I went to Washington and London to watch the wars. A military campaign has civilian campaigns preceding it, pacing it, and trailing behind it: pre-wars, parallel wars, fought for political advantage, supremacy in military strategy and procurement, image, bureaucratic advancement, reputation, profit. This was my front: the briefcase skirmishes.
On a steamy July day, in a large cool room in the Hart Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee met to consider the outcome of the war in Iraq.
Rank in the room was striated, geological. Senior senators sat in shiny black chairs on a high dais; junior senators, staff members, and witnesses in shiny black chairs set lower; reporters and private citizens at floor level, in steel chairs covered in dull brown cloth.
The focus of all this was Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. defence secretary, a small square-faced scrappy man with the air of James Cagney—chin thrust out, thin smile: a former U.S. congressman, a Navy pilot, a veteran of mammoth wars in the upper levels of government and business, the main proponent and strategist of the Second Gulf War. His objective at the hearing was to meet the first tentative criticisms from the Democrats and neutralize them.
Rumsfeld was dressed in a banker’s suit. To his left was his uniformed senior commandant, General Tommy Franks. Each brought prepared statements. Franks’s was full of military language, such as “footprint” for number of soldiers in the field, “gwot” for Global War On Terrorism. Rumsfeld’s was simple, aggressive, large in its claims: the war is over, and we won.
The Republican senators piled on the compliments. “What you folks have done,” said Inhofe of Oklahoma, “is end this monstrous, bloody regime.” Warner of Virginia: “We salute all the men and women of the coalition forces and their families.” These were the bugles. Then, from the Democrats, the first ranging shots, the first salvoes in the spin war.
The timing seemed right. Rumsfeld’s military campaign had reached its high-water mark on May 1, when President Bush declared the heavy fighting over. In the weeks that followed mysterious gunmen began to pick off American soldiers singly and in groups, in ambushes, in drive-by shootings, sometimes in sudden suicidal confrontations.
Kennedy of Massachusetts: “I’m now concerned that we have the world’s best-trained soldiers serving as policemen in what seems to be a shooting gallery.”
Rumsfeld: “I think we have to get some perspective on this and put this in context and think back in history. This is tough stuff. This is hard work. This takes time.”
Franks: “We did anticipate a level of violence, and I can’t tell you whether we anticipated that it would be… at the level that we see right now.… We can always hope for a transition without a great deal of messiness.”
Rumsfeld: “The plans are not for the U.S. or the coalition to reconstruct Iraq.… It’s the Iraqi people who have to reconstruct their country.… It’s heady and arrogant to say you can build another people’s nation.”
This was a new policy, a bald reversal of U.S. doctrine. It was the opposite of the Marshall Plan for Europe: it was the Roman plan for Gaul, the Yankee plan for the Confederacy. The military conquers or liberates, depending on your point of view, and then withdraws, leaving a vacuum, into which rushes can-do business with its sleeves rolled up and a cost-plus contract in its briefcase.
Rumsfeld went even further, with a reference to contract troops—mercenaries, soldiers rented from American companies, like the ones hired to guard the postwar president of Afghanistan. Why should American business wait until the shooting stops? Vice President Richard Cheney’s former employer Halliburton had already moved private contractors into the field alongside the U.S. armed forces to provide logistical services, at a cost of 1.34 billion dollars and rising. Here’s the twenty-first-century nation-building model: American armed forces (private and public sector) destroy, American private sector corporations rebuild. Another substantial redistribution of U.S. tax money to the business world.
So there’s lots of money to be had in the Iraq campaign. The cost was…?
Byrd, West Virginia: “I’ve heard the figure one point five billion a month.”
Rumsfeld: “Three point nine billion dollars a month.” Roughly twice the previous public estimate. The reporters started scribbling, and on the far end of the big horseshoe table, Clinton of New York made a little note. A torpid economy, a huge deficit; Bush’s father had learned that military success and the high approval ratings it brought were no protection in hard times.
