Former UNSCOM boss Richard Butler has a useful opinion piece in this morning’s Australian, observing that the failure so far to find WOMD in liberated Iraq “has led to serious expressions of concern around the world that the rationale for invasion may have been false or fabricated.”
Butler recounts the history of Iraq’s non-compliance with UN resolutions over more than a decade, and reminds readers of UNSCOM’s discovery in 1998 that Iraq had produced over 4000 litres of VX nerve gas (when a single drop on the skin is enough to kill a person in 3 minutes). These agents were never disclosed by Iraq, not even in its 12,000 page dossier produced in response to UN Resolution 1441. Butler speculates that they were destroyed shortly before the US-led invasion. It certainly defies belief that they were destroyed any earlier than that, otherwise why continue obfuscating? The more worrying scenario is that chemical agents have been shipped abroad to Syria or elsewhere pending a Baathist revival after the Americans leave.
On the conclusions we should draw from Bush and Blair’s apparent hyping of the evidence for WOMD, Butler says:
They chose the WMD issue as justification. British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his dossier issued in London and US Secretary of State Colin Powell in his appearance before the Security Council went beyond the weapons that remained unaccounted for in my 1999 report and Blix’s 2002 report. They claimed they had intelligence of much more weapons development, including nuclear weapons. They also raised the spectre that Hussein might make these weapons available to terrorists. …
Second, the additional materials Blair and Powell published were questionable. Blair’s claim that Iraq had been trying to purchase uranium in Africa was later proved to have been based on forged documents. Powell’s insistence that Iraq’s weapons could have been made available to terrorists was speculation.
Nevertheless, while expressing concern about the Bush “pre-emption” doctrine, Butler rightly emphasises the role of UN inaction for over a decade as a precipitating factor:
It also derived from the parlous state of the Security Council. The council’s decisions are binding in international law and it has the right to enforce them or to authorise countries to take military action on its behalf.
Its failure to enforce its own decision on Iraq for more than a decade made it possible for George W. Bush to justify a US invasion of Iraq in the terms the President used: If you won’t fulfil your responsibility, we will. Although that might have a simplistic, Texas Ranger-type appeal, it does not allay concern that the Bush doctrine may lead to a period of US imperialism.
Reuters also carries a news story alleging US intelligence community concerns with Bush-Blair WOMD evidence hyping, reporting that:
A growing number of U.S. national security professionals are accusing the Bush administration of slanting the facts and hijacking the $30 billion intelligence apparatus to justify its rush to war in Iraq. …
Vince Cannistraro, a former chief of Central Intelligence Agency (news – web sites) counterterrorist operations, said he knew of serving intelligence officers who blame the Pentagon for playing up “fraudulent” intelligence, “a lot of it sourced from the Iraqi National Congress of Ahmad Chalabi.”
But does it matter? Does it matter if the Americans and British exaggerated the evidence for Iraq’s WOMD program, or relied on intelligence they knew to be lacking in credibility? Certainly right wing bloggers like Catallaxy’s Jack Strocchi don’t think so (also see his earlier post here). Jack thinks that “[i]t is as well that someone has the nerve to practice a little machiavellian rule-breaking“, given what he sees as the potentially favourable geopolitical consequences of US actions in the Middle East.
For leftie bloggers like Rob Schaap or Gary Sauer-Thompson, US lies and exaggeration also don’t matter. They conclusively presume that the “neocons” are always lying anyway. Even many in the apathetic centre aren’t likely to agonise over Bush-Blair duplicity. Is the Pope a Catholic?
Yet for self-appointed politically aware centrists like me, it really does make a difference. I’m not naive enough to think that politicians never lie, or even that they shouldn’t. However, I also don’t automatically assume that Bush or Blair (or for that matter John Howard) are just lying bastards who can never be trusted. Trust and democracy are inextricably interwoven. I strongly believe in the citizen’s civic duty to stay informed on important current issues and to participate responsibly in the civic dialogue without which any democratic polity becomes a mere elective dictatorship. It isn’t necessary for everyone, or even a majority, to fulfil this ideal of civic participation, but it is necessary for enough citizens to take it seriously to “keep the bastards honest”. If we simply can’t believe anything we’re told by our political leaders, even on issues like Iraq with such huge human rights and geopolitical significance, then any meaningful conception of democracy is fatally undermined. If it’s allowed to continue unchallenged, if we don’t insist on accountability, the only rational political stances would be either the corrosive anti-American cynicism of the left or the mindless partisan barracking of the warblogging right (they might be lying bastards, but they’re our lying bastards). Maybe that’s always been true, but I refuse to accept it.