Senior politicians of all people should understand the fundamentals
of crisis management. And yet the perception on both sides of the
Atlantic is that they were damnably slow in grasping the enormity
of the impact of the Iraqi torture pictures.
Apologies have now been dragged out. But full explanations have not
been forthcoming. Very slowly, the political classes at Westminster
and Washington are recognising the full implications. For this is a
situation where for once the word crisis, as meaning turning point,
The week before the first photographs emerged, I was attending a
conference in central Asia where the strength of anti-US sentiment
from those living in tyrannical states seemed deeply hypocritical.
Hence – and here my critics will find great joy – I defended the
US’s objective in invading Iraq and even (get those eggs and
tomatoes ready), applauded one of the Bush administration’s former
leading lights, Richard Perle.
Back home, I monitored reactions in both political capitals with
amazement, and not a little embarrassment. For they bore all the
classic symptoms of crisis mismanagement.
Firstly, there’s the casting around to identify who is to blame –
usually the media. Then there is a quieter stage: discussions to
gauge how the crisis will affect the futures of individuals.
In that world which may come to be dubbed “before the photographs”,
there was already much discussion at Westminster about when Tony
Blair will stand down. It is generally assumed to be within months.
At first, because of doubts over the authenticity of the photos of
British troops, there was a pause before the most powerful shock
waves hit our political masters. The fate of Daily Mirror editor
Piers Morgan was discussed more than where the so-called “war on
terror” goes from here. Some saw this as Blair’s opportunity to
unleash himself at last from his “poodle” collar; some as a chance
for Charles Kennedy to reassert himself as the only party leader to
oppose the war from the start. Others grumbled at Michael Howard’s
unconditional acceptance of the war.
But one can now hear the sound of wiser old birds concluding that
it would be no bad thing if these images reminded us that the only
way to fight the tyrant, the terrorist and the suicide bomber is to
value every human life equally.
Sheila Gunn is a political commentator and a Conservative
councillor in the London Borough of Camden.