It is difficult to imagine the aftermath of a war as comic. But there is something distinctly Chaplinesque about the latest phase in relations between the American and British premiers. Mr Tony Blair is now in Washington, invited by Mr George W. Bush to address a joint session of the congress. But things have taken a bizarre turn between them in the last few weeks, and even the most high-minded opponents of the Iraq war might derive some entertainment from seeing how Messrs Bush and Blair negotiate this particular embarrassment. The whole business of their having gone to war with Iraq has suddenly begun to look dodgy in a way that raises profound questions about the nature of governance and democratic accountability in their respective governments. Not only is there a potentially serious breach between the Bush administration and the American intelligence agencies, but there also seems to be something going on between the British and the American intelligence agencies that increasingly looks like mutual mud-slinging.
Mr Bush had mentioned in his state-of-the-union address that he had learnt from the British government of Mr Saddam Hussein having “sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa”. But it looks now as if this was based on forged evidence. The speech had been vetted by the Central Intelligence Agency, and its director has now suggested that the CIA has been more or less cajoled by White House and Pentagon to endorse the uranium story as having been confirmed by British intelligence, even if it had then looked dubious to the CIA. The intelligence agencies were therefore under pressure to justify a war that the administration had already decided on. In a looking-glass manner, a pettier version of this has come up in Britain after the BBC alleged that Mr Blair’s Iraq dossier was not only plagiarizing an old doctoral thesis but was also actively misleading the public about the reasons for going to war. Downing Street has been far from unequivocally cleared of these allegations by the parliamentary committee set up to investigate them. Only an independent judicial enquiry can now settle the matter. In both Britain and the United States of America, Mr Hussein’s deadliness, and hence the allies’ justification for war, seem to have been exaggerated. This was either well-intentioned over-interpretation or deliberate distortion of evidence. Henceforth, Messrs Bush and Blair may find it that much more difficult to convince the people they represent, the spies who work for them, and also perhaps each other, to take what they say very seriously.