Government's regime change, The Butler report and others

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Shifting sands of the Government's regime change rhetoric

Shifting sands of the Government's regime change rhetoric

Sir: Andrew Grice's and Ben Russell's article "Now Blair cites regime change as basis for war. So, was it legal?" (15 July) raises matters of further-reaching import than any considerations of over-egged intelligence, or even than the remarkable failure of the Prime Minister to ask a very basic question as to the capabilities of 45-minute readiness weaponry.

The article cites Iraq's failure to comply with UN resolutions as the legal basis for UK intervention. That Iraq was in breach of such resolutions is not in dispute. However, the decision of the US and the UK to act bilaterally to enforce UN Security Council resolutions without the concurrence of the council itself (the "second resolution") is not only of disputed legality in itself, but sets a frightening precedent for future action by other UNSC members.

The world may be a better place following the removal of Saddam Hussein from power, but to quote Ernest Bevin: "If you open that Pandora's Box you never know what Trojan 'orses will jump out."


Paphos, Cyprus

Sir: On the eve of the war Tony Blair told his "anti-war" critics that war could easily be avoided: Saddam Hussein needed only to come clean about the weapons of mass destruction he was harbouring. This does not imply any concern for the "oppressed, almost enslaved" people of Iraq.

Moreover, as no such weapons have thus far been found, it seems as though the Iraqi president could only have avoided war by achieving the impossible.


London SE23

The Butler report: Harry Potter and the prisoner of Baghdad

Sir: Tony Blair really is the Harry Potter of British politics. With a wave of his magic wand he has transformed the attack on Iraq from the search for WMD to a humanitarian war. Unfortunately for fans of his fantasy adventures he has a lot more conjuring to do before this spell works.

The point is that you can only wage humanitarian wars if you have an ethical foreign policy. In the absence of the latter, all you are doing is attacking oppressive states that irritate you while being perfectly nice to oppressive states that suck up to you. The end result, of course, is not that oppressive states transform themselves into liberal democracies, but simply that they shift their alignment and enter the "family" of nations while carrying on being as oppressive as before.

So to convince his audience that the Iraq conflict really was a humanitarian war all along, Blair must also convince us all that Britain has an ethical foreign policy, which we all know it doesn't. In the end we may discover that our Prime Minister is not a genuine Harry Potter at all, but just a cheap end-of-the-pier trickster.


Hitchin, Hertfordshire

Sir: Back from the UN Korean war, I returned to the Admiralty. My boss said: "Write me a paper on the threat to the South Atlantic."

"There isn't any threat to the South Atlantic," I replied.

"Don't argue, get on with it!"

So I concocted a paper with Soviet Kirov class cruisers prowling around the South Atlantic. The paper made its way upwards through the Director of Naval Intelligence to the JIC and so to the Cabinet.

Soon after this I read in the press that Dr Erasmus, the South African defence minister, was in town. Subsequently it was announced that the Simonstown agreement had been signed, and thus the Royal Navy could continue to use that base. Plus ça change.

No one suggested during Stalin's bloody reign that we should attack the Soviet Union to effect "regime change", even after the invasion of Hungary and Czechoslovakia. To cite Saddam Hussein's oppression and murder of his people as the Prime Minister's excuse for attacking Iraq (a UN member) is breathtaking humbug. By this standard we would be sending our young servicemen and women to overthrow one after the other of the many bloody dictators in the world.

Maybe this will be fully discussed following Butler and in the run-up to the forthcoming general election.


London NW11

Sir: All round the world, leftists are gnashing their teeth at Lord Butler clearing Tony Blair, sensing that he indirectly clears George Bush. They're right: neither leader "lied". But the left just don't get the wider point.

There is a real threat out there, but the left's focus is a few thousand kilometres short. The question is not how do we get rid of Bush and Blair but how do we get rid of Osama bin Laden, Kim Jong-Il and the mullahs of Iran. Such questions are not serious ones for the left. The reason they want to hold endless post mortems on Iraq is that it keeps the focus on governments that are safe to criticise, not on a realm where they feel totally inadequate.

If their endless carping causes us to retreat, and we fail to deal with the threats of Iran and North Korea, the left will bear the blame.


Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

A tangled web

Sir: It is time for a little less decorum. You can lie or do worse than lie by arranging for other people to do things or by letting them do things. You can do it by omission, say by leaving a room without saying something. You can also engage in self-deception, which is avoiding evidence that may go against what you want. You stay out of places where you are likely to find it.

Self-deception may be more dishonourable, lower, than lying. You can also be dim and confused about what you ought to be doing. You can think that is a matter of your wretched sincerity. What you ought to have been doing, to the extent that your intelligence allows, is to judge the consequences of your possible actions, the rightness of your possible actions.

You can employ the subterfuges of a politics that has lost what commitment it had to clear speaking, to answering questions. When you are faced by an appallingly cogent opponent in the Commons, and a muddled one, you can give all your attention to the muddle.

You are not required, as a prime minister, always to tell the truth. You could lie to save your country. You cannot lie to forward an ideology, or to have a place in history, or to suck up to an empire stupid in its ignorance. Those are situations in which you cannot lie. They can come together in one.

The Prime Minister has lied when there was no possibility of justification. On the evidence now clear, he is also a liar. He has kept at it. He is, very likely, also more dishonourable than an open liar. He is confused about what matters most. He has dragged down democratic politics further.


