Thursday, July 15, 2004


We all knew that Lord Butler - the ultimate "safe pair of hands" - wasn't going to rock the boat with his inquiry, and he didn't. The chief findings? Firstly, that the intelligence was "insufficiently robust" to justify the claim that Iraq was in breach of UN resolutions. In other words, that the war was unjustified. In an effort to paper over this, he adds a disclaimer that it would be "rash" to say now that no WMDs will ever be found, but this is just cover. The evidence wasn't good enough then, and with what we know now, it looks even weaker. The war was based on a lie.

But the most striking finding, and the reason why the report is a whitewash, is that that terrible mistake is nobody's fault. For example, Butler finds that while information passed by the intelligence services to the Joint Intelligence Committee was properly hedged and caveated, those careful qualifications mysteriously disappeared before it reached the Prime Minister - a "serious weakness" - but despite this, no-one is responsible. Not the PM or any of his staff (who pressured the JIC and told them what Blair wanted to see), not JIC chief John Scarlett (in fact, he's recommended for promotion), or any members of the JIC itself. Oh, there's some minor criticism of processes and procedures for handling intelligence within MI6, but when it comes to the biggie - how possibilities and potentialities were magically transformed into authoratative certainties for public consumption - no blame is assigned, nobody is accountable. It's the British establishment at its finest. No wonder the LibDems refused to have any part of it.

Fortunately, though, the ultimate judgement of whether Blair was right to go to war isn't in the hands of Lord Butler or the British establishment - its in the hands of the British people. Conservative leader Michael Howard, hypocritical though he is, asked the right question last night when he asked whether, if Blair stood up in the commons again and told everyone of an "imminent threat" that could only be countered by going to war, anyone would believe him. I think the answer is a decisive "no".