The Funny Thing Is How Few People Have Changed Their Minds on Iraq

By Rentoul, John | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), May 3, 2004 | Go to article overview
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The Funny Thing Is How Few People Have Changed Their Minds on Iraq


Rentoul, John, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)


What does it take to get people to decide they were wrong? What is remarkable about the invasion and the occupation of Iraq is how few people have changed their mind about the original decision to go to war. Not a single MP who voted with the Government on 18 March last year has said that he or she was wrong to do so. True, four Labour MPs have expressed their unhappiness. Eric Illsley, Jeff Ennis, Brian Donohoe and Ernie Ross, all of whom reluctantly supported Tony Blair in the important vote, now say the Americans have made a terrible mess of the after-sales service. But they stop short of saying that they should not have voted as they did.

Unlike Fritz Hollings, a Democrat from South Carolina and member of the US Senate. "I was misled," he said of his vote for military action. "I am embarrassed."

On both sides of the Atlantic, journalists have been just as reluctant to exercise the prerogative of adjusting their opinions in the light of new facts. Hence the interest in last week's leading article in The New York Times admitting that much of its reporting of Saddam Hussein's weapons programmes was "not as rigorous as it should have been". This unprecedented half apology, signed by "the editors", was a serious blow to the prestige of one of America's most august journalistic institutions. But it was not a recantation. The NYT was opposed to the war from the start, although in such balanced terms - or convoluted ones - that it might have been difficult to tell. It supported the disarming of Saddam, but opposed the "wrongheaded way this administration has gone about it".

In any case, the fact that Saddam's regime turned out to be hardly a threat to anyone outside Iraq should not change anyone's mind. What it should do, as David Kay, the former US weapons inspector, suggested, is require an apology from the intelligence services - and from newspapers such as The NYT which reported from similar sources - to political leaders.

Most people, for example, would not know Ahmed Chalabi from a hole in the ground, but assumed that they could rely on the British and American intelligence services to work out what was real and what were scare stories put about by Iraqi exiles desperate for the US to invade.

It remains Blair's strongest defence that he could not afford to risk that the intelligence was right - although it might help if he did not insist, as he did again last week, "I personally believe the intelligence we received was accurate. The conundrum of what has happened will be something that is resolved in due course."

The report of Lord Butler's inquiry into the accuracy of intelligence, to be published in two months' time, promises to be a fascinating document. But, unless it reveals that Blair lied, which is unthinkable, minds will continue to be resolutely unchanged - at least on grounds that the threat was bogus.

There was another aspect to the case for war, however, and it is that which has recently caused a small queue to form outside the anti-war confessional. The photographs of Iraqi prisoners being tortured and humiliated have battered the human rights case for liberating the Iraqi people from a monstrous dictator. Curiously, this has had more effect over here than in the US, although it was never part of the Government's legal case for war. It started with David Rose in the London Evening Standard on 10 May. He had written articles for the (pro-war) Observer about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction that turned out to be wrong, but it was the pictures from Abu Ghraib that caused him to "look back with shame and disbelief".

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