The air on Constitution Avenue was still sweltering; in Baghdad the forecast for the next day was clear, sunny, 45 degrees Celsius, 113 degrees Fahrenheit, body armour mandatory for all troops on duty.
In London at that point in the summer there was a noisy battle underway at Westminster, with the government under attack for prevarication and cruelty. But Washington was at the end of its political year. Congress was about to rise, the politicians to head back to their states and districts to consider their wins and losses and to make plans for the fall.
Still, the question remained unanswered: Why had there been such an urgent need to attack Saddam Hussein when most of the world thought an attack was premature? What was the threat that made the delay of a month or two out of the question? How good was the evidence that Saddam possessed prohibited weapons and was ready to use them or give them to terrorists? The deputy secretary of defense might have been able to explain much of this. But it seemed his appointment book was full.
The deputy secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, is the acknowledged ideological and bureaucratic father of the war against Iraq. He is a political scientist who came to the Pentagon for the first time in 1977, as deputy assistant secretary for regional programs. Along with some others, he was asked to analyze military threats in the Persian Gulf. While the others focused on Iran and the Soviet Union, the deputy assistant secretary’s eye was caught by intelligence reports on the size and composition of Iraq’s armed forces. He speculated that Saddam might well have it in mind to invade Kuwait and threaten Saudi Arabia. He went so far as to recommend that U.S. military equipment be pre-positioned in the region for use against Saddam.
For years U.S. policy tilted the other way. During most of the Reagan administration in the 1980s the U.S. encouraged and equipped Iraq to fight its war with Iran. Donald Rumsfeld went to Baghdad and had dinner with Saddam as Ronald Reagan’s special envoy. Wolfowitz, however, remained constant, in and out of government, continually arguing for a tougher approach. Finally, Saddam brought that on himself by invading Kuwait in 1990. But Saddam survived Desert Storm, survived sanctions, survived an arms embargo and United Nations resolutions and weapons inspections and occasional attacks approved by a distracted Clinton White House.
In 1997, Wolfowitz was one of the founders of the lobby group Project for the New American Century, along with Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and other conservative stalwarts, calling on the American government to increase defence spending and “to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values.” Drawing on a 1992 draft of a Pentagon policy guide, drawn up for Wolfowitz, Cheney, and Lewis Libby, the project advised Bill Clinton to aim at the “removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power.” The U.S. and Britain did launch a wave of bomb strikes at Iraq in 1998. Nothing much changed.
After the Bush Restoration, Wolfowitz became deputy secretary of defense under Rumsfeld, in harness with the undersecretary of defense for policy, Douglas Feith. They became known as the Pentagon hawks, and they immediately began a campaign to move against Iraq. But this inevitably set them against the State Department doves, Secretary Colin Powell, Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage, most of the career diplomats, and much of the military. Powell gained the initial momentum, visiting Iraq, urging the transformation of the general embargo into “smart sanctions” that would tighten the military constraints and loosen the economic ones.
The September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington tipped the balance of power in Washington. The hawks began pushing for harsh action immediately. Rumsfeld put the case for movement against Iraq to the president on September 12. The next day, Wolfowitz told a news conference that American policy was “ending states who sponsor terrorism.” Secretary of State Powell told reporters that Wolfowitz “could speak for himself,” but that Powell thought American policy was ending terrorism, period. Undaunted, Wolfowitz attended a meeting with the president at Camp David on September 15 and urged immediate action against Saddam.
The doves had no objections to an attack on the Taliban, but they still had reservations about Iraq. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers, said that without proof that tied Iraq to Al Qaeda, an attack would alienate the moderate Arab states. Wolfowitz became exasperated. “The people who were saying ‘Iraq later’ were really saying ‘Iraq never,’” he observed later. “They kept saying ‘more time, more time,’ and increasingly it’s clear they meant, ‘Just live with the situation.’”
