An excerpt from

Why War?

The Cultural Logic of Iraq, the Gulf War, and Suez

Philip Smith

Britain and the War in Iraq

Britain's policy with respect to the War in Iraq depended to a great extent on the decisions of Tony Blair, the prime minister. He was confronted with the difficult choice of following the United States as a loyal ally or joining with Britain's European neighbors. His decision to team up with America and push the apocalyptic wheelbarrow was to cause perhaps the greatest crises and embarrassments of his lengthy administration. Separated from the events of 9/11 by the Atlantic Ocean, the case against Iraq was to be a tougher sell than it was for Bush. I have suggested that the momentum of the terrorist attacks on September 11, refracted through narrative embellishments and magnified by collective effervescence, gave President Bush's visions of impending Armageddon visceral resonance and immediacy. In the United Kingdom, in contrast, Blair had to confront to the full the inertial weight of a low mimetic genre that was well entrenched in the civil discourse even of his own party. There eventuated relentless questioning, calls for hard evidence and common sense, and talk of war as a last resort. Trying to bring about a decisive genre shift to apocalypticism became the major goal of Blair's discourse. These ponderous efforts became the millstone that burdened this usually confident swimmer of political waters and left him struggling to stay afloat. To understand exactly why this outcome resulted we need to turn back the clock and look at Tony Blair's rise to power.

Elected in 1997 against a Tory force led by the "grey" John Major, the youthful and modestly charismatic Tony Blair had been the savior of the British Labour Party. Dubbed "New Labour" and guided by the "Third Way" philosophies of sociologist Anthony Giddens that claimed to put pragmatics before ideology, Blair's party retained only a vestigial attachment to the state redistributive mechanisms it had historically championed. The lesson had been taken from Margaret Thatcher that market friendly policies encouraging capitalist investment and rewarding individual choice, achievement, and effort were the route to economic prosperity and electoral success. Taking this path had required Blair to engage in some momentous policy decisions that amounted, in effect, to a U-turn in the identity of his own party. During the Thatcher years Labour had been kept out of power partly by the efficient Conservative machine and partly by its own rifts and vulnerabilities. The traditional Left wing, what was often referred to in the press as a "Loony Left," had continued to advocate unilateral nuclear disarmament, nationalized industries, tax hikes, and close alliances with so-called militant trades unions. It had also opposed all wars, including a broadly popular one against an Argentine military dictatorship over the Falkland Islands (see P. Smith 1991). These were not electable policies. The Labour Party lost the support of the upwardly mobile working and lower middle classes as Thatcher transformed them into homeowners and shareholders, winners and investors in the game of life rather than losers and grumblers—a much more attractive subject position.

Considerable blame for this electoral failure could also be placed on the press, which had crucified the 1980s Labour leaders. The intellectually gifted but politically rather inept Michael Foot was lampooned as a feckless, absent-minded, donkey-jacket wearing, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament-loving, head in the sand, disheveled professor type. His successor, the simultaneously affable and earnest Neil Kinnock, was dismissed as an anorak-wearing, pompous Welsh windbag. Neither was understood as having the strength of character needed to tame the Loony Left. Looking disciplined and professional like the Tories, with their pinstripe suits and Saatchi groomed profile came to be seen as equally important for retaining power as having low-tax, pro-achievement policies. Building on the work of his immediate predecessor (the potentially electable John Smith who had died while leader of the opposition) Blair moved the party to the Right. He endorsed the Third Way and gave top priority to relations with the media and image control.

For a time this approach seemed to work. A romantic narrative gave Blair an extended political honeymoon. An upbeat Britain became, for a brief spell, a "Cool Britannia" of energy and chic. Blair and his Third Way policies were touted as the fresh face of socialism throughout Europe. This early Blair was seen as an ethical man. He was understood as a Christian who was guided by principles in contrast to John Major's Tories whose "Back to Basics" morality politics had been exposed as hypocritical in a wave of partly amusing, partly just sleazy scandals.

This romance started to falter around 2000. Critics noted that Blair had failed to deliver on basic promises with respect to improving efficiency in public services and that his administration was seemingly more concerned with style than substance. This view found its analogue in two collective representations. The first was the Millennium Dome, a white elephant project designed to celebrate the arrival of the year 2000 that looked good from a distance but whose exhibits were universally derided as vacuous and patronizing when scrutinized. Opportunities for parallels with New Labour were too tempting for commentators to resist. The second icon was Peter Mandelson, a shadowy figure and so-called master of spin said to have great influence with the prime minister but little public accountability. Mandelson was deeply unpopular with the electorate and eventually resigned after a scandal. As Blair entered his second term these kinds of accusations grew and symbolic pollution in terms of the Discourse of Repression started to set in. Many came to see him as too presidential and too slick. "Phony Tony" had surrounded himself with a kitchen cabinet of deferential advisors and spin-doctors who ruthlessly enforced party discipline. Number 10 was said to trash party dissidents in underhanded ways and to disdain Labour's grassroots support. There was a growing tide of feeling that the still popular Blair and his Third Way philosophies had less to do with the stated agendas of New Labour and more to do with retaining personal power at all costs (Begg 2003). It was against this background that Tony Blair had to justify Britain's involvement in a war against Iraq. It was a cultural environment that saw his claims microscopically examined for both spin and sincerity.

