Thursday, February 5
Don't be fooled again

Critics of the war must voice their misgivings about the Butler inquiry's terms of reference - right now

Jonathan Freedland,The Guardian, February 4, 2004

Where do you even start? Perhaps with the comedy of George Bush

demanding 'to know the facts' about Iraq's non-existent arsenal of weapons of mass destruction - casting himself as an aggrieved American voter, somehow hoodwinked into the war with Iraq. No doubt we should brace ourselves for Bush pounding his fist on the table, demanding to know 'who ordered this goddamned war anyway?' And to think, he could have known all the facts without firing a single shot - if only he had let Hans Blix and his team of UN inspectors finish their work.

Or perhaps we should begin with the hilarious sight of Colin Powell, who exactly a year ago treated the UN security council to a show-and-tell exposé of Saddam's terrifying arsenal, now admitting that, had he known Baghdad had no WMD, he would have had his doubts about going to war. With rather elegant understatement, he concedes it would have changed 'the political calculus'.

Maybe the right starting point is closer to home, with the alternative comedy of Tony Blair insisting as late as last week there could be no inquiry, no inquiry, no inquiry - until Bush ordered one in Washington and suddenly London saw the entire question in a new light. Now there is to be an inquiry. What was an unnecessary, ludicrous proposal last week when the Tories and Lib Dems demanded it is suddenly a rather good idea now that Mr Bush has smiled upon it.

The government says the trigger was the Senate testimony of Bush's handpicked weapons inspector, David Kay - he who quit as head of the Iraq Survey Group because, he concluded, Iraq's WMD were a mirage. That, says the government, made an inquiry "inevitable". In which case, why was it not signalled as soon as Dr Kay testified last Wednesday? Or even a week earlier when he quit? The truth is that Tony Blair is going into this inquiry the way he went into the war itself: as Tonto to the American Lone Ranger, Mini-Me to George Bush's Dr Evil.

Too cynical? Maybe so. But after last week's experience, deep scepticism is the required mode. For the Hutton episode was something of a loss of innocence for those who had preferred to assume the best of Britain's top institutions. Government allies have assailed the Hutton report's critics with this repeated refrain: "If you think Hutton is such a bad judge, why didn't you say so earlier? You were perfectly happy to accept him when you thought he was going to give Blair a kicking." There is power to this argument, but there is a response. It is that many who suspected the Iraq war was fought on a false basis believed the inquiry system would be fair; that a senior judge would take account of all the evidence he heard, not ignore large chunks of it.
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