I watched most of this morning’s TB session on the Iraq inquiry website. I don’t know who put the site together but I wished we’d had more of them around when I was doing government communications. It is clear, simple and very well designed.
It also means it is possible to watch a screen freed from the clutter of broadcasters who seem to think the public’s attention span is as a gnattish as theirs. I’m all for twitter as one form of communication, but I’m not sure we need the running commentary of reporters, or the constant reminders of what has already been said.
I said when this inquiry first started that some people will never believe that there was a case for the war in Iraq, and will always believe that there was some duplicity or conspiracy behind the decision to go to war.
There was nothing said this morning that I haven’t heard many times before, but for me the most important part of the procedings was when TB pointed out that ultimately this was a judgement that he as Prime Minister had to make.
The inquiry is rightly going over all the key moments in the decision-making processes involved, and pointing out that at every turn, different options could have been pursued and different decisions taken. That is the nature of any walk of life, but perhaps especially politics and international statesmanship.
It is clear from the blanket coverage, here and abroad, the all day trending on twitter, and the volume of traffic to news sites, that his appearance will generate millions of comments, but ultimately there are only two views. He made the right judgement. Or he made the wrong judgement.
Many of those who think he made the wrong judgement may express themselves more violently, and frankly nothing said today is likely ever to move them from the position they hold.
As someone who thinks he made the right judgement, and as someone who saw all the processes that led to him making it, I think what today has shown so far is that he was fully seized of the enormity of the decision, but that ultimately the security and strategic interests of the UK left him with no option but to take the course he did.
Too much of this debate is conducted in black or white terms. Political and diplomatic judgements are rarely black and white. But those who say he was wrong, let alone those who say he is evil, or a liar, or any of the other insults bandied around by opponents, at least have to acknowledge the ‘what if’ question that he posed this morning. What if Saddam had been left unchecked, continuing to defy the UN and face down the world, and what if he had continued to develop and one day use – as he had before – a WMD programme? Judgements are rarely black and white. Nor are unintended consequences. There would have been consequences to inaction too.