So far as Blair's decision to attack Iraq goes, the die were probably cast quite early. We find him sitting in Congress as an honored guest at George W. Bush's September 20, 2001, address. This was the very moment when the U.S. administration's apocalyptic genre choice is formally announced to the world. Blair's allegiance to the United States locked him into advocacy of a series of claims as the buildup to the War in Iraq progressed that he might perhaps not have made of his own volition: that WMD existed, that terrorists had ties to Saddam Hussein and, most controversial of all, that there was an imminent threat of attack. Blair repeatedly made claims on these only to see them repeatedly disputed. Events during 2002 and 2003 took the following form. Blair or one of his ministers would make a statement, which they would say was based on intelligence that was a little murky but which generally indicated evil doings and bad intent. They would call for trust given that all the intelligence could not be revealed and ask for support for war given the Pascalian wager at hand. Not convinced, skeptics asked for a smoking gun showing irrefutable proof of an immediate danger. Blair's government would then produce a public intelligence document that contained only circumstantial evidence, much of it more relevant to the past evils of Saddam Hussein than his present activities. This would be attacked as inadequate and the cycle would continue.

And so it was that with the all the brio of a farmer walking over a wet clay field in Wellington boots, Blair plugged on with efforts to spread a message of truly apocalyptic gloom and an associated clarion call to arms. This is most clearly stated in a section of his speech to the House of Commons of March 18, 2003. The "threat is chaos," he said, that originates in "tyrannical regimes with WMD and extreme terrorist groups who profess a perverted and false view of Islam" (Hansard, March 18, 2003). These were expanding. There were already "terrorist cells now operating in most major countries," and "countries or groups within countries that are proliferating and trading in WMD, especially nuclear weapons technology." According to Blair, "the possibility of the two coming together—of terrorist groups in possession of WMD" is "a real and present danger." The true shock of September 11 was the knowledge that "had the terrorists been able to, there would have been not 3,000 innocent dead but 30,000 or 300,000." Blair goes on: "Three kilograms of VX from a rocket launcher would contaminate a quarter of a square kilometer of a city. Millions of lethal doses are contained in one liter of Anthrax. 10,000 liters are unaccounted for." The vision is of shady enemies and corrupt regimes and the destruction of cities by those who are opposed to freedom, order, and pluralism. There was a need to act decisively against "tyrannies and dictatorships and terrorists," to stand firm, to transform the UN into something more than a "talking shop" and to liberate the Iraqi people.

Blair under Siege

If widely accepted this vision was never truly hegemonic. To the contrary, it was vigorously contested even (perhaps especially) by Labour's own supporters. On February 15, 2003, over a million people marched in London against the war. On February 26, 2003, 121 Labour MPs went against their leader after a heated debate on the war. A total of 198 MPs voted for an amendment that the case for war was "as yet unproven." A humiliated Blair was able to survive only thanks to the support of the rival Conservative Party. The situation became worse for the prime minister. Following a Bush/Blair summit in the Azores in March 2003, where it became clear that war was inevitable, he was hit by mass dissent in his party. Although a motion for war passed in the Commons by 412 to 149, some 139 Labour MPs voted against their party. Three ministers resigned, including the Leader of the House, Robin Cook. Familiar Labour (survivors of the "loony left") mavericks made their mark. George Galloway spoke of imperialism and Anglo-American aggression and called British arms workers to acts of sabotage. The charismatic veteran Tony Benn flew to Baghdad and conducted a television interview with Saddam Hussein. Cabinet Minister Clair Short threatened to resign and suggested that a war without UN sanction was "reckless." Further notable opposition came from Britain's political Cinderella, the Liberal Democrat Party whose leader Charles Kennedy spoke out against unilateralism and drew telling, widely quoted analogies to the blunders of Suez.

