July 14, 2004 | National Review Online

Biters Bit; The Liberators Did Not Lie

By Andrew Apostolou

During the last week, the myth that the British and American governments took their countries to war in Iraq on the basis of lies has been comprehensively demolished. Those who accused the British and American governments of distorting intelligence, of cooking evidence to justify the toppling of Saddam, have themselves been exposed as peddling falsehoods. A key allegation, that President George W. Bush had lied to the American people in his January 2003 State of the Union address, has been thoroughly disproved.

There are remarkable parallels between the false scandals created by those who have accused the two governments of distorting intelligence. In Britain, Andrew Gilligan, a BBC journalist, claimed in May 2003 that the British government had “sexed up” (i.e. “exaggerated”) the evidence in its September 2002 dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The clear implication was that Tony Blair's government had knowingly misled the British public.

In the U.S., retired ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV wrote an op-ed for The New York Times on July 6, 2003, in which he wrote that “some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” Wilson's barely hidden insinuation was that President Bush had hoodwinked the American people in his January 2003 State of the Union address in which he said that “The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Thanks to Wilson, the supposedly false claim of these “16 words” became a rallying cry of those opposed to the war in Iraq.

The BBC allegations were discredited by an independent inquiry led by Lord Hutton, a leading judge, in January 2004. Hutton concluded that the claim that the dossier had been exaggerated was “unfounded.” In the resulting furor, Gavyn Davies, the chairman of the BBC, and Greg Dyke, the BBC director general, along with the journalist responsible for the report, Andrew Gilligan, resigned.

On Wednesday, the latest British inquiry, under Lord Butler, has come to similar conclusions. Butler has “found no evidence of deliberate distortion or of culpable negligence.” The intelligence was not stretched to fit a political agenda, although judgments were at the “outer limits” of what the intelligence would support. According to Lord Butler, some of the intelligence was poor, and intelligence claims that Iraq had resumed biological-weapons production were “seriously flawed.”

Lord Butler's sensible conclusions stand in stark contrast to the tabloid journalism of the BBC. Unable to admit that it has again been proved wrong for a second time, the BBC and its friends in the British media have responded by attacking Butler for being an archetypal civil servant, just as they pilloried Lord Hutton for being an establishment judge. Reuters has today called Lord Butler “a man of the establishment.”

Wilson's claims were, from the beginning, knocked down by my colleague and boss, Cliff May, who pointed to the discrepancies in Wilson's account. Then in September 2003, the Intelligence and Security Committee, an independent British parliamentary body composed of members of both the Houses of Lords and Commons, looked into the Niger uranium claim and concluded that it was “reasonable.” Finally, last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee decided that contrary to Wilson's key contention, his supposed investigation had dismissed any notion that Iraq was looking to obtain uranium from Niger, his report had actually raised suspicions about what Iraq was up to in Africa.

Lord Butler's inquiry has today come to similar conclusions on Niger. He has specifically exonerated both Tony Blair and George W. Bush, deciding that:

We conclude that, on the basis of the intelligence assessments at the time, covering both Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the statements on Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa in the Government's dossier, and by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, were well-founded. By extension, we conclude also that the statement in President Bush's State of the Union Address of 28 January 2003 that: The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa was well-founded.

More important are Lord Butler's overall conclusions on Iraq, statements that reinforce the case for war. The British and American claim was always that Saddam was in gross violation of his U.N. obligations. Indeed, the U.N. Security Council had unanimously found Iraq to be in “material breach” of its U.N. obligations in Security Council Resolution 1441 on November 8, 2002. Today, Lord Butler wrote that:

For the reasons given above, even now it is premature to reach conclusions about Iraq's prohibited weapons. But from the evidence which has been found and de-briefing of Iraqi personnel it appears that prior to the war the Iraqi regime: a. Had the strategic intention of resuming the pursuit of prohibited weapons programmes, including if possible its nuclear weapons programme, when United Nations inspection regimes were relaxed and sanctions were eroded or lifted. b. In support of that goal, was carrying out illicit research and development, and procurement, activities. c. Was developing ballistic missiles with a range longer than permitted under relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. d. Did not, however, have significant — if any — stocks of chemical or biological weapons in a state fit for deployment, or developed plans for using them.

Saddam may not have had WMD stocks, but he certainly wanted to retain the ability to recreate them and use them. His nuclear program was more limited than it had been in the past, but Saddam was looking to revive it and the shopping expeditions to Africa were indications of his malign intent. It was Saddam and his henchmen who were the liars, men and women who repeatedly claimed that Iraq had fully disarmed but had, in a fit of absence of mind, forgotten to keep any evidence of this disarmament.

There was no need to forge evidence against Saddam to prove either his guilt or that toppling his criminal regime was legally justified and morally sound. Seventeen U.N. resolutions had demanded full and verifiable disarmament of stocks “and all related subsystems and components and all research, development, support and manufacturing facilities.”
Saddam was also required to renounce terrorism. It was precisely because Iraq was already guilty of using WMDs for external aggression and domestic oppression, of genocide against the Kurds and the Shia Arabs and war crimes against Iran, of repeatedly sponsoring terrorism, that the U.N. imposed upon Iraq its most stringent economic sanctions ever.

Above all, the U.N. in April 1991 linked Iraqi compliance to the Gulf War ceasefire because Saddam's regime was known to be adept at dissimulation and deception. In March 2003, Saddam gambled one last time and lost. Iraq was liberated, and, for the first time, Iraqis benefited from Saddam's mistake.

Andrew Apostolou is director of research for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.