Wolfowitz and some professionals, such as the former head of the cia, James Woolsey, believed that the Iraqi regime had links with terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda. Proof of this became the Holy Grail of the war camp. Certainly, Saddam had offered refuge to such figures as the Palestinian guerrilla leader Abu Nidal, and Abu Abbas, the master-mind of the Achille Lauro hijacking, but the harder the investigators sought to discover strong links between Saddam and Osama bin Laden, the more tenuous the connection appeared. The fbi followed up a report from Czech intelligence that Mohammed Atta, the chief 9/11 hijacker, may have met an Iraqi espionage chief in Prague in April, 2001; Wolfowitz demanded a briefing, and challenged the agents when they said neither they nor the Czech spooks had been able to find any evidence of a meeting. It sounded true so it must be true. But the argument that Iraq was a patron of Al Qaeda was losing force.
The most compelling evidence that the Iraqi regime had chemical and biological weapons was that American corporations had helped provide the materials to make them. During the 1980s, the Reagan and Bush administrations had approved the sale to Iraq of materials with both civilian and military uses, including missile components, insecticides, and biological agents such as anthrax. After Desert Storm the UN weapons inspectors had failed to find much of this material. All this was clear before the Al Qaeda attacks, but now Washington had painful proof that well-organized terrorists could move against the U.S. in spectacular ways. If Saddam did have forbidden weapons, he would know where to find people who were ready to use them. Thus the hawks argued for a quick war.
The doves responded that UN inspectors hadn’t had time to find hidden weapons, or that there weren’t any. The most likely scenario, according to the mainstream intelligence interpreters, was that the Iraqis had dismantled their weapons-of-mass-destruction programs sometime before the year 2000 so they could ask for sanctions to be lifted. Once the sanctions were off, they could resume weapons research. In any case, if Saddam did have prohibited weapons, a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate argued, a U.S. attack on Saddam might push Iraq to establish a link with Al Qaeda, and transfer prohibited chemical and biological weapons to them. Saddam “might decide that only an organization such as Al Qaeda… already engaged in a life-or-death struggle against the United States, could perpetuate the type of terrorist attack that he would hope to conduct,” the report said.
Evidence of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda, then, was flimsy. But in the months after the Al Qaeda attacks, senior officials in the U.S. government moved to strengthen the association in the public mind. On January 29, 2002, the president made his famous State of the Union reference to the Axis of Evil—Iran, Iraq, and North Korea—“and their terrorist allies.” There were instant warnings from European leaders: granted, Saddam was loathsome, but quick military action was a very bad idea. Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, said he thought the Bush remarks were more a tactic in the mid-term Congressional elections than a real military proposal.
There was a second prong to the hawks’ argument. They maintained that regime change in Baghdad might do more than prevent something bad—it might encourage something good. In October, 2002, Wolfowitz told an audience that the end of Hussein’s “despotic regime” would revive the “ageless desire for freedom” throughout the region. This would have an impact on the Palestinians, Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. It was a tantalizing prospect: at one stroke, a rearrangement of the power relationships in an entire region. Like much conservative doctrine, this was magical thinking: if you move decisively, good things will happen. If you reduce taxes, government revenues will rise. If you leave the environment to the market, the world will be cleaner. The scholar Thomas Carothers argued that “the idea that you can produce a democratic tidal wave throughout the Arab world is a dangerous fantasy. What we are ending up producing is incredible hatred.”
That was the kind of talk the Pentagon hawks did not want to hear: conventional, defeatist, passive, the cottony jabber you always got from career analysts at the cia and the Defense Department. Days after the Al Qaeda attacks, the Pentagon had set up a parallel interpretation office, the Office of Special Plans, that would sift through intelligence material, pick out the good bits and pass them up the line. The orders were clear: Dick Cheney and his deputy, Lewis Libby, wanted a more “forward-leaning” interpretation of the Iraqi threat. The osp, through Douglas Feith, provided one.
