The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, January 30, 2004

WMD dissembling - Economist surpasses itself

Now I find I have access to the full version via the local library, I've been tasting the merchandise. And pretty thin gruel it tends to be.

Firstly, it's completely dead, net-wise: no links at all.

Secondly, its pieces make following up elements of the story particularly tricky: the sort of 5Ws material that Mr Google needs to function at all is often sparingly given.

Thirdly, the tone of sophomoric smugness.

A piece [1] on WMD (via Crooked Timber) is a more than worthy exemplar.

The Economist, to the best of my recollection, was a staunch supporter of the war. Now, the WMD quest appears futile. And fig-leaves are sought.

(Regular readers may be surprised at the controversy: when the Great UN Flap was on, in the era of the Saleable Six, the Jack and Dominique Show in the open Security Council meetings - dozens of pieces in the archives here from January 2003 onwards - all the talk was of breaches of UN Security Council resolutions. I had all the numbers in my head, ready.

And the legal justification, as supplied by the English Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, for the Iraq invasion was entirely based on such breaches.

Now, George has had his war. And I couldn't be certain about a singled blessed UNSCR number. Pre-emption, shpre-emption!)

The piece asks
did the president of the United States and the British prime minister lie?

And the answer?
Not a scrap of evidence has emerged since the war to suggest that Mr Bush or Mr Blair doubted the truth of their central claim.

Sez the Economist. And if it means that no taped confession has emerged, that's certainly right.

The question was always whether the
  1. the extreme anxiety of Bush to invade Iraq, and Blair's eagerness to stay onside with the Americans, was a correct frame of mind with which to approach the intelligence material; and

  2. the quality of the intelligence was so diabolically bad that its acceptance as accurate inevitably led to a conclusion of bad faith in those so doing.

(We are told that Dabbagh, the source of the 45 minute intelligence - the crock of shit - is now in hiding (January 28). As well he might be.)

The piece suggests that the intelligence (as it appeared at the time) wasn't that bad; or, at least, had been consistent for some time. And, intelligence aside,
If he had nothing to hide, why forgo billions of dollars of oil revenues instead of ending sanctions by showing the inspectors he had fully disarmed?

No smoke without fire. It says
a country with Iraq's record deserved no presumption of innocence.

Whereas what it's actually talking about is a presumption of guilt. This is not one of those foreign policy questions that are lites [2]: clearly, to impose a standard of proof on the balance of probabilities (the usual standard of proof in civil litigation in common-law jurisdictions) would be inapposite.

But that doesn't mean that a country can legally invade any other that it damned well likes on the merest suspicion that it might pose some level of threat to some country (the invader or a third country) at some future unspecified time.

It's prepared to admit that the pols were not entirely blameless: its subhed is
Not fibbing, but stretching

(It's toying with us now, clearly.)

Did president and prime minister, sincerely believing their central claim against Iraq, allow their conviction to distort the evidence they put before their people? It looks that way.

It mentions the Saddam-al Qaida fantasy; and Blair's decision to allow public misunderstanding of the meaning of the 45 minute intelligence to continue.

But offers no expression of disapproval, even. If Saddam had ditched his WMD and not told anyone, then being invaded was his own silly fault.

So much for international law.

Economist pieces are almost always scribed anonymously. But I think I can discern an enormous Rummy smirk on the faces of the editorial team as they pressed the button on that one...

  1. I'm not sure how long this will remain free. My suspicion is that that loadsa folks (in what used to be called the English-speaking world) get free access via their local library. It may not be a service that is widely advertised (if my library is any guide).

  2. A lis (definition) is a lawsuit; more generally, any dispute that is assimilable to a lawsuit - with parties and an issue that can be submitted to a third party and resolved by an examination of the facts and the application of law.

    For instance, though he never used the word, Lord Hutton was very keen to suggest that his inquiry was not a lis. Some international disputes are (most cases brought before the International Court of Justice are lites); some clearly aren't (eg, the invasion of Poland in 1939).

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