US Domestic Agenda
Behind Blair’s Iraq War
by Robin Cook*, May 31, 2003
Originally Published in the
Chutzpah was the word that used to be applied
to people who radiated belief in themselves without possessing
any visible reason to justify it. In the chutzpah stakes US Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is way off the top of the scale.
Before the war he told us that Saddam had large
stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and an active program
to develop nuclear weapons . After the war he explains away the
failure to find any of these stockpiles or nuclear installations
on the possibility that Saddam s regime decided they would destroy
them prior to a conflict . You have to admire his effrontery.
But not his logic. The least plausible explanation
is that Saddam destroyed his means of defense on the eve of an
invasion. The more plausible explanation is that he did not have
any large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.
We need to rescue the meaning of words from becoming
a further casualty of the Iraqi war. A weapon of mass destruction
in normal speech is a device capable of being delivered over a
long distanse and exterminating a strategic target such as a capital
city. Saddam had neither a long-range missile system nor a warhead
capable of mass destruction.
Laboratory stocks of biological toxins or chemical
shells for use on the battlefield do not add up to weapons of
mass destruction. But we have not yet found even any of these.
When the British Cabinet discussed the dossier
on Saddam s weapons of mass destruction I argued that I found
the document curiously derivative . It set out what we knew about
Saddam s chemical and biological arsenal at the time of the (previous)
Gulf War. It rehearsed our inability to discover what had happened
to those weapons. It then leapt to the conclusion that Saddam
must still possess all those weapons. There was no hard intelligence
of a current weapons program that would represent a new and compelling
threat to our interests.
Nor did the dossier at any stage admit the basic
scientific fact that biological and chemical agents have a finite
shelf life. Odd, since it is a principle understood by every chemist.
Go in to your medicine cupboard and check out the existence of
an expiry date on nearly everything you possess.
Nerve agents of good quality have a shelf life
of about five years and anthrax in liquid solution of about three
years. Saddam s stocks were not of good quality. The Pentagon
itself concluded that Iraqi chemical munitions were of such poor
standard that they were produced to a make-and-use regime under
which they were usable for only a few weeks. Even if Saddam had
destroyed none of his arsenal from 1991 it would long ago have
It is inconceivable that no one in the Pentagon
told Donald Rumsfeld these home truths, or at the very least tried
to tell him. So why did he build a case for war on a false claim
of Saddam s capability?
Enter stage right (far right) his deputy, Paul
Wolfowitz, a man of such ferociously reactionary opinion that
he has at least the advantage to his department of making Rumsfeld
appear reasonable. He has now disclosed: For bureaucratic reasons
we settled on weapons of mass destruction because it was the one
issue everyone could agree on.
Wolfowitz is famously a regime-change champion.
He was one of the flock of Republican hawks who wanted a war to
take over Iraq long before Sept. 11. Decoded, what his remarks
mean is that the Pentagon went along with allegations of weapons
of mass destruction as the price of getting Secretary of State
Colin Powell and the British government on board for war. But
the Pentagon probably did not believe in the case then and certainly
cannot prove it now.
Wolfowitz also let the cat out of the bag over
the huge prize for the Pentagon from the invasion of Iraq. It
has furnished them with an alternative to Saudi Arabia as a base
for US influence in the region.
As Donald Rumsfeld might express it, we have been
suckered. Britain was conned into a war to disarm a phantom threat
in which not even our major ally really believed. The truth is
that the US chose to attack Iraq not because it posed a threat,
but because they knew it was weak and expected its military to
collapse. It is a truth that leaves the British government in
an uncomfortable position. This week Prime Minister Tony Blair
was pleading for everyone to show patience and to wait for weapons
to be found. There is an historic problem with this plea. The
war only took place because the coalition powers lost patience
with Hans Blix and refused his plea for a few more months to complete
his disarmament tasks.
There is also a growing problem of trans-Atlantic
politics with the British prime minister s plea for more time.
The US administration wanted the war to achieve regime change
and now they have got it they do not see why they need to keep
up the pretence that they fought it to deliver disarmament. The
more time passes, the greater the gulf will widen between the
obliging candor on the US side that there never was a weapons
threat and the desperate obfuscation on the British side that
we might still find one.
There is always a bigger problem in denying reality
than in admitting the truth. The time has come when the British
government needs to concede that we did not go to war because
Saddam was a threat to our national interests. We went to war
for reasons of US foreign policy and Republican domestic politics.
One advantage of such clarity is that it would
help prevent us from being suckered a second time. Which brings
us to Rumsfeld s latest sabre-rattling against Iran. It is consistent
with the one-dimensional character of the Rumsfeld world view.
This time we must make clear to the White House that we are not
going to subordinate Britain s interests to a US policy of confrontation.
Iran must not become the next Iraq.
* Robin Cook resigned from Tony Blair s Cabinet to protest the
war on Iraq.