The osp was packed with passionate amateurs: lawyers, congressional staffers, apparatchiks from right-wing think tanks. One prominent source was Ahmad Chalabi, the then-exiled head of the Iraqi National Congress, whose information was treated very cautiously by the cia and greeted with great enthusiasm by the osp. The hawks were commissioning intelligence to fit their preconceptions.
The process would eventually ricochet.
The summer heat in London is different from Washington’s, drier, more a bake than a boil. This July it was particularly intense, and Londoners took it personally. The placards beside the newspaper kiosks read “Heat Hell In Tube.” Dogs with slack tongues plodded past lonely speakers at Hyde Park Corner: it was too hot for politics.
Or so you’d think. But Prime Minister Tony Blair was caught in a political firestorm. Senior ministers had resigned from his cabinet over his decision to join the U.S. in the war; his standing in the polls was down; much of his back bench was in revolt; the Conservatives, who had supported the attack on Iraq, were now barking at him in the Commons: “Nobody believes a word you say anymore.”
The charges Blair’s critics leveled were almost identical to those used against George W. Bush. But Bush, with a cheerful smile, got ready to go chopping scrub at his ranch in Texas, and Blair was stuck in London in July, in very hot water.
Blair was popular in Washington. He had been invited to address a joint session of Congress. He had been offered a Congressional Medal. But in London, it was the way Blair had taken his country to war, the unraveling of his evidence, and the mystery at the heart of his reasoning that had created deep doubt among his supporters and profound disapproval among his opponents. He had said little that Bush had not said; if he had lied or misled or prevaricated, so had Bush. But Blair was in peril and Bush was not.
Early in the game, Tony Blair kept his distance. First, he said publicly that British participation in an attack on Iraq was far from certain. In April, 2002, after a meeting with Bush in Texas, he repeated his demand that Saddam allow weapons inspectors back into Iraq. That July, a British official said, “We are not alone in this world and it is not our policy to act against the international will.” Later that month, Blair publicly denied that Britain had made any decision about an attack, but privately assured Bush that Britain would join the U.S. if Saddam remained stubborn, and if Bush were prepared to publicly make the case for war. As part of that process, it was agreed that Blair would release evidence that Iraq had tried to develop prohibited weapons or purchase the materials to make them.
Blair spent the early summer of 2002 waiting for Bush to make a satisfactory case. Bush did nothing. Blair started to send up distress signals. On August 8, unnamed senior British ministers were telling reporters that Washington had presented no coherent military or political strategy for removing Saddam. Blair met with King Abdullah of Jordan, who said afterwards that Blair had “tremendous concerns” about an invasion.
The central problem for Blair at this point—it was now early fall, 2002—could be summed up in a single word: “imminent.” It was not difficult to believe that Saddam Hussein still possessed outlawed chemical and biological weapons, or even a military nuclear programme. The argument, however, was that these weapons were in fact functional, posing an imminent threat to Britain and the United States.
On September 9, 2002, Blair met with Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. The Americans were aware of Blair’s wavering, and apparently pressed him hard. In the end he seems to have promised at least symbolic military support, even if the United Nations failed to pass a resolution authorizing an attack.
This was Blair’s Rubicon. It was a far greater commitment than he had ever made at home, even, according to one minister, in conversations with his own cabinet. Blair had privately, secretly, committed his nation to war; it was now up to him, before announcing the decision he’d made, to persuade the British public and Parliament that war was unavoidable.
Blair obviously found the gap between his commitment to the Americans and his less forthright position at home awkward, even painful. Clare Short was international development secretary in Blair’s cabinet; she eventually resigned over the Iraq war. In an extraordinary interview on the terrace of the British House of Commons, she painted a picture of life inside the British cabinet, and of a prime minister who seemed increasingly uncertain and under stress.
