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