The Second Resolution Question

Owen Bennett-Jones

  • Iraq: The Cost of War by Jeremy Greenstock
    Heinemann, 467 pp, £25.00, November 2016, ISBN 978 1 78515 125 5

Jeremy Greenstock was the UK ambassador to the United Nations during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq and then the special envoy for Iraq, based in Baghdad during the occupation. Obviously he wrote his memoirs with a view to having them published. Mistakes had been made in Iraq and there was public interest in what knowledgeable insiders had to say about them. But he also accepted his duty to the state, submitting the book to the appropriate Foreign Office committees. In 2005 when the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, decided the book shouldn’t be published until the ministers involved were out of office, Greenstock accepted the ban with no public protest. He went on, as planned before he wrote the book, to take up a post running the British deep state’s favourite foreign policy conference centre at Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire. Straw defended his ban on the grounds that any senior colleague who was open about the fact that he or she was planning to write a near contemporaneous memoir would never have been given a job in the first place because no one would want to discuss things openly with them. But Straw had a difficulty. The UK ambassador in Washington, Christopher Meyer, had already published a memoir, DC Confidential, which also dealt with the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. If Meyer had been allowed to publish on what grounds could Greenstock be stopped? Straw’s tortuous reasoning, given to the Public Administration Select Committee in 2006, was that Meyer’s book was publishable because it was tittle-tattle. In fact, the scurrilous nature of DC Confidential meant that Meyer had suffered a fate far worse than being censored. ‘The guy,’ Straw said with the disdain of a true establishment insider, ‘has been completely ostracised.’

Greenstock’s book, then, could not be published because it was not tittle-tattle. It could certainly never be described as such. The accounts of the prolonged and circuitous prewar negotiations at the UN are so exhaustive that, at the time of the ban, Foreign Office officials joked that had Saddam wanted to hide his WMD, Sir Jeremy’s book might have been a good place. No doubt, Iraq: The Cost of War would have had more impact had it been published at the time it was written. The assessments of, for example, Paul Wolfowitz – identified by Greenstock as a key influence on the decision to go to war – and the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Paul Bremer, would have attracted more comment when these figures were more firmly in the public eye. So too might Greenstock’s apology to the people of Iraq: the US and UK helped Iraqis escape Saddam Hussein’s brutality, Greenstock writes, but failed to shape a better life for the country. For the most part, however, his book contains the modulated assessments of a man who spent decades in the Foreign Office, where papering over the cracks is a more highly prized skill than shocking revelation, polemic or invective.

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