“I think the tragedy for Tony Blair and for our country is that he pre-committed us, that we didn’t have any leverage, didn’t actually have the courage to say to America ‘on certain conditions we’re with you, but if not, not.’ And it was really important to the American people in all the polling—they didn’t want to go alone. So Britain’s position was very important symbolically for Bush with his own people. And then I think the prime minister, having committed us, went through this very kind of tense time, and that’s why when you see the pictures of him losing weight and looking pretty gaunt…I think he was squeezed between the promise he’d given to Bush and the promise he’d given to Britain, and that was the second [UN] resolution.”
Many experts in international law were arguing that any attack would have to be justified by persuasive evidence and would have to gain the approval of the UN Security Council in a second resolution. Blair would work desperately to get that second resolution passed. On September 3, 2002, he had promised to make public an intelligence dossier that would contain proof that Saddam’s prohibited weapons were an imminent threat to the West. A team of functionaries in the British department of defence set to work assembling the proof he wanted.
When Blair’s dossier arrived, in late September, it contained charges that Saddam had retained some long-range missiles and begun developing others, and that he was continuing to produce chemical and biological weapons. There were two other striking claims: that his agents had been shopping in an African nation for uranium, and that Saddam’s military could deploy biological weapons “within forty-five minutes of an order to use them.”
The letter charge came from a single source, and had been roundly discounted by British intelligence analysts. It made its way into the dossier anyway, apparently over the objections of the specialists responsible for collating the evidence. The charge that Saddam’s agents had been uranium-hunting in Africa was based on letters apparently written by a government official in Niger. The letters turned out to be inept forgeries. But someone had insisted the Niger material be included.
It was going to get worse for Tony Blair. In February, 2003, the Americans reluctantly agreed, probably for Blair’s sake, to return to the United Nations for a second resolution that would approve an attack. It seemed that the French, who have a Security Council veto, would vote against any resolution that involved military action against Iraq. Clare Short, however, says Blair misrepresented France’s position, even to his cabinet. The weapons inspector, Hans Blix, was asking for another month to find caches of arms in Iraq, but the prime minister left that part out: “Blair absolutely fixed himself onto Chirac’s threat of a veto,” Clare Short said, “and kept saying Chirac would veto any second resolution. It’s now clear to many people who have drawn the record to my attention that Chirac said, on television, in France, on the tenth of March, ‘We must go with Blix. Blix needs more time, but if Blix then comes to the Security Council and says he cannot achieve disarmament through inspection then the Security Council would have to authorize action, but in my [President Chirac’s] view war would be inevitable.’ So the suggestion that the French made action through the UN impossible is completely untrue, and all that vilification of France was a smokescreen.”
Blair, in other words, could have insisted that Blix be allowed to finish his work, on the understanding that the French would join the cause eventually. But he seemed to prefer advancing a distortion of the French position that allowed him to push forward with the Americans immediately.
Why? Blair seems to have been obsessed with the need to join George Bush’s war. Many other nations, including Canada, announced early in the process they would not contribute troops to the attack without the approval of the UN. Most stuck to their guns. Short says that from September, 2002, until the war began in mid-March, 2003, Blair was bending over backwards, and bending the truth, to persuade Britain to follow him.
“I think there was a series of half-truths, exaggerations, and deceptions to get us to war by a particular date,” Short says. “And I think he misled me personally, the House of Commons, the cabinet, and so on… It’s quite clear that Tony Blair—for some reason he never explained, thought it would be utterly disastrous if America went [to war] alone.”
This seems to be the core of Blair’s reasoning—that if he sat out the war, the Americans, who were already suspicious of international authorities, would discover the efficiencies of unilateral action and simply ignore the rest of the world from then on. Ian Buruma, a British historian and political analyst, sipped his cappuccino in a pleasant coffeehouse in Camden Town and speculated a bit. “I think he’s not in favour of American unilateralism,” Buruma said. “I think he probably believed that he could be the bridge, just as he sees his role as making Britain into the bridge between Europe and the United States. He sees the role for Britain, or his role, is to try to keep the United Nations involved and to stop America being unilateralist.”
