So it's official. Tony Blair has spoken. "Weapons of mass destruction," the British Prime Minister told a television interviewer, "may never be found in Iraq."
"It's a big country," Blair continued. Don't be surprised, he counseled, if no concrete evidence was ever found to back up claims that he and George Bush were trumpeting as gospel truth before their soldiers rolled into Iraq last year.
Add to Blair's no doubt carefully timed and focus-group-tested admission that revelations of Paul O'Neill, former Bush administration Treasury Secretary. O'Neill says his boss got most things wrong on both Iraq and the US economy. According to the former official, President Bush and his team were looking for an excuse to invade Iraq from the moment they came to office in 2001.
O'Neill was sacked last summer, ostensibly for getting the American economy wrong and frequently putting his foot in his mouth. Speaking to US television earlier this past week, he accused the president of much the same things. He rubbished the Bush plan to cut taxes to the country's richest citizens and said he was hamstrung in attempts to make economic sense out of adminstration policy.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, always clear, unwavering and accurate. And O'Neill is plugging a book about his experiences that'll no doubt earn him a few of those dollars he's supposed to have squandered as treasury secretary. But it's interesting to hear his insider's view of Bush cabinet dealings in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq last year, whatever pinches of salt are needed.
The point is that Britain and the United States did the wrong thing by rolling into Iraq, and they continue to do the wrong things during their occupation. No neutral observer could feel differently . You have to be politically partisan, or a member of one of the many groups to suffer at Saddam's bloodstained hands to support London and Washington's Iraq adventure. At least one can understand and sympathise with these latter groups.
The capture of Saddam Hussein last year was supposed to be a Christmas present for Bush and Blair, a boost for their Iraq strategy that would see public opinion soaring. Bush in particular was thought likely to turn the discovery of the vile dictator in his "spider hole" near Tikrit into an stepping stone to a second term as President in this year's elections. Yet so far, there's little sign of that happening.
Not that Bush won't win a second term, on current form, he's likely to, given the weakness and disarray among his opponents. But the president remains hostage to fortune and fortune favours both the brave and the lucky. Anything can happen between now and 2 November 2004, American election day. For all the might of the US military, for all the campaign money in Republican party coffers, for all of the effort expanded in wars against Iraq, Afghanistan and terrorism, Bush's reelection hopes still depend on events beyond his control.
In the end, I'm not sure that he or Blair will pay for their willful distortions of the truth over Iraq. But more and more people are learning that they lied. And that's worth something.