It is one of the great mysteries of modern geopolitics. How the hell has Condoleezza Rice got away with it for so long? There she is, Secretary of State of the United States and one of the most powerful people on the planet. It is Condi Rice who leads on behalf of you, me, the entire Western world, in waging this deepening Cold War with Iran. She is the girl who threatens Ahmedinejad with Armageddon, or whatever our policy is. And yet if you read State of Denial by Bob Woodward (as you must) it is clear that she was the most stupefyingly incompetent National Security Adviser in the history of that office. She was warned, in some detail, about 9/11. The CIA made a special trip to see her on 10 July 2001 to say that al-Qa’eda was planning something huge and imminent, and that a ‘strategic’ response was necessary. Uh-huh, said Condi, and did zip; and at every stage in the catastrophic ‘War on Terror’ her behaviour is characterised by this same weird zen-like passivity. Soon after the invasion the question emerges: should the US send many more troops? Condi somehow fails to offer an opinion. The Americans’ first hapless proconsul, Jay Garner, asks her before setting out what the game plan is. Where is power to reside? he asks. Who do we want to run the country? You might have thought this was a fairly crucial question, but ‘Rice said nothing.’ When Garner’s successor, Jerry Bremer, makes the appalling mistake of de-Baathifying Iraq, she doesn’t seem to grasp the significance of what is going on. And yet she was so important in the decision-making process that she was one of only two people consulted by Bush before he made his decision to go to war. The whole thing is terrifying. I absolutely refuse to take seriously any American urgings to get tough on Iran as long as she is still part of the show. Rumsfeld was demonised until Bush finally whacked him. Colin Powell was whacked. How come Condi is still flying around telling us what to do? One of the many reasons for regretting the death of Robin Cook, Labour’s conscience over Iraq, is that he never had the chance to interrogate her. I was all set to write the headline, ‘Cook Turns Up Heat On Rice.’ It’s about time someone did.
The other day I was giving a pretty feeble speech when it went off the cliff and became truly abysmal. It was at some kind of founder’s dinner for a university, and I had badly miscalculated my audience. I thought it was going to be a bunch of students, and when I saw the elite group of retired generals, former Telegraph editors and Nobel prize-winning economists, all in black tie, with their wives, I desperately tried to extemporise something profound. There were some musty sepulchres set into the wall of the ancient hall, so I started burbling about social mobility in the 18th century and widening participation in universities today. Frankly, I thought my sermon was more or less ideal. I began some guff-filled sentence with the words, ‘I am sure we all agree…’. It seemed to go well, so I did it again. ‘I am sure we all agree we need world-class skills…’, I said, or something equally banal, at which point a man down the table shot to his feet and shouted, ‘Well, I don’t! I don’t agree with what you are saying at all. It seems to me to be quite wrong for you to claim that we all agree when I don’t agree.’ And blow me down, he appeared to be wearing long purple vestments. It was, of course, Britain’s most turbulent priest, the Bishop of Southwark. I realised I was being heckled by a blooming bishop, and from that moment on my speech was irretrievable. I told a long and rambling story about sheep, in the hope that the man of God would be appeased, and sat down. I did sniff him later on, and though there was an aroma of hot cassock he didn’t seem notably drunk.
Just up there, I said to the taxi driver. Just turn right at the Belisha beacons. A few seconds later I looked up and