“It didn’t work,” I suggest.
“Well, it worked up to a point,” he replied, “because the Americans went back, probably wrongly, in retrospect, went back for a second resolution, really to please Blair. So, if any foreigner had any influence in Washington, it has been Blair.”
“What difference has that made?”
“Finally, very little. Finally, very little…”
There’s an eerie, ironic, intensely meaningful parallel here, and it centres on the Niger fable. It eventually re—bounded on Bush as well. After the fall of Saddam in April, it came out that the frail evidence of Saddam’s nuclear-shopping in Africa had been evaluated and rejected by the cia, removed from one presidential speech after objections from intelligence analysts, and then somehow inserted, with a qualification that the information was British, into a subsequent State of the Union address in January, 2003. Vice President Cheney may have been implicated here; he is known to have taken a keen and continuing interest in the Niger charge —a story this good was bound to be true, or, if not technically true, then, because of its delectable congruence with the hawks’ world, imbued with a kind of virtuous super-truth. More magical thinking.
Nonetheless, its utter falseness was quickly proven, and a hunt for its sponsor began. A Democratic senator announced that cia Director George Tenet had told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that a certain White House official was “insistent on putting this language in which the cia knew to be incredible, this language about the uranium shipment from Africa.” Somebody had to take the fall. Tenet took overall responsibility and eventually the deputy national security advisor, Steve Hadley, said he’d been warned by the cia that the information was dodgy, but he forgot. (The British acknowledge the letters are fakes but say they have confirmation of the Iraqi shopping expedition from other sources.) Hadley’s superior, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, said the whole thing was “overblown.”
Nobody blamed George Bush for any of this. George Bush’s image does not include nitpicking the content of his speeches.
Yet Tony Blair had based much of his case on the evidence in the dossier. When it turned out that someone had stretched the truth, and clumsily, he was blamed for it: if Blair hadn’t inserted the material himself, one of his mini-Blairs did, possibly Alastair Campbell, his director of communications and strategy. It was all much too New World for the British. Critics began to complain about the Americanization of British politics, the centralization of decision-making at Number 10 Downing Street. President Blair. Nothing could have been more calculated to alienate the British Labour voter.
Then, a mild-mannered British scientist died, and life for Tony Blair became suddenly and immeasurably worse.
One week after the Senate sub-committee meeting on Capitol Hill, a Commons Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry into the reasons for the war in Iraq convened at Westminster. The differences were striking. In Washington, the political attacks are modulated by a modest respect for the popularity of a wartime leader. In Britain, they are not.
The question of the day was a charge laid by a bbc correspondent on May 29 that some political operator attached to the prime minister’s office had “sexed up” the dossier containing the evidence of an imminent Iraqi threat. Blair attacked the bbc, saying that there could be no greater slur on his integrity. It developed that the reporter, Andrew Gilligan, based his charge on the word of a single government source—but, he added, the source was a highly placed intelligence official, and thoroughly trustworthy.
That rang a harrowing bell with Dr. David Kelly, a microbiologist, former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, and senior defence department adviser. He wrote a letter to his line manager in the Ministry of Defence, saying that he had met Gilligan some days before and that they had talked a little about Iraq. Gilligan might have based a bit of his report on that conversation.
Someone in the British defence department leaked Kelly’s name to reporters—the leak identifying Kelly as the leaker.
Kelly was summoned to the committee to explain himself.
I sat in the committee room about ten feet from Kelly, and strained to hear him. He was almost inaudible. The committee chairman ordered the air conditioning off, the room became torrid, and reporters and MPs still asked him to speak up. He was a small, bearded, bespectacled man, a cartoon scientist. “I contributed [to the dossier] in May and June,” he said. “The component that I wrote did not require intelligence information…it was the history of the inspections.” He hadn’t said anything about sexing up, hadn’t referred explicitly to Alastair Campbell, the prime minister’s media advisor (generally thought of as the chief demander of increased sexiness).
