Attacks on France point to Bush's new world politics
Sir: The British and American people have shown rightful indignation at having been misled into war, as the objective evidence has become more and more damning. At the national level, one hopes the appropriate electoral sanctions will fall on both men who have purported to lead their countries on the basis of "sincere conviction" More broadly, Jack Straw's breathtaking comment that "nobody should be surprised that no WMD have been found" reminds us of the international issue posed at the time of the invasion.
Seeing that the timetable (and probably also the foreseeable conclusions) of Hans Blix's work were incompatible with the politically motivated decision to remove Saddam Hussein, the American and British governments had to secure two objectives: to discredit the inspectors; and to find a pretext for by-passing the United Nations.
The decisive opportunity was given on 10 March 2003. Jacques Chirac said on French television: "We refuse to commit to a path which leads automatically to war until the weapons inspectors have told us, 'We cannot do our job.' Right now, they are saying the opposite." This was the golden opportunity. The position was immediately misrepresented as being a blanket refusal to act (Chirac explicitly said the contrary), the French were scapegoated as the cause of the Security Council breakdown, and the Anglo-Saxon Frog-bashing button was pushed by large sections of the media.
Even 18 months later, Bush continues to tap this xenophobic reflex for electoral purposes ("If we accept the 'global test', that means countries like France will tell us what to do"); the next step in strategy seems to involve suggesting that opponents to the invasion, particularly in France, were primarily motivated by financial gain.
The only positive component of the slowly shifting communication strategy relies on the argument that Iraq and the world are better off without Saddam. If regime change was the real question, why was it not asked? Because the Bush administration wanted to bounce the world into accepting de facto the principle of unilateral action against a sovereign state, a principle which it knew (and knows even more clearly today) could never earn the support of an international community of independent sovereign states. Although we are instinctively more outraged by the fact of having been misled, we should today better focus on the explicit rejection of the means employed by Mr Bush in his attempt to redefine the world's way of doing business.
Croissy sur Seine, France
WMD: Blair must take responsibility
Sir: Tony Blair's government produced two dossiers to support the case for the war in Iraq. Both claimed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and both claimed these weapons were a threat to British interests. We now know from the Iraq Survey Group that both claims were wrong. More serious, we know that the Prime Minister didn't question the contents of either dossier and in fact was in complete ignorance of what the central claim of one - that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which could be used in 45 minutes - actually meant.
If the chief executive of virtually any organisation or company in this country had done a similar thing and taken to his board a policy proposal based on extensive research and it later turned out that the policy was a disaster and the research fundamentally flawed he would certainly be in deep trouble.
But when the board discovered that he hadn't understood the original research, hadn't questioned it before presenting it to them and had misrepresented what it said, he would have no option but to resign.
What makes the Prime Minister and others in government so different that they don't have to take responsibility for their actions?
Sir: On the day that the Iraq Survey Group released its much-awaited report, Jack Straw said "the threat from Saddam Hussein in terms of his intentions" was "even starker than we have seen before".
Just to remind Mr Straw, he at the behest of Tony Blair and in turn their puppetmasters in Washington, quite categorically stated to the UN Security Council and the world that Saddam was in actual possession of these banned weapons and his regime had active research and development projects for bigger and better ones and he intended to use them.
The ISG's findings however are that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction and that any intentions he had over restarting programmes were being thwarted by the UN-imposed sanctions (that is to say, the system was actually working).
Before Mr Straw reads any more of the ISG report I would respectfully suggest he gets rid of his new contact lenses and invests in a decent pair of reading glasses.
Sir: Thank goodness for Jack Straw. Without his grim interpretation of the Iraq Survey Group's findings, I might have mistakenly thought that, given the total lack of WMDs, we had been deliberately misled into participating in an illegal war for oil, contracts, hegemony and vengeance!
My understanding of the report's findings is this: in the unlikely event that sanctions were lifted, Hussein may have wanted to acquire modern weaponry. This apparently illustrates the imminence of the threat we faced in "even starker terms" than the dodgy dossiers, or even the subsequent "45 mins from doom" headlines.
Sir: Mr Straw now wishes to justify foreign wars on the basis of an enemy's intentions or plans; I glad he wasn't in charge during the Cold War or we would all be dead.
Sir: It's a funny world we live in. These days you really can't believe anything any politician tells you - except for Saddam Hussein.
Sir: Bush and Blair now defend their illegal war on the grounds, "We got rid of Saddam." This argument is no less troubling than the doctored intelligence and lies about weapons of mass destruction.
Unilaterally launched war is always covered with plausible justification by the aggressor - read Hitler's speeches from the 1930s. There is every reason to fear that the US/UK revival of this practice could prove a citeable precedent for others. The long-standing tension between India and Pakistan - both nuclear powers - springs to mind.
Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that the international community has a poor record since 1945 in responding effectively to large-scale human rights violations. In the 21st century what is needed is not modernised imperialistic gunboat diplomacy but improved transnational institutions, and the enforcement by those institutions of international law.
Sir: The difficulty many of us will have in the coming elections will revolve around Tony Blair's leadership.
It was obvious before the Iraq war even started that Bush's reasons were mostly tied up in the US need for oil and that the rest was political blackmail. I still find it difficult to believe that a man of Blair's intelligence should have agreed to go along with Bush. I have long suspected that he was frightened of the penalties we would pay if he refused.
However, a lot of improvements have been made on the home front since Labour came to power. The NHS is steadily becoming better and more accessible, those in need are receiving more help and education has had improvements in funding. For me, and many like me, the dilemma of whether I can vote for a party led by someone who so obviously lied to us is a problem not easily resolved.
Sir: Now that the WMD facts are beyond dispute, three questions remain.
Do intelligence services usually produce reports that back the political needs of their paymasters? If yes, we can save an awful lot of money by scrapping them.
Have current intelligence services been significantly more susceptible to the political needs of the Government? If yes, heads should roll now.
Has the current Government subjected the intelligence services to unprecedented pressure to produce the answers their policy required? If yes, heads should roll at the highest level.
School at home
Sir: Instead of treating home educators with suspicion (report, 4 October) the Government should welcome this growing trend. What could be more natural than children being educated at home by loving parents and family and surrounded by positive, experienced and supportive adult role models in the community in which they live? Compare this to the often brutalised, peer-group driven, control and discipline culture of many large capital-intensive state secondary schools and institutions.
A little imagination could provide a startling transformation in our approach. Academic standards can be maintained by examinations and light-touch supervision. A little money could go a long way in the form of free access to sports centres, shared design and arts facilities; training for home educators, some science equipment, some specialised websites and forums; distance-learning programmes - perhaps even a child educator allowance. Not a panacea for all - but a viable option in a pluralistic society.
In Denmark the state may fund up to 90 per cent of the cost of small neighbourhood schools with as few as 25 pupils - and also provides extensive backup to other homeschoolers.
ANDREW G STEPHENSON
Newhaven, East Sussex
Football for the fans
Sir: Your leading article on the possible sale of Manchester United (5 October) patronises football supporters. The future of football is not ever-more crass commercialisation. It lies with ever more involvement, including ownership, by supporters, the game's most committed stakeholders.
More and more British clubs (including my own Arsenal) have mutual supporters' trusts promoting fan ownership and involvement. This is the way forward for the game. The cynics will say it will never happen. Then why are some of the world's biggest clubs, such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, River Plate and Boca Juniors already owned and controlled by their fans?
The Football Supporters' Federation
Sir: Philip Hensher's column (1 October) shows how out of touch he is. Eurostar has won a series of awards this year recognising our outstanding on-board customer service.
One year after the opening of the UK high-speed line Eurostar continues to benefit from a surge in passenger numbers. Travellers are choosing to use our service because of shorter journey times and very high punctuality compared with airlines flying from London to Paris and Brussels. Last month we launched our newly refurbished trains, which offer even more comfortable seating in first and standard class, power sockets for laptops and a stylish new colour scheme throughout the train.
Director of Communications
Eurostar, London SE1
Sir: Happy "coming of age" birthday to my favourite newspaper; however surely you are joking when you state that you "must now decide which party The Independent will put its cross next to in the coming general election" (leading article, 7 October). In the spirit of the past 18 years, I fully expect you to heckle all candidates regardless of political party and spoil your ballot paper.
East Preston, West Sussex
Nut allergy puzzle
Sir: Yes, peanuts are legumes and so "not nuts" (Letters, 6 October). However, nuts are the fruits or seeds of a wide range of plants. So just what is a "nut allergy"? For example pine nuts are less closely related to hazel nuts than hazel nuts are to peanuts. Are we talking about allergy to just one or two species of nuts, but a blanket classification of them all as allergens just to avoid problems? Or are these allergies to fungal mycotoxins which are not specific to particular nut species?
Dr JOHN ETHERINGTON
The Tory vision
Sir: As a former active supporter I have been wondering for some time whether there is any justification for the continued existence of the Conservative Party. Now, thanks to parliamentary spokesman Jonathan Sheppard (letter, 5 October), my questions have been answered. Vote for the Conservatives and we can be assured that convicted murderers will no longer be able to have sex-change operations on the NHS. Peel, Disraeli, Churchill and Macmillan will be able to rest peacefully in their graves confident that their party still has a role in the 21st century.
Sir: I see that Boris Johnson has said, "The Conservative Party is obviously going to be incredibly chic and cool very shortly and is already becoming so." I look forward to seeing the Member for Henley in his baseball cap at next year's Notting Hill Carnival.