Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bad news served over Kool-Aid









Turning to London where the Iraq Inquiry is in the midst of a busy week. Yesterday they heard from Tony Blair's Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell and today they heard from Sec of Defence (2001-2005) Geoffrey Hoon. The rest of the week, they will hear from: Mark Lyall-Grant (Director General Political, FCO, 2007 - 2009), David Omand (Permanent Secretary Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator, 2002 - 2005), Jack Straw (Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, 2001 - 2006), Suma Chakrabarti (Permanent Secretary, DFID, 2002 - 2007) and Nicholas Macpherson (Permanent Secretary, HMT, 2006 - 2009). Before getting to hearings, BBC News reports over "3,000 people have applied for seats at Tony Blair's appearance before the Iraq Inquiry. The inquiry, which has 60 seats" will raffle or lotto (no charge) them and has set up a room with additional seating (total of 1,400 seats will be made available).

Jonathan Powell appeared before the committee yesterday (link goes to video and transcript options) and insisted there was no blood oath signed in Crawford, Texas by Bully Boy Bush and Tony Blair. Whether or not they just became spit brother (spit on the palms and then shake) remains an unknown. Chris Ames (Iraq Inquiry Digest) takes on Powell's fluff here. David Hughes (Telegraph of London) offers this evaluation of Powell's appearance: "Well, who'd have thought it? Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's former chief of staff, has told the Chilcot inquiry that 'when our forces went in, we were absolutely amazed to discover there weren't any weapons of mass destruction.' Bet you could have knocked them all down with a feather. I can just picture them all --Blair, Powell, Alastair Campbell, Sir John Scarlett -- sitting around in the PM's office scratching their heads in complete and utter bewilderment." Looking like a more emaciated John F. Burns (New York Times' London correspondent), Powell scowleded and furrowed his brow throughout his testimony -- apparently in the hopes that such extreme and 'heavy' facial expressions would add gravitas to his facile statements.

How facile? Have you seen the episode of Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy where Lois runs for mayor? And the easy answers she tosses out? And her 9/11 changed everything? Jonathan Powell declared (more than once), "Well, I think 9/11 changed everything for the United States." He offered that on September 12, 2001, Tony Blair and Bully Boy were phone buddies and Bush brought up Iraq during that phone call. Other phone buddies were David Manning and his American counterpart Condi Rice. December, January and, as late as February 14th, Rice, Powell believes, assured Manning that the US had no "concrete" plans for Iraq.

Jonathan Powell: So, really, I think it was February and March that they started to get into more concrete plans.

Committee Member Usha Prashar: Concrete plans for what?

Jonathanon Powell: For considering how they would actually deal with Iraq. You remember there was the State of the Union speech in which he talked about the Axis of Evil, and, again, David spoke to Condi Rice on 14 February to make sure the Americans would not plunge into any plans before the Prime Minister met the President at Crawford and received an assurance that they wouldn't. The first face-to-face encounter we had on this was with Vice-President Dick Cheney, who came to Number 10 on 1 March 2002. He was on his way for a Middle East tour and he wanted to discuss Iraq with us before he discussed it with Middle East leaders. The Prime Minister warned him of the law of unintended consequences. If you are going to deal with something like Iraq, you have to think ahead about what might happen and that you do not expect.

Committee Member Usha Prashar: What was Dick Cheney's view at the time? What was he proposing?

Jonathan Powell: Dick Cheney was proposing to go and consult the Middle East leaders on what should be done in Iraq, to see what their tolerance would be for action. He said at the end of the meeting --

Committee Member Usha Prashar: But the action was about regime change?

Jonathan Powell: The action was about -- yes, about replacing Saddam, and, at the end of the meeting, he said that a coalition would be nice, but not essential.

Jason Beattie (Daily Mail) emphasizes Powell's admission that there was no proof that WMDs existed and quotes him stating "Intelligence is something that suggests something -- not proves something" as opposed to Tony Blair's September 2002 insistance to the public that there was intelligence demonstrating "beyond doubt" Iraq was in possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Andrew Sparrow (Guardian) live blogged the hearing. Before moving on to today, we need to note another development. Last week (Tuesday), the Inquiry heard from Alastair Campbell who had been the spokesperson for then-Prime Minister Tony Blair. Chris Ames (Iraq Inquiry Digest) noted Sunday that Campbell has now provided a "clarification" for his testimony:He appeared, he said, to be suggesting that the then prime minister could have claimed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction "beyond doubt" even if intelligence chiefs disagreed. "This is clearly not correct," he said in a written memo to the inquiry which had grilled him about the Government's controversial 2002 dossier which was used to justify the invasion. Andrew Gilligan (Telegraph of London) adds:It's just not how a leading professional communicator should be treated, is it? Alastair Campbell tonight faces a demand from the former Lib Dem leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, that he be recalled to the Chilcot inquiry after I spotted that the former Spin King had written to Chilcot, "clarifying" his evidence.Campbell decided he needed a second go at saying what he really meant over an issue which is emerging as a key area of interest for the enquiry. It is the claim, written by him in the WMD dossier, and repeated by Tony Blair, that the "assessed intelligence" had established continued Iraqi WMD production "beyond doubt." But the intelligence, of course, established nothing of the sort, as both Blair and Campbell must have known.Now we move on to today's testimony by Geoffrey Hoon (link goes to video and transcript options -- transcript is over 200 pages). Channel 4 News reports, "As the session started a previously unpublished letter from the then Attorney General was made public, revealing that Lord Goldsmith complained that Mr Hoon had put him in a "difficult position" by claiming Britain would be 'perfectly entitled' to use force against Iraq without a specific United Nations mandate." James Kirkup (Telegraph of London) reports, "Documents released today by Sir John Chilcot's inquiry into the war show that Lord Goldsmith wrote to rebuke Goeff Hoon, then the defence secretary, for stating publicly that war could be justified in international law. Mr Hoon made the claim in a television interview on March 24, 2002." Now to the testimony. 200 pages of transcript and damn near nothing worthy of recording.

