EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Bush and Iraq: the essential issues
, February 14, 2004
Less than a year after the military coalition led by the United States overthrew the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, the leaders of that coalition - President Bush in the US, Tony Blair in Britain, and John Howard in Australia - are facing a torrent of criticism that they lied about, or exaggerated, the risk of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program, which was the basis on which they went to war.
The latest row followed the resignation of the leading US weapons inspector in Iraq, David Kay, last week. Kay said, "We were almost all wrong on weapons of mass destruction." President Bush later announced that he would conduct an inquiry into US intelligence failings over Iraq.
Tony Blair has ordered a similar inquiry, headed by one of Britain's most senior retired civil servants. This follows an inquiry into the suicide death of a senior defence intelligence analyst, David Kelly, over BBC allegations that the British Government had "sexed up" intelligence assessments to justify the decision to go to war.
In both the US and the UK, the critics are entirely unconvinced. Robin Cook, the former British Foreign Secretary, who resigned from Cabinet over the war, said, "The British people are entitled to know why we went to war on a false prospectus. It would be grotesque if the intelligence agencies were now to carry the can for what was ultimately a political decision."Fallacy
The widespread criticism of the US, British and Australian governments is based upon a fallacy: that the Coalition acted against Saddam Hussein solely because he had weapons of mass destruction.
The reality was well known a year ago, but has been largely forgotten as American and British servicemen continue to be killed in Iraq, Iraqi civilians have continued to be murdered by Saddam loyalists and Islamic terrorists, while no stockpiles of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons have been uncovered following the invasion of Iraq.
Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq was certainly believed
to have weapons of mass destruction (WMDs); but the invasion was finally based on the fact that Saddam had consistently violated UN resolutions to permit full and free inspection of all potential weapons facilities, even when faced with the threat of invasion.
Saddam himself had used chemical and biological weapons to kill thousands of Kurds and Iranians during the 1980s, and had embarked on a program to build nuclear reactors.
In light of the fact that the founder of Pakistan's nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, has been indicted recently with supplying nuclear technology to countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and North Korea, while Iraq was accumulating the know-how for long range missiles, it was inevitable that defence analysts believed that Iraq had a viable nuclear weapons program.
The issue of Saddam's WMD programs was extensively analysed by the British House of Commons' Intelligence and Security Committee last year.
In its report, Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction - Intelligence and Assessments
, tabled last September, the Committee said, "Since 1991, when Iraq started to conceal its WMD programmes from both the UN inspectors and foreign intelligence services, the JIC [Joint Intelligence Committee] has recognised and correctly reported that Iraq continued to harbour WMD ambitions based on its existing capabilities.
"Iraq was an extremely difficult target, against which the UK had some successes. However, once the UN inspectors left in 1998, the UK's visibility of WMD activity in Iraq was even less complete. Consequently, the JIC made assessments and judgements based on limited new information or intelligence."
The Committee continued, "It was clear to all that Saddam Hussein was defying the international community, ignoring UN Security Council Resolutions, breaking embargoes and engaging in an extensive programme of concealment.
"Based on the intelligence and the JIC Assessments that we have seen, we accept that there was convincing intelligence that Iraq had active chemical, biological and nuclear programmes and the capability to produce chemical and biological weapons. Iraq was also continuing to develop ballistic missiles. All these activities were prohibited under UN Security Council Resolutions."
Dr Hugh White, formerly Secretary of the Defence Department, now head of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, made the same point recently. He said "there was surprisingly little new data available on what was happening inside Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction program coming into the intelligence communities over the years, particularly since the [UN] inspections stopped in the late '90s." (7.30 Report
, February 2, 2004)
The criticism of President Bush and Tony Blair is therefore misplaced.
It would be more relevant to examine whether the US is able to establish a stable, independent and democratically-elected Government in Baghdad by the middle of the year, as has been promised. Unless that is done, the effort of replacing the brutal Iraqi dictator may be in vain.
- Peter Westmore is President of the National Civic Council