaph: "That, perhaps, is the way round it."

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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