Doubt it? How about when Hoon blamed the Iraq War on 9/11 and Americans reactions to 9/11?

Geoffrey Hoon: I was never really persuaded -- I have family and I have lived in America and I have many friends there. I don't think the United Kingdom ever quite grasped the extent of the shock that 9/11 caused to the United States, both to the political system, but also to ordinary people, and I think the Americans became very anxious to avoid being taken by surprise again and looked hard at the kinds of risks that were around. Iraq was one of them, but I would say in the pre-Crawford period, as far as the Ministry of Defence was concerned, it was only one of them.

Support for the war in the US, ahead of the March 2003 invasion was not as Hoone portrays it. Maybe it's really past time that the committee insist witnesses testify to that which they, here's the key word, WITNESSED. "Witnessed," hence the term "witness." Hoon's a blustering fool. Check [PDF format warning] questions 43 and 44 of the CBS News - New York Times poll for October 3 - 5, 2002. Question 43 has 63% of respondents stating the United Nations should be given more time for weapons inspectionwhile question 44 has 70% saying Bush should obtain authorization from Congress before starting the Iraq War. Let's move to January 24, 2003 when CBS News reported on the latest poll: "The poll found 63% of Americans want President Bush to find a diplomatic solution. It also found support for military action -- if it becomes necessary -- is still high, but it has slipped from just two months ago -- 64% now compared to 70% last November. What's more, Americans seem to want hard evidence that Iraq is cheating. More than two-thirds (77% to 17%) say if inspectors haven't found a smoking gun, they should keep looking. For the moment, diplomacy is the clearly favored course with regard to Iraq, a feeling that hasn't changed from two weeks ago." After a Conga Line of Media Whores -- all of whom now hide behind Judith Miller -- wrote op-eds insisting Colin Powell's laughable presentation (February 6, 2003) meant 'case closed,' Americans were again polled by CBS and NYT and: "The public is divided on whether the Bush Administration has yet presented enough evidence against Iraq to justify military action right now. 47% say they have, 44% say they still have not." That's pretty much an even split (plus/minus 4% was the margin of error for the poll). Now we can go round and round with the polling of other outlets, it's not going to make Hoon right. He was wrong. He offered testimony that either he knew was wrong or should have. He doesn't know the first thing about popular opinion in the US and he obviously didn't bother to familiarize himself with it before he testified. Just saying it's so doesn't make it so. Ask Collie Powell and ask him how that blot feels (it's not going away). Hoon's a liar and the committee needs to get some guts and some gumption. It is past time that they call out these witnesses who come before them and offer 'testimony' about things they have no way of knowing and that they did not witness. That's speculation and, pay attention, if all they're doing is gathering speculation, the Inquiry is going to be of little value because you can't use anything from an inquiry (in a later case) that was speculation. But I have a feeling the Inquiry already knows that. Sometimes he offered non-stop speculation -- to paint others. Anything that might make him seem culpable? He pled he was an innocent and unknowing lamb. Ann Treneman (Times of London) boils down the essance of his performance:

Geoff Hoon is the man who was never there. He is like Macavity but not as much fun, for there is little of mystery, or indeed cattiness, about the man who was Defence Secretary for six years. Six years! Can it be? Can you be that important and yet be so very unimportant for six long years?
When I say that he wasn't there, I mean it. He was asked if he was at a crucial meeting at Chequers just before Tony Blair met President Bush in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002. "Actually I wasn't," he noted, "and I haven't been able to establish precisely why."
So, after Crawford, where military intervention in Iraq had been discussed, what had the Prime Minister told him? "I don't think he told me anything directly. I saw a record of the meeting." So did he know that Mr Blair was writing little billets-doux to George saying: "I'll be there for you"? Mr Hoon said he did not and seemed puzzled why anyone should ask such a question.

Emma Albercici (Australia's ABC) emphasizes Hoon's claim that he warned Blair that Iran was what needed to be focused on and his claim that the British military suffers today due to cuts the current Prime Minister Gordon Brown made in 2003 when Brown was chancellor. Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) covers the military aspect. Iain Martin (Wall St. Journal) offers a look at Geoff Hoon the person (as opposed to the buffoon). Glen Oglaza live blogged the hearing for Sky News and he notes Jack Straw's appearance on Thursday is expected to be a media event. Sunday, Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) reports on a letter Straw wrote Blair ten days before Blair met with Bush at the latter's Crawford ranch (April 2002): "Jack Straw privately warned Tony Blair that an invasion of Iraq was legally dubious, questioned what such action would achieve, and challenged US claims about the threat from Saddam Hussein, it was revealed today ."

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"Hoon v. Goldsmith on legality of Iraq War?"
"Little Nouri's Big War"
"In Massachusetts, the view's far different than in NYC"
"Iraq Inquiry"
"11 reported dead in Iraq today, 10 reported wounded"
"And the war drags on . . ."
"Those scheduled Iraqi elections"
"Jack Straw before the Iraq Inquiry appearance"
Truest statement of the week
A note to our readers
Editorial: The Haiti Distraction
TV: Counter-programming
Race for the Senate
Pig Ritter and the friends who love him
Five Year Roundtable
The trade off
"Even he regrets it"

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