Gilligan’s source had described the prime minister’s office as “desperate for information…pushing hard.” When that thin forty-five-minute claim “popped up…it was seized on,” the source said. Did you say that? Kelly was asked.
“It does not sound like a quote from me,” said Kelly.
“So,” said Tory Richard Ottaway, “you could not have been the central source.”
“I did not see how on earth I could have been the primary source,” said Kelly.
Labour’s Andrew Mackinlay, bouncing in his seat, glowering, pouting, twitching: “You are chaff! You have been set up!”
“I accept the process,” said Kelly, and left the room. He was driven home through a battery of flashing cameras, and two nights later went for a walk, took some painkillers, cut his left wrist, and bled to death in a field. The briefcase
war had slopped over into real life. Perhaps Kelly has been humiliated by the process; perhaps he’d lied to the committee and was afraid of further exposure (the bbc announced after Kelly’s death that he had indeed been Gilligan’s main source); perhaps, it was suggested by some government whisperers, he was afraid of losing his pension.
Weeks later, Gilligan’s superiors said that the reporter had sexed up his own story, overstated his case. Gilligan admitted that he had been careless in his phrasing and that he was very sorry.
Blair appointed a senior judge, Lord Hutton, to conduct an inquiry. Blair testified before him that he knew nothing about any attempt to “sex up” the dossier. Geoff Hoon, the secretary of state for defence, eventually admitted that he had known the forty-five-minute claim was false but saw no reason to say so when it became public. He also confirmed that he was aware in advance of a plan to leak David Kelly’s name to the media.
The Hutton inquiry placed the Kelly tragedy and the dossier fiasco directly at the top of the public agenda for weeks. Along with Campbell, Blair, and Hoon, Lord Hutton took testimony from various government message-shapers, intelligence figures, senior civil servants and journalists.
None of this might have happened if Dr. Kelly had remained alive: in that sense, his death was a successful act of revenge against his tormenters. The picture of Blair’s leadership team was one of a pack of unscrupulous spinners with a ruthless determination to manage the facts to their own advantage. The conclusion became clear: Tony Blair’s government lied, then failed to correct the lie, then covered up the lies.
Calls for Blair’s resignation intensified. But he remained defiant. At the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth in late September, Blair defended his decision to back Bush in Iraq, reiterating his belief that, faulty intelligence or not, he still believed Saddam was a serious threat to British security. “And it’s not so much American unilateralism I fear. It’s isolation. It’s walking away when we need America in there, engaged.”
The Hutton inquiry is due to release its findings in December. But so far the briefcase battlefield looks like this. The wounded include Tony Blair, who has sustained serious political damage (a by-election in a safe Labour seat September 18 was won by a member of a frail third party, the Liberal Democrats, who opposed the war).
The victors, in the short term, include George W. Bush and the corp- orations that will profit from the cleanup and reconstruction in Iraq. The corporations will continue to make their profits, but in the longer term Bush and his war council may lose ground with the American public, exactly as his father and his advisers did. By mid-October, in fact, Bush was slipping badly in the polls.
The list of the vanquished, strangely enough, includes Paul Wolfowitz, who keeps his job and gets credit for his early warnings about Iraq—but who clearly underestimated the complexities of postwar Iraq, and whose dream of infectious democracy in the Middle East has been exploded. Wolfowitz was still arguing this fall that Iraq may well have had something to do with the 9/11 attacks: it was as though, without that connection, his world would lose its clarity. The weapons of mass destruction must exist. The Osama-Saddam connection must exist. Without these convictions as a joint fulcrum, no lever can function.
It is almost noble, this magical thinking, almost artistic in its power and resilience. It has led to great expense and pain and sorrow and death, even to some good—Saddam, after all, is gone. But the habits of mind, the magical thinking, that led to this great mistake are still strong in Washington.