Moral qualms are not the only reason why human beings prefer, as a rule, to tell the truth. A more practical one is that every lie makes a small tear in the story of our real lives. To repair it one has either to recant or to tell another lie. And to make that lie credible, one has to tell yet another. In no time at all, therefore, one finds oneself weaving an entire alternate story of one's life and constantly juggling with its bits and pieces. Keeping this alternate story straight becomes more difficult and more tiring by the day till, one day, one is caught out. Most people learn this bitter lesson in childhood. But George Bush and Tony Blair are doing so only now.
For a full year before they launched their invasion of Iraq, the two leaders built an elaborate case for it, insisting Saddam Hussein had successfully hidden "weapons of mass destruction" and was building more. Their careful dossiers were accepted by the international community, including the sceptics in the US, UK and western Europe, who had opposed the war either because it was immoral or unnecessary. Today, both leaders have been hoisted on their own petards, and are fighting a rearguard battle to shore up their fast eroding credibility.
In the US, the crisis of credibility developed after David Kay, the head of the 1,400-man Iraq Survey Group that the Bush administration set up to ferret out Saddam's elusive WMD, reported to the US Congress last week that he was satisfied that there were no WMD in Iraq and resigned his commission. In a statement though, Kay still strongly endorsed the invasion, saying there was enough evidence gathered over the past 12-15 years to show that Saddam had a WMD programme and was therefore a danger to the world. But the bottomline is that after nine months of frantic searching, the Iraq Survey Group has found no proscribed weapons. This has forced Americans to confront the question: 'If Saddam was telling the truth, did the Bush administration lie to make a case for war?'
In the UK, the crisis of confidence began much earlier, on May 29, when the bbc's Andrew Gilligan said in a radio programme that intelligence assessments had been 'sexed up' by the PM's office to make a case for war. Gilligan specifically said that the assertion that Saddam Hussein was capable of launching missiles armed with chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes had been included in the dossier at the behest of the PM's office. This, after intelligence analysts had dismissed the information as not serious and had left it out of an earlier draft. The chain of events that his report triggered off led to the suicide of scientist David Kelly and the Hutton enquiry into its causes.
A measure of how desperate Blair has become was given by his reception of Lord Hutton's report last week. The PM claimed his office had been exonerated of all charges and that Hutton had specifically rejected the allegation that it had added anything to the dossier that had been prepared by the Joint Intelligence Committee before presenting it to the British parliament. But a close reading of Hutton's conclusions gives a far less unambiguous picture. It points out that "Mr Alastair Campbell (Blair's media chief) made it clear to Mr Scarlett (the chief draftsman of the dossier) on behalf of the Prime Minister that 10 Downing Street wanted the dossier to be worded to make as strong a case as possible in relation to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's WMD, and 10 Downing Street made written suggestions to Mr Scarlett as to changes in the wording of the draft dossier which would strengthen it". It went on to conclude that "If the term is used in this latter sense", then..."it could be said that the government 'sexed-up' the dossier".Hutton also said that he had ignored a recommendation by the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS), the supreme intelligence analysis body in the British intelligence community, to use the words 'intelligence suggests' (that Iraq has military plans for the use of chemical, biological weapons) and substituted it with 'We judge (that) Iraq has...". Taken with Campbell's 'advice', this looks very close to the 'sexing up' that Gilligan had referred to.
In Parliament, on February 4, Blair dismissed this change of words as being of extremely minor importance. But the Hutton report has, if anything, accelerated the erosion of his credibility. An ex-head of the DIS and member of the Joint Intelligence Committee has castigated the latter body for ignoring the reservations of the DIS and asserted this would normally have never happened. He also revealed that the crucial claim in the dossier—which swung parliament in favour of war—that it could deploy chemical and biological weapons in 45 minutes had come from a single source and had been based upon hearsay—a report of someone telling someone else. This was included in the dossier within six days of receipt, without corroboration and over the reservations of the DIS. Blair is now under extreme pressure to reveal the nature if not the precise source of that crucial piece of intelligence.
In parallel moves that smack of desperation, Bush and Blair have opened inquiries into the quality of the intelligence they received. This is a transparent attempt to shift the blame to their intelligence services for what both now tacitly concede was an unnecessary war. But few people are deceived. Such an inquiry would have made sense if the decision to invade Iraq had followed the receipt of intelligence. In actual fact, as former US treasury secretary Paul O'Neill revealed in a recent book, Bush had decided to invade Iraq as far back as March 2002. As for the ever faithful Blair, Campbell's memorandum to Scarlett (included in the Hutton report) made it clear that its purpose was to 'make HMG judge Iraq/WMD to represent a real threat'. In short, the conclusion of the dossier preceded its preparation!
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