Britons and Americans want to know why their leaders lied to them to wage war on Iraq. Tony Blair and George W. Bush have instead ordered inquiries into the known shortcomings of their intelligence agencies.
Both hope to get the issue out of the headlines long enough to get past the next elections.
Or, Blair may just be buying the respite he needs to bow out on a relatively high note, rather than submit himself to the verdict of the electorate.
Bush has tailored the timetable of the American probe to run well past the fall presidential election. He has further insulated himself from political accountability by diluting the mandate of his Iraq inquiry. He has ordered it to examine the weapons programs in Iran, Libya and North Korea as well.
The probe will be less about the president misleading the nation and the world, but more about the misdeeds of the same set of foreign evildoers whom he regularly demonizes to great political advantage at home.
But the Bush-Blair tactics may backfire. The issue of trust that is at the core of the controversy is too fundamental to be manipulated away. There are signs that it can't be.
Britons have reacted with derision to last week's whitewash by Lord Hutton, who placed the blame entirely on the BBC but skipped right over the more central issue of whether Blair exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq to justify war.
Similarly, Bush's announcement is being seen for what it is, a cynical ploy in keeping with his instincts to dodge and duck, rather than be forthcoming.
Those traits have been on ample display in his resistance to the demands of another commission, the one probing the security and intelligence failures surrounding 9/11. He has been reluctant to share documents or heed its call to testify.
His approval rating is down below 50 per cent for the first time. More so than usual, the administration is speaking in multiple voices.
While Bush and Dick Cheney are adjusting their rationale for the war day by day, neo-con believers like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are still keeping the faith.
In an appearance before a Senate committee yesterday, the Defense secretary offered eight self-serving explanations as to why no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq — every conceivable answer except that he may have been wrong, if not outright dishonest.
Even Secretary of State Colin Powell, the administration's most respected member, is having trouble keeping his credibility intact.
It was a year ago today that he made his infamous presentation to the Security Council, in which he made wild claims that have since been totally discredited: that Iraq still had an active nuclear program; that it had mobile biological labs; that it had "between 500 and 1,000 tonnes" of chemical weapons; that it had long-range missiles capable of hitting neighbors; that Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with Osama bin Laden, whose operatives were running a poison factory in Iraq.
"What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence," he told the Security Council. Not so. His assertions were no more backed by facts than those of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others.
Powell's charge that Iraq was using aluminum tubes for centrifuges had already been disputed by his own state department as well as by the energy department.
And the accusation of an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection had been discredited, based as it was on an uncorroborated report.
But an administration hell-bent on going to war was not going to be deterred. It leaned enough on Central Intelligence Agency director George Tenet for him to change his tune and say what his bosses wanted to hear.
As early as the summer of 2002, Bush had reportedly told King Abdullah of Jordan that his mind was made up about invading Iraq. Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, is also on record as saying the same thing.
Powell chose to remain the loyal soldier: a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff carrying out the orders of his commander-in-chief.
Yet with an eye on the history books, the consummate Washington insider also let it be known within days of his shameful performance at the U.N., he had, in fact, edited out some of the more fanciful assertions fed to him.
He is still trying to leave the impression that he stands apart from the rest of the Bush crowd.
When asked this week by the Washington Post if he would have agreed to an invasion knowing Iraq had no prohibited weapons, he replied:
"I don't know, because it was the stockpile that presented the final little piece that made it more of a real and present danger and threat to the region and to the world ... (The) absence of a stockpile changes the political calculus; it changes the answer you get."
Yet within hours of the publication of that interview, he was also telling reporters that "the president made the right decision" in going to war.
Instead of trying to have it both ways, Powell should have resigned then and should resign now. Or, he should learn to live with the taint of being associated with the company he has chosen to keep.
As for the rest of his colleagues, they are beginning to sound and look like the cast of characters around Richard Nixon in his final days.
Haroon Siddiqui is The Star's editorial page editor emeritus.
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