When British Prime Minister Tony Blair presented his “dossier” on the threats that are supposedly posed to the world by Iraq, President Bush was delighted with what he heard from the man Europeans refer to as “Bush’s poodle.” “Prime Minister Blair, first of all, is a very strong leader, and I admire his willingness to tell the truth. Secondly he continues to make the case, like we make the case, that Saddam Hussein is a threat to peace,” the president said last week, after Blair went before the British Parliament to make the case for attacking Iraq.
Much of the American media echoed the president’s child-like glee at the release of the long-awaited dossier. “Britain’s Case: Iraqi Program to Amass Arms is ‘Up and Running,” warned The New York Times. “UK Details Saddam’s Thirst for Arms,” boomed MSNBC. “Britain: Iraq ready to strike,” announced the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Blair spells out Iraq Threat,” came the word from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
As far as the Bush administration and much of the American media was concerned, Blair’s 55-page report completed the case for war with Iraq – ideally in concert with the United Nations, but unilaterally if necessary.
In Britain, where political leaders, reporters and citizens actually listened to Blair’s speech to parliament – and then seriously analyzed its lack of content – the reaction was decidedly less enthusiastic.
“Saddam may be a risk to peace, but Mr. Blair has failed to make the case for war against Iraq,” read the banner headline above an editorial in the Independent newspaper, where the editors concluded, “The real threat to Western security, as 11 September demonstrated, comes from individual acts of terror. A war on Iraq would create hundreds of thousands more volunteers for al-Qa’ida and similar groups. If we really want to make the world a safer place, we have to make the Middle East a safer place. That means a lasting peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. War on Iraq would only render that prospect still more distant.”
“We said we wanted killer facts,” read the editorial on Blair’s speech in the mass-circulation Mirror newspaper. “Instead, these are marshmallow ones.” The staid Financial Times added that Blair presentation contained no “compelling evidence” for action against Iraq. ” This dossier is not serious,” explained former Times of London editor Simon Jenkins, one of Britain’s keener observers of politics and foreign affairs.
The British people seem to agree that Blair bumbled when it came to making the case for action. After Blair delivered his speech, a scientific survey of 1,000 Brits, conducted by the prestigious NOP Research Group, found that nearly 80 percent were still opposed to a U.S.-British attack on Iraq that lacked an explicit endorsement from the United Nations.
Asked to name the greatest threat to world peace at the moment, 43 percent of Brits surveyed said Saddam Hussein, but 37 percent said George W. Bush.
Twenty-two percent of those surveyed said they thought Bush was calling for action against Iraq because the U.S. president perceives Saddam as a serious threat to world peace; but 21 percent said Bush was promoting war against Iraq because he was interested in gaining control over that country’s oil reserves.
A survey by the BBC of 202 local leaders within Blair’s Labour party found that 167 of them were opposed to at attack by the U.S. and Britain on Iraq.
The dramatic size of Saturday’s protest against Blair’s allegiance to Bush provided physical evidence of the prime minister’s failure to convince his constituents that Iraq poses a clear and present danger. A London march that The Independent described as the “biggest protest in a generation,” drew 150,000 people, according to police. Noting that authorities routinely underestimate crowds at demonstrations, organizers with Britain’s Stop the War Coalition, put the crowd size at closer to 350,000.
Whatever the precise number of demonstrators, the message was clear. “There has been no case made – based on anything other than speculation – that Iraq poses a threat,” explained Scott Ritter, a former United Nations weapons inspection chief in Iraq, who flew to London to address the protest. “It’s not about defense of British people or British interests; it’s so that corrupt American politicians can get their hands on Iraqi oil,” said London Mayor Ken Livingstone. Tam Dalyell, the senior member of Blair’s Labour Party in parliament, argued that: “We are sleep walking to disaster.”
Tony Benn, a former Labour Party Cabinet minister who Blair once hailed as a political hero, spoke for the crowd when he said: “We believe it would be wholly immoral and wrong and criminal to attack Iraq and inflict casualties upon innocent people.”