September 10, 2007
By allowing "political storytellers" like Alastair Campbell to have so much influence in presenting the case for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush and Blair had made it more likely the post-Iraq trauma would be even worse than the aftermath of the withdrawal from Vietnam.
Sam Gardiner, a retired USAF colonel who investigates the media strategies of the US military, believes that unless Gordon Brown manages to distance himself from the way the wars were spun he will get caught up in a convulsion which is bound to damage the credibility of Britain as well as America.
In a presentation to a conference on communication and conflict held at the University of Strathclyde (September 7-9, 2007), Gardiner described how daily storylines prepared in the global information centre at the White House were fed to Campbell in Downing Street.
"Political storytellers" took control after 9/11 and Gardiner cited the US/UK orchestration of the Afghan women’s campaign in November 2001 as an early example of their work. Similarities in storyline and timing were striking:
"Only the terrorists and the Taleban threaten to pull out women’s finger nails for wearing nail polish". (Laura Bush, November 17, 2001).
"In Afghanistan, if you wear nail polish, you can have your nails torn out". (Cherie Blair, November 20, 2001).
Subsequently it emerged the Afghan media campaign was described at the time by Jim Wilkinson of the office of strategic communications in the White House as the "best thing we have done" in building support in countries where there was heavy scepticism of the anti-terrorism coalition.
"Despite the excellence of the message control by political storytellers, their strategy has totally failed," said Gardiner.
"It will be a major trauma for the USA when we get out of Iraq, bigger than perhaps Vietnam and it will be Gordon Brown who will have to deal with the fallout here. Because of disillusion with the war, policy makers will not find the public ready to believe them even if they’re telling the truth, that’s the lasting damage of letting the storytellers take charge."
Gardiner thought it essential the military clawed back control over the message and he was encouraged to hear that Brown had promised during a visit to Baghdad (June 11, 2007) that when he became Prime Minister any future analysis presented by the security and intelligence services would be kept independent of the political process and the involvement of political spin doctors like Campbell.
"It sounds as if Brown has gone further than anyone in the Bush administration to own up to the mistakes that were made, let alone promising to put them right."
Despite the assurance Brown gave in June, no mention was made in his proposals for restoring public trust (The Governance of Britain July 3, 2007) of any action to fulfil the recommendation of the Butler Inquiry that intelligence should be kept separate from government.
Campbell chaired the group of officials which prepared the government’s dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and has always defended his role. He has insisted it was his task to "help from a presentational point of view" but that John Scarlett, the then chairman of the joint intelligence committee, retained "ownership" of the assessment presented to Parliament.