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From the US, the truth about the war in Iraq seeps out. Yet Blair still clings to Bush’s coat tails


THE US inquiry into the September 11 atrocity isn’t just dealing mortal wounds to President George W Bush’s claim that he is a strong war leader who puts his people’s security first, it is also corroding claims by our Prime Minister, Tony Blair, that he is a man of moral rectitude who believes in his heart that his foreign policy is honest and noble and in the interests of Britain.

What we’ve learned in the past week from the testimony of people like Richard Clarke, the US’s former national co-ordinator for counter-terrorism, is that the Bush administration didn’t rate the threat from al-Qaeda from the first day it took over from Bill Clinton. In fact, Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, seemed to barely know what al-Qaeda was when she took office. Her specialism had always been policies aimed at undoing the evil empire of the Soviet Union and she may have chosen to turn a blind eye to the US arming the Taliban forces in their war against the occupying Soviets back in the 1980s.

Meanwhile Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, had been eager since entering the White House in 2001 to put into practice a long-held plan to attack Saddam Hussein and put in his place a US-friendly client state. His immediate reaction to news of the al-Qaeda attacks against the US on September 11 was to call for Iraq to be bombed. As we reported last Sunday, when he was told that al-Qaeda was based in Afghansistan, and not Iraq, he replied: “There aren’t any good targets in Afghanistan and there are lots of good targets in Iraq.”

At best, in the run-up to September 11, 2001, Bush was asleep at the wheel. At worst, his administration cared less about the threat from al-Qaeda than they did about settling old scores with Iraq – for ideological reasons as well as some to do with Bush’s “pappy”, George Bush Snr. The Bush White House was also keeping one eye on the long-term economic and geopolitical benefits of “regime change”.

The neo-conservative Bush administration is made up of men and women who had pressed for regime change in Iraq since 1998, under the agreed plan for the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) drawn up by Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney – then head of the construction giant Halliburton and, since 2001, vice-president of the United States. The administration is also stocked full of oil barons who realised that Iraq was a far more juicy political bone than Afghanistan.

Tony Blair went along for the ride with these people. That he agreed to play ball with the Bush administration in its quest against Iraq while countries such as France, Germany and Russia backed away, reveals an inability to counter anything that America says. As a response to the al-Qaeda attack on the US, it is fully justifiable that the US would want to hit at the organisation’s base in Afghanistan. For Blair to join in that accurate and defined attack was equally understandable; after all, the rest of Europe and many countries from around the world supported the UN-sanctioned attack. But where the rest of the world largely departed from the view of Bush and Rumsfeld was when they agreed to put into action their plan to take over Iraq. Why did Blair side with Bush rather than the rest of Europe (with the exception of Spain and Italy)? No doubt Blair might argue that he was shown the intelligence by Bush of Iraqi WMD and swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

As the reality of the false prospectus for war has unravelled, you might think Blair would seek to make amends. Not a chance, it would seem. Only last week Blair demonstrated to the world that, when it came to toeing the US foreign policy line, he would yield to nobody. Barely a day after Foreign Secretary Jack Straw openly condemned Israel’s action in assassinating militant Palestinian leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Britain abstained in a United Nations Security Council resolution aimed at damning Israel after the US vetoed the vote.

And, while we are in the Middle East, whatever happened to Blair’s resolute promise to seek peace in the region through the “road map”?

All of which raises a number of questions over Blair and his policies. How does turning a blind eye to Israel’s “extrajudicial killings”, or state terrorism, square with a British foreign policy aimed at demonstrating fairness in its dealings with all the Middle East players? Or does the UK’s UN abstention smack more of Blair being George W Bush’s unquestioning foreign secretary than the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom?

The continuing humiliation of the Palestinian people by Israel and the United States is the subject of Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka’s Reith Lectures, to be broadcast next month on BBC Radio 4. He claims this is at the heart of the current climate of fear, which will only be lifted once a just solution is found. In addition, he will spell out that Blair was wrong to have gone to war against Iraq and has shown poor moral leadership. This debate has some distance to go.