Blair's A Weapon Of Mass Deception


COULD we now be discovering why one of Tony Blair's closest allies, Alan Milburn, decided unexpectedly to chuck his ministerial career in last month's Cabinet reshuffle? There's little point going down with a sinking ship.

The government's entire case for the war was effectively scuttled last week by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who admitted that there had been no major new evidence of WMD before the invasion of Iraq. So, why then the rush to war? Why wasn't the UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, allowed to continue his inspections? Where was the real and present danger to British and American national security?

It was all to do, Rummy said, with seeing old evidence through the 'prism' of September 11. He may know what he means but I'm damned if I do.

The White House also admitted last week that the intelligence about Saddam attempting to buy uranium from Niger was based on bogus documents and should never have been included in the President's State of the Union address. The intelligence came from the British government's dossier. For Number 10, this document has itself turned into a weapon of mass self-destruction.

You wonder if anything we were told about this war was true. The dodgy dossiers, the premature claims of Saddam's death, the phoney uranium papers, the faked evidence of Iraqi cash going into the pocket of the MP George Galloway. Even the 'heroism' of American private Jessica Lynch now turns out to have been bogus. Comical Ali wasn't the only one telling porkies.

Now that it is all coming out, the silence from Cabinet ministers is deafening. Rats are deserting like, well, rats. The latest is 'an unidentified Whitehall source' , who apparently briefed the BBC on Wednesday that actual weapons of mass destruction will most likely never be found in Iraq.

Blustering against the BBC has only drawn attention to the weakness of the government's evidence. Alastair Campbell should already have resigned, as should a few others, the better to clear their names of any complicity in what Clare Short called this 'honourable deception'. Books with that title are already being written and they will likely conclude that the second Iraq war was Britain's greatest military and diplomatic disaster since Suez.

Blair and his director of communications, Campbell, put in the performances of their lives before their respective select committees, ducking and diving and mangling meaning as if their political lives depended on it. Which they do. But they are holed below the water line. Their case for going to war against Saddam Hussein -- that his WMD posed an imminent danger -- is simply no longer tenable. So entangled are they in their own spin that they can't see what is obvious to everyone in the land. As former former foreign secretary Robin Cook put it, we were duped; intentionally or not makes little difference. Of course, the Foreign Office and Number 10 still insists weapons programmes will be found along with 'concrete' evidence of their products. When parliament returns another dossier will no doubt be produced based on interviews with scientists from Saddam's weapons programmes confirming he was producing the stuff.

But we always knew that Saddam had ambitions for WMD from chemical agents to superguns. We and the Americans sold him some of the hardware to do it in the 1980s. If that was the substance of the casus belli in the second Gulf war, then logically we should also have declared war on ourselves.

Some of this equipment must still lie in Iraq. When found, it will be cited as clinching proof. Ultimate vindication. Confirmation of the BBC's perfidy. But their discovery will not exonerate the Prime Minister from the central charge against him: that he misled parliament and the people of Britain and took us to war under a false pretext.

To see this one need only compare the language being used by the Prime Minister today with that which he used in the Commons in the weeks leading up to the war. In the crucial debate on March 18, when he faced rebellion by Labour backbenchers, the PM said that Saddam had not accounted for '10,000 litres of anthrax and VX nerve agents, 6500 chemical munitions, at least 80 tons of mustard gas and possibly more than 10 times that amount; and unquantifiable amounts of sarin, botulinium toxin and a host of other biological poisons; and an entire Scud missile programme'.

The PM concluded: 'We are now asked seriously to accept that in the last few years -- contrary to all history, contrary to all intelligence -- Saddam decided unilaterally to destroy those weapons. I say that such a claim is palpably absurd.' Yet that palpable absurdity is precisely what we are expected to swallow now none of these weapons has been found.

As for the 45-minute warning -- that has been pinned on the intelligence service while Number 10 spins like a demented dervish in its efforts to explain the weapons gap. It now tells us that it expects only to find 'WMD programmes and the concrete products of those programmes', rather than real weapons. It insists the true justification of the war was humanitarian, which it wasn't. It is an Orwellian rewriting of history to claim at this late stage that we really went into Iraq to search for war graves.

This matter could not be more serious. Many innocent people died as a result of this military misadventure as well as tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers.

The UN was right to resist the rush to war. The case for a full judicial inquiry into how we invaded a sovereign country on the basis of faulty intelligence and in defiance of the international community is surely now unanswerable. We need another Scott Inquiry.

Tony Blair is losing public trust. Such a withdrawal of confidence by the people undermines government and makes any further military engagements almost unthinkable, as the former prime minister and Gulf war leader John Major says. Who will believe this lot again?

After months in denial, Labour MPs and ministers are beginning to realise that this could be as serious for Labour as the exchange rate mechanism debacle in 1992 was for the Tories. The Conservatives' reputation for economic competence never recovered. 'Phoney Tony' is similarly tainted. The only difference, perhaps, is that this time the fault is seen to lie with one man -- the PM -- rather than the government as a whole.

People could see that Blair was leading from the front on the war, and that the Labour Party never wished to follow him. In two of the biggest backbench rebellions in Commons history, Labour MPs showed their collective reluctance to endorse a war which seemed to be driven by a handful of Republican neo-conservatives.

This is why the situation is so dangerous for Blair and why some of his own MPs, like Brian Donohoe, are saying he may have to resign. This remains unthinkable to the Westminster village. But if it comes to a choice between the integrity of the Labour Party and the integrity of Tony Blair, who is to say which way most Labour MPs would jump?