Frome, Somerset

Sir: Traditional ethics defines lying as: suppressio veri (caveats) and/or suggestio falsi (45 minutes). Let us stop being mealy-mouthed: those who concocted the dodgy dossier or used it to persuade Parliament were lying.


Debenham, Suffolk

Bush's loyal ally

Sir : Mr Blair says that since he did the right thing, it doesn't matter that he did it for the wrong reasons. Those Iraqis who have survived are better off than under the heel of Saddam. Suppose that is granted. It remains to be asked whether there were ways of bringing about regime change in Iraq other than by joining in the military onslaught of a right-wing American regime of dubious legitimacy and dodgy connections.

There were several alternatives. After the Gulf War, the no-fly zones provided a measure of protection to the Kurds in the north and the Shia in the south. They could have been provided with further aid, military and financial, with a view to breaking the control of Baghdad in those areas, which was indeed happening in the Kurdish areas. Sanctions could have been selectively applied to the central Sunni region, and Saddam's neighbours bribed and bullied to lend him no succour. Few would have objected to Saddam's assassination by one of his own people.

This alternative would not have resulted in American control. It might have upset Turkey. It might have provided Iran with some allies in the Shia south. That's the drawback when you try to find ways of sponsoring freedom and democracy.

Mr Blair still has a big question to answer: why was it so important to appease the Bush regime? And Parliament has still to think clearly about its own naivety and gullibility.



Sir: Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Iraq war, one thing I found incredibly distasteful was the sight of a British Labour prime minister kow-towing to an ultra right-wing US president. By doing so, Mr Blair also delivered a massive snub to our European allies. How can he hope to promote European union or the single currency to a sceptical British public, when he appears to hold our partners in such low regard?



The blame game

Sir: In the course of a few weeks we have seen the publication of two reports concerning the use made of two types of intelligence material: the first regarding Ian Huntley and the Soham murders; the second about the invasion of Iraq.

As an outcome of the first of these, the Government was adamant in focusing the blame for failure not on those whose job it was to work with the intelligence material, but directly on the person with overall accountability, namely the Chief Constable of Humberside. In the second the precedent of the man at the top being held to account has been disregarded. The person with overall accountability regarding the actions of the UK in the invasion of Iraq is unquestionably Mr Blair.


Wimborne, Dorset

Sir: The hypocrisy of those on the Blame Blair bandwagon amazes me. They have accused Tony Blair of constructing a dossier of evidence based on intelligence and making adjustments to the intelligence to take us to war. Hutton and Butler have now come to similar conclusions about what took place in the run-up to the war. The Prime Minister's integrity is intact. That is not enough however for the Blame Blair brigade. Could it be that they want to ignore the intelligence found by Hutton and Butler and create their own version of events to suit their politics?


Grays, Essex

Sir: Lord Butler says that the mishandling of intelligence information on WMDs was a collective failure for which no individual person can be blamed. But a collective failure is not a failure for which no one is responsible. It is a failure for which everyone involved is responsible, each in his own way. Someone, or some people, decided to delete caveats in the original intelligence. Some other people permitted the deletions to be made. Both lots are to blame.


London NW1

Damage limitation?

Sir: Can someone explain the difference between "sexing up" intelligence and pushing it - à la Butler - to its "outer limits"?


London W2

Pre-emptive strike

Sir: With the outcome of the recent Butler and Hutton inquiries and others in mind, could we in the future, before any potentially controversial actions are taken by this country, ask a senior Lord to conduct a feasibility study?



Famous last words

Sir: I am reminded of Gone With the Wind, more specifically Butler's parting words to Scarlett: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."


Settle, North Yorkshire

Dishonourable intentions

Sir: Here's an idea: a massive national performance improvement might be the prize for running the "honours" system in reverse. That is to say a list upon which people would not wish to find themselves for an OBE (Order of British Excrement). Perversely the same names may well crop up!


Farnham, Surrey

Tunes of glory

Sir: I am puzzled by the usually knowledgeable David Lister's puzzlement concerning the Dvorak centenary (10 July). Composers' deaths have been commemorated - not celebrated! - on their centenaries at least since the 1920s, with Beethoven and Schubert. The present standing of Berlioz owes much to the 1969 centenary; and surely David Lister must have noticed the colossal Mozart book of 1991, complete with "centenary death box sets" and all his music in paperback. No carping: let Dvorak have his year of glory. I at least don't expect to be around in the bicentenary of his birth.


Emeritus Professor of Music, University of Leeds


Fighting on the beaches

Sir: How sad to see that snobbery is alive and well on the pages of The Independent. Janet Street-Porter's odious article "The world's most unpleasant tourists" (15 July) dripped with class hatred and abhorrence for her fellow citizens. Whether she was berating them for not meeting her sartorial standards ("ill-fitting swimsuits and ugly bikinis"), or sneering because they prefer to eat familiar food, her constant distinction between "us" who can afford a nice bed and breakfast at Bury St Edmunds, and the rest who can't was tediously hateful.


London SE14

Take no notice

Sir: I feel I must pass on a warning regarding a possible role reversal to dog owners in Corfe. A sign in the garden of a pub near the castle states: "Dogs allowed with their owners on leads."


Tonbridge, Kent

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