July 14, 2004

Whitehall Whitewash Part Deux: The Smell of Teflon

The Butler report is published at 12:30 today. It is written by a former cabinet secretary and lifelong civil servant, and the main opposition parties pulled out calling it a whitewash before the process even got started. Will it get at the truth behind Tony Blair's Dodgy Dossier? Of course not. It's Hutton Part Two: Blair Strikes Back!

In fact, I'm so unexcited by the prospect of finding the truth in the Butler report that I'm writing this before it is even published. We know what it is going to say already and it ain't going to be the truth.

At least the government now seems to accept (perhaps with the exception of Tony Blair) that there were never any WMDs in Iraq - they had all been destroyed years previously. The only WMDs in the country now are those owned by the coalition forces. So that leaves us with the burning question of how the country could have been so badly mislead and duped into supporting the war?

There are only 5 possible reasons why lack of WMDs in Iraq translated into a real and imminent threat, within 45 minutes, in the Dodgy Dossier:

  • Intelligence on the ground got it wrong
  • Analysis of that intelligence was incorrect
  • The interface between the intelligence community and the government was faulty
  • The government knew there was no evidence and lied to us
  • A combination of the above
Anyone who reads this column will know that I have never believed Tony Blair's case for war. A third world country, destroyed by two wars and impoverished by 12 years of international sanctions, developing weaponised biological, chemical and nuclear material and a delivery system that could be a threat to Britain? Pull the other one. Never. The fact is, the only WMDs Iraq ever had were sold to them by the Americans!

I fully accept that there were serious failings in both intelligence gathering - too few sources that were too unreliable - and mistakes made in the analysis back at Whitehall. What I am definitely certain of is that something went badly wrong in the interface between the intelligence community and government. The government wanted intelligence to make the case for a war they were already committed to - intelligence didn't guide what they were doing. In this desperation, pressure was placed on the intelligence community to come up with the sort of language that the government wanted. This much is certain - Jonathan Powell and Alistair Campbell had too much influence over Robin Dearlove, John Scarlet and other key intelligence players. Powell and Campbell's remit was to ensure that the dossier produced the headlines that the government wanted - "45 mins from Destruction" and so on.

What is uncertain is how much Powell, Campbell, Blair and the Cabinet really knew. It seems inconceivable that Blair didn't know the full extent of the intelligence at hand. If he did not, how could he have made the decision to go to war? Surely that would be a complete and total dereliction of duty. More serious though is the alternative, that Blair and his cronies did know that there was a lack of intelligence and did push for the wording in the dossier to be strengthened accordingly.

We will never know the truth until a full, independent inquiry is set up to examine the whole Iraq war. Who made the decisions, when and on what basis? Why did we commit thousands of troops to this illegal and unjustifiable war?

British soldiers have lost their lives, thousands of Iraqi civilians lie dead and billions have been spent and for what? We, the public, deserve to know the full, undiluted, uncensored, non-whitewashed truth, and we deserve to hear that now. Anything less is an insult - the consequences of which even Teflon Tony cannot escape forever.

Blair is consumed by his vision of his place in history. Tony - you are going to be remembered as the arrogant, murdering, warmongering, liar that you are. It amazes me that Labour have learnt nothing from the polls, local and European elections. 1m people took to the streets in protest against the war and many millions voted against Labour in the recent elections. Does that not say something? Can Blair not understand he took us into something we didn't want, won't support and don't believe in. No matter how passionately and with such lip-quivering intensity Blair says he believes in the war - the people don't believe in him and that's pretty serious for Blair's future.