Friday, March 25, 2005

Noble in Reason

Well, it's been a busy old week. Hence the complete lack of attention to the blogging lark. For a start, I spent a night down in Limerick, attending a friend's inaugural lecture at the university there. Then back up to Dublin to do some work in the new bit of Trinity College's library. Then today to Landsdowne Road to watch Leinster beat Llanelli 31-25. And now back in the brother's house to get a much-needed online fix.

No real observations on the world this week anyway. I did note, partly in the light of the last month's work with Mel the revelations over the British government's WMD claims in the run up to the invasion of Iraq. This week, specifically, the heat has been on Lord Goldsmith, whose sort-of legal opinion gave Blair and co cover for the invasion.

As I'm sure anyone living in the UK is aware, the story of the week is the resignation letter of one Elizabeth Wilmshurst, who was deputy legal adviser to the Foreign Office. Wilmshurst intimated in her letter, a key passage of which was censored but subsequently leaked, that Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general had changed his mind on the legality of the war. The story seems to be that Goldsmith thought that the war was illegal but after a trip to meet with White House lawyers in Washington, decided that it was legal after all (one possible line of discussion is suggested by Steve Bell here).

Apart from leaving Blair looking pretty bad in the 10 days before he dissolves parliament and announces the May 5th election, this sort of news, in theory at least, suggests that Blair, Bush and others should be prosecuted as war criminals (since the Iraq invasion, lacking a second UN resolution, was an act of 'criminal aggression,' as Wilmshurst put it).

Having spent some time reading up on the Hutton Inquiry, I'm increasingly sympathetic with the intelligence community and others and increasingly unsympathetic with their political masters. Wilmshurst seems like another person who refused to concede on principles in the name of (laudible or not) political imperatives. The run-up to the war in Iraq was characterised by Downing Street putting large sections of the intel community in the position where they either had to abandon their regard for intelligence analysis and for their positions as professionals or they had to bear enormous pressure to conform to the government's line.

Not that governments shouldn't have control over the intelligence services. The dilemma that people face is that it's impossible to control the assessments others make, to get the answer you want, and simultaneously to have them produce assessments that are in any sense reliable. This week's news proves that this counts just as much for lawyers as it does for intelligence officers.

We get the politicians we deserve and, in turn, they get the crises they deserve.

No comments: