Why WMD?

Nick Cohen returns to the Iraq debate and the Hutton Inquiry in the Observer:

If nothing else, Hutton has shown that power in Britain lies with unelected advisers, unelected media grandees and unelected judges. MPs, even if members of the Cabinet, don’t get a look in.

From Blair’s point of view, the court politics brought by unelected advisers has been a disaster. Instead of confronting his opponents by saying that Britain has been at war with Iraq since 1991, and rubbing home the point that the UN-authorised status quo which allowed sanctions and bombing raids but kept Saddam in power was intolerable, he and his courtiers chose to highlight dubious intelligence……..

Yet the reality of the terror the Baath Party imposed, a terror so thorough- going it can make communists temporary allies of Bush’s Republicans until the remnants of the old regime have been suppressed, barely intrudes on the debate in Britain. The Government is paying the price for failing miserably to present the evidence of Saddam’s barbarism. It was there in abundance and it didn’t need sexing up.

But Blair did make the other case – albeit only towards the end of the build-up-to-war campaign.

He made the moral case for liberation of Iraq at a stirring speech to the Scottish Labour Partys conference in Glasgow on February 15 – the day of the biggest of the anti-war demonstration.

His words are worth another look because I think they might give us a clue to why Blair let himself get trapped in the WMD debate.

After covering the WMD and UN resolution issues, Blair says:

If I am honest about it, there is another reason why I feel so strongly about this issue. It is a reason less to do with my being Prime Minister than being a member of the Labour Party, to do with the progressive politics in which we believe. The moral case against war has a moral answer: it is the moral case for removing Saddam. It is not the reason we act. That must be according to the United Nations mandate on Weapons of Mass Destruction. But it is the reason, frankly, why if we do have to act, we should do so with a clear conscience.

Blair then went into a passionate denunciation of Saddam’s crimes and took on the anti-war protestors directly for the first and possibly only time – up until then his approach had been ‘understanding the concerns’ of his opponents.

That speech (well worth reading in full) and a similar one soon after in parliament won many people over to supporting the war although his opponents in the media claimed he had shifted the goalposts and was now making an argument for a war of liberation rather than a war to implement UN resolutions on WMDs.

Lets not forget the pressure Blair was under to try and get UN backing for action. And the UN were never going to back a war of liberation in Iraq – even if the British public might have.

The bitter irony here is that it was the liberal supporters of the war, including many in the Labour Party, who were insisting that we needed to get the support of the UN before any action. The polls showed big support for UN backed action which plummeted if the war was just declared by the US.

Blair’s attempts to push Bush back to the UN was seen as a positive move by the PM yet it was probably the desire to go down the UN road that forced Blair to focus on WMD rather than liberation.

Much has been made of Paul Wolfowitz’s comments that WMD were highlighted for bureacratic reasons, as though that was some admission of guilt. In fact Wolfowitz was probably just being frank.