Butler will not answer the key questions

Is it wise to appoint Scarlett, the supreme Cold Warrior, to the top post in MI6?
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The Independent Online

There is an assessment of Lord Butler's report into WMD being touted by ministers and supporters of the Prime Minister that is at once subtle and morally shameless

There is an assessment of Lord Butler's report into WMD being touted by ministers and supporters of the Prime Minister that is at once subtle and morally shameless. In the end, it goes, all these reports don't matter much so long as they don't point the gun at individuals and force a resignation. Short of fingering an actual lie, the reports will change nothing. The views on Iraq are so fixed by now that the two sides will simply pick out any conclusions that back their case.

To which one can only point to the comments of Senator Jay Rockefeller, the senior Democrat on the US Senate Intelligence Committee, which reported last Friday. "The Administration, at all levels," he declared, "and to some extent us, used bad information to bolster its case for war, and we in Congress would not have authorised that war if we knew what we know now." And if Rockefeller is regarded as too partisan, remember that most Democrats voted for war, including himself, and that the chairman of the Committee, the Republican Pat Roberts, came out at the weekend and agreed that he, too, would "probably have voted against".

The question of the use and misuse of intelligence about Iraq's possession of WMD wasn't just some intellectual assertion in an argument about policy. It was the central point in convincing uncertain MPs and the public of the rightness, and the urgency, of invading another sovereign country in order to unseat its government.

Over here, decent and concerned men like the Archbishop of York as well as a substantial number of wavering MPs were actually convinced by the argument that the Government clearly had information that made war a necessity. I remember a highly sophisticated judge collaring me at a dinner at the time and asking almost desperately, "Tony Blair must know something we don't, mustn't he?"

We now know, of course, that he didn't really know much that we didn't and, in so far as he did have access to special information, it was false. What he had was a general presumption that Saddam Hussein was a menace to his own people and to the region, that you couldn't go on forever with a sanctions regime that was leading to the death of thousands of innocent civilians, and that it would be better if the man was removed.

Fair enough. But that was not how it was presented to the British or American public. Not the least worrying parts of this whole grisly story is the way in which the US President, the Prime Minister and their supporters nonchalantly move the justifications for war as the debate goes on. One moment it was because Saddam was arming himself with nuclear weapons, and in league with al-Qa'ida, then, when that proved false, it was because he was brutalising his own people and his overthrow would set of a chain reaction of democratic change in the Middle East.

But in democracies, words matter. And they matter more than anything when they are used to justify the most serious of all decisions: that of going to war. You can't say, as the Prime Minister appears to at the moment, "It doesn't look as if we will find weapons of mass destruction, but it doesn't matter. It was the right thing to do and done with the best of intentions."

Of course, investigations like the US Senate Committee and the Butler inquiry are useful in finding out how the intelligence mistakes were made and how they were used. But of their nature they cannot answer the really important and disturbing questions of when the decision to go to war was actually made, who made it and why.

Even on the matter of intelligence, these inquiries are limited by the concentration on the run-up to war. The great failing of western intelligence was in the 10 years prior to the invasion. How was it that MI6 and the CIA had so few operatives on the ground (none, in fact) and were so reliant on defectors for information? The answer lies partly, as the Senate Committee suggests, in mind-sets from the Cold War. In which case one has to ask, here as there: what has changed and is it wise to appoint John Scarlett, the supreme Cold Warrior, to the top post in MI6?

Whatever the reasons, however, the blunt fact is that here we are more than a year after the invasion with none of the much-vaunted weapons of mass destruction found and the evidence adduced for going to war looking extremely thin at best and grossly overblown at worst.

The question now is not for inquiries and investigations to answer, it is for the politicians who took us to war, and it is relevant not for those who opposed the war or those who supported it but to those who weren't certain and were persuaded on the arguments and the pleas of Blair and Bush. For, without their persuasion, there would have been no war. Congress would not have supported it, nor would the British Parliament.

Rockefeller, normally the most balanced of politicians, summarised the results of that war thus: "Our credibility is diminished. Our standing in the world has never been lower. We have fostered a deep hatred of Americans in the Muslim world, and that will grow. As a direct consequence, our nation is more vulnerable today than ever before."

On ever single count, the same could be said of Britain. So what do Blair and Bush say to the people persuaded to vote for it?

a.hamilton@independent.co.uk

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