The Socialist Unity Network

Butler's quiet assasination of Blair

Andy Newman

I had a strange experience with the Butler report. I changed my mind.

In my capacity as secretary of the local Stop the War Coalition I was interviewed by GWR radio within an hour of the report being published, and based upon the quick summary posted on the BBC web page I concluded that it was a whitewash. It said that mistakes were made, and the procedures failed, but no individual was to blame and the Prime Minister acted in good faith. This is pretty much the commentary of the report from the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror.

However, because I was also being interviewed by the BBC the next morning I decided to read the report in full. I now believe it is a most remarkable document that cannot be entirely taken at face value.

Yes, Lord Butler and his committee do exonerate Tony Blair and John Scarlett now the head of MI6.from personal blame. However, this should be taken in context. Lord Butler is the pre-eminent living civil servant, the very top Whitehall Mandarin, he was never going to conclude otherwise and that part of the report was written well before any evidence was even heard. That is simply the way the British state works.

What is remarkable in contrast is the mountain of detail that points in exactly the opposite direction, and also the unprecedented disclosure of the strength and weakness of the British secret state, and its relationship with government. I believe that the Butler Report is as strong an attack on Blair and the war on Iraq as we are ever likely to see from within the British establishment.

Remember these mandarins are the product of the British Public School system. Latin is not still taught because of the language itself, but because of the content of the surviving works, which describe in detail how to administer an empire. Writing under the dictator Domitian, the liberal senator Tacitus was able to distribute political criticism because he dressed it up as historical commentary. In the same way the Butler report lands punch after heavy punch on Blair's case for war and on his style of presidential government because it is dressed up as support.

The report concludes that Blair did not deliberately lie, but it goes out of its way to show that he did. The most blatant example for me was the one picked up for the front page of the Daily Mirrior, that the information given to him was "Intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass Destruction is sporadic and patchy", and had been almost non-existant since 1998. But when Blair stod up in the house of commons he said there was an increasing build up of intelligence and "the picture painted by the intelligence services is extensive, detailed and authorative". An out and out lie.  There are many other lies exposed in the Butler report.

However, for anyone who has read John Le Carre novels, it is common sense that the authority of the intelligent services is based upon keeping secret the extent of their own networks, keeping potential enemies in the dark, and also preserving some mystery about how information is validated.

It is therefore extraordinary to learn, in this week's American report into the CIA, that since 1998 the Americans had not a single spy in Iraq. This confirms reports that the whole American spy network was infiltrated by the Mukhabarat and liquidated in June 1996, following the current Iraqi Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi's, incompetent coup attempt. We now learn from Butler that MI6 had only 5 spies in Iraq, three of whom have since been discredited, and the other (reliable) two were saying there was no WMD threat.

If Western Intelligence was completely blind about iraq, then how much less they must know about Al Qaeda?

It is also extraordinary to learn that complaints from within the Intelligence Services about the 45 minute claim were ignored ( The complaints were by Dr Jones, the only thing Andrew Gilligan got wrong was attributing his scoop to Dr Kelly).

But the most startling section for me is Chapter Six, "The Policy Context". Here the Butler report frankly admits in guarded bureaucratic language that the motive for war was because the government was "being influenced by the concerns of the US Government"; that the objective for war was "regime change by military means", and that this could only be legally justified if a WMD threat was cooked up. The problem as Butler puts it was " there was no recent intelligence that would itself have given rise to a conclusion that Iraq was of more immediate concern than the activities of some other countries.".

Therefore as Butler explains: "Intelligence on Iraqi nuclear, biological, chemical and ballistic missile programmes was used in support of the execution of this policy to inform planning for a military campaign; to inform domestic and international opinion, in support of the Government's advocacy of its changing policy towards Iraq; and to obtain and provide information to United Nations inspectors".

But as the report demonstrates in close detail, "After the departure of the United Nations inspectors in December 1998, information sources were sparse, particularly on Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programmes."

It is worth decoding this. Britain went to war because George Bush wanted to. The objective was the military overthrow of a foreign sovereign government which would be illegal. They therefore decided to present the case for war as the threat of WMD, but there wasn't any evidence to justify this, so they made it up.

That is what Butler actually says in Chapter Six!

It is also worth quoting in full Butler's damning attack on Blair's undemocratic style of government.

"Excellent quality papers were written by officials, but these were not discussed in Cabinet or in  Cabinet Committee. Without papers circulated in advance, it remains possible but is obviously much more difficult for members of the Cabinet outside the small circle directly involved to bring their political judgment and experience to bear on the major decisions for which the Cabinet as a whole must carry responsibility. The absence of papers on the Cabinet agenda so that Ministers could obtain briefings in advance from the Cabinet Office, their own departments or from the intelligence agencies plainly reduced their ability to prepare properly for such discussions, while the changes to key posts at the head of the Cabinet Secretariat lessened the support of the machinery of government for the collective responsibility of the Cabinet in the vital matter of war and peace."

A small cabal make the decisions, there is no internal democracy and this means that poor judgements are made, as the inner circle cannot draw upon the wider expertise of the cabinet.

The British ruling class were not all fully behind the war, but once Blair staked the credibility of the government on it they had no choice but to back it. But it is a war that has caused a great deal of damage to the credibility of the British state, its military forces, its intelligence services, and those foreign policy interests independent of the USA. The Butler report is a very British response. Lord Butler knows it is not his job to destroy Blair, but he has loaded a pistol, taken off the safety catch and given the gun to Blair's opponents. What we do with it is up to us.



July 2004


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