Notes From the Margins…

Fog Facts: Alistair Campbell and the Chilcot Inquiry

  • May 13, 2011
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The American author Larry Beinhart once coined the expression ‘fog facts’ to describe important facts or pieces of information that are in the public domain but remain unacknowledged and undigested.    Beinhart first used the term in his novel The Librarian – a wickedly sharp satirical thriller satire about  the stitched-up Bush/Gore election campaign.

To Beinhart’s librarian protagonist,  fog facts are crucial pieces of information that are ‘known… but not known’,  and which tend to be obscured by trivial or irrelevant media-generated events at the expense of ‘important things that nobody seems able to focus on anymore than they can focus on a single droplet in the mist’.

Beinhart went on to develop this idea further in a non-fiction book  Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin. In it he excoriated the 9/11 Commission for its failure to investigate the institutional failures behind the September 11 attacks and listed some of the ways in which an official investigation can become a whitewash:

Instead of a demonstration of how to pull the facts out of the fog, we had a demonstration of how a fog can be created.  By foot-dragging, spinning and quibbling.  By hiding facts.  By denying facts.   By distortion and distraction.  By waving the flag at nonexistent threat or irrelevant threats and going to war.  By creating alternate narratives that are premised on things that didn’t happen and obscure the things that did happen.

It will be interesting to see whether these observations apply to  the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war.  Despite its limited mandate and its timid questioning of witnesses, the Inquiry has produced a steady drip of memos, documents and contradictory statements that have unravelled many of the lies and false trails laid by Blair and his cohorts.

One letter written to the inquiry by intelligence officer Michael Laurie has caused a stir in the media because it directly contradicts Alastair Campbell’s laughable insistence to the the Inquiry that the infamous ‘Dodgy Dossier’ was not intended to ‘make a case for war.’

Laurie, a former Major General in the Defence Intelligence Staff begs to differ, and in no uncertain terms:

Alistair Campbell said to the Inquiry that the purpose of the Dossier was not ‘to make a case for war’. I had no doubt at that time this was exactly its purpose and these very words were used. The previous paper, drafted in February and March, known to us then also as the Dossier, was rejected because it did not make a strong enough case. From then until September we were under pressure to find intelligence that could reinforce the case.

Laurie’s observations are not exactly revelatory.   It was absolutely obvious at the time – to anyone who wanted to look – that Blair and his clique were determined to ‘go to war’ regardless of the consequences, and that the dossier had no other purpose except to bring this possibility closer.

It was also obvious that the United States and Britain were determined to overthrow Saddam and were using WMD as the most convenient pretext, and that weapons inspections were devised, to paraphrase Don Corleone, in order to make Saddam an offer that he would have to refuse.

It was also clear that oil  was a significant factor in the calculations of the United States and Britain to topple Saddam, even though Blair consistently dismissed such suggestions as a vulgar conspiracy theory and so did the hawkish politicians and journalists who supported him.

Recently released documents  show that BP and Shell discussed their future prospects in Iraq with the British government six months before the war.   And we now know that MI6 told government ministers before the war that although removing Saddam would cause security problems for the UK Iraq ‘ remains a prize because it could give new security to oil supplies.’

Such contradictions present the Chilcot Inquiry with a challenge.  Despite the Inquiry’s insistence that it was not created to ‘apportion blame’ the steady flow of information points inexorably  toward the same conclusion –  that a catastrophic war was launched on false pretences and that the British public and political class were relentlessly spun into it through the manipulations of people like Campbell.

Such a conclusion would  raise disturbing questions about the way British society is ruled and the people and institutions that rule it, and the Inquiry’s village fete organizing committee performance so far does not suggest that it really has the will to ask them.

Chilcot & Co  may well try to ensure that the crucial details of the Iraq war remain ‘ known…but not known’ , but in order to do this they will have to explain away a lot of things, not least of which is the discrepancy between Campbell’s self-serving account of the dossier and the radically different interpretation offered by a senior intelligence officer.

 

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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