What was the narrative genre of these critics? Operating from a low mimetic perspective they were concerned about the United Kingdom following international law, about the availability of evidence and information, about the proper consultation of parliamentary and military opinion, and about the need to take measured and prudent steps. This is the bank manager's worldview, not that of John of Patmos, albeit one tinged with the worry that Blair was slipping toward the Discourse of Repression and that events might eventually turn tragic. It is neatly captured in the Commons debate of February 26 (Hansard). There was disquiet expressed at the seeming inevitability of the conflict. Donald Anderson, Labour MP and Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, voiced his apprehension that Britain was in a "phony peace. War drums are rolling and I approach the next few weeks with a deep sense of foreboding." Likewise, former Minister John Gummer claimed that it was a "war by timetable and the timetable was laid down long before the US had any intention of going to the UN," and MP Alan Simpson (Labour) that the government seemed to be "looking for a pretext for war rather than an avoidance of one." Several found it problematic to be following a "born-again, Right wing, fundamentalist Republican administration" (George Galloway, Labour), an "unappetizing US administration" that was a "bad world citizen, bad on global warming, bad on international criminal courts, bad on steel tariffs" (Gerald Kaufman, Labour).

Some even understood Blair in a more satiric mode. He was the well-intentioned man who was a little out of touch with the harsher realities of life. This line of thinking was a relic of earlier discourses that had dogged Blair's Third Way platform as a set of empty mantras, hopelessly unrealistic, and dodging difficult choices with the kind of wishful thinking that suggested you could have your cake and eat it on any difficult issue: taxation versus growth, public education versus private schools, rewarding achievement versus preventing inequality, and so forth. In this collective representation Blair was depicted as confused and bumbling. As an editor of the Washington Post put it in the Daily Telegraph, his problem "isn't that he can't make up his mind between Europe and America, or between multilateralism and the transatlantic alliance. The problem is that he still doesn't believe he will ever really have to make a choice" (Daily Telegraph, March 30, 2003). In some ways this discourse worked to Blair's advantage. As he was not deeply polluted, most of Blair's critics were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt as to his intentions if not his actions. Symptomatic here is an article in the Guardian that contrasted a potential war in Iraq with Suez and noted a key difference: "Eden was dishonest, while Mr Blair is not. The Tory Prime Minister's 72-hour war was based on a lie" (Guardian, January 15, 2003). A year later a different story would be told.

Despite such critique in early 2003, many supported Blair—some of them outside his own party. The Daily Telegraph, a reliable index of right-of-center opinion, went along with the case for war, quibbling only over the blunders of Blair's management of this and ready and willing to introduce a broader range of factors into the mix. "Ridding the world of Saddam Hussein would be an act of humanity. It is leaving him there that is inhumane," it wrote (February 16, 2003). The Conservative MP Sir Patrick Cormack echoed this pattern so familiar from Suez and the Gulf War of the need to uphold the "credibility of the international order" and to "stand up against evil" (Hansard, February 26, 2003).

The war itself was an easy victory and one can imagine an alternate history in which Blair basked in glory. It had been a comparative cakewalk without costly military engagements. The doomsayers had been seemingly proven wrong. Indeed poll data showed Blair enjoying a brief "Baghdad Bounce." The cut-price removal of the unpopular Iraqi dictator started to look like a smart move. Blair had a 49 percent approval rating in April 2003—a significant gain from frosty lows in the 30s he had endured in February—and 64 percent of respondents said that it had been right to take military action (Times, April 14, 2003). So Blair might have been understood as making the right call and averting an eventual apocalypse at very low cost. This did not happen. Here is the irony: the very ease of the victory suggested that his genre guess had been wrong. There had been no evidence of WMD, no sign of a powerful military or desperate Baathist regime. Saddam Hussein had kept a low profile and then disappeared. Opposition had, for the most part, melted away. When the hunt for WMD turned up nothing, Blair had to endure a horribly bumpy ride. This can be understood as a kind of postmortem asking how an avoidable war had happened and why an incorrect interpretation had been made and then so enthusiastically endorsed.

From as early as April 2003 onward Blair's retrospective justifications and statements were beset by the most withering scrutiny. In America Bush could still be emphatic about the apocalypse around the corner and was permitted by public opinion to continue to tell scary stories. Blair by contrast had to make concessions to the entrenched low mimetic genre because he was playing off the back foot to a rather skeptical audience who knew well his reputation for spin management. His defensive posture required him to add the weight of facts to his discourse of crisis, in effect to painstakingly explain what clues he had had and how he had interpreted them. Blair revealed more openly than Bush that the picture was not fully transparent and that he had taken a measured genre guess or wager rather than made a definitive reading. Bush did not tell us he was interpreting what was happening, he told us what was happening. So Blair told us he had to guess in order to do his job, albeit in a way informed by clues of sorts. As Robert Reich, the U.S. Secretary of Labor under Clinton, perceptively observed (op-ed, The Observer, August 3, 2003), these differences were revealed in press conferences delivered at the end of July 2003. Bush spoke of fighting tyranny, hunting down Saddam Hussein, and the fact that the war would be vindicated by history. Only two of the following questions concerned the accuracy of prewar intelligence. Blair's presentation was about domestic policy. He talked to charts about results in economic and schooling spheres but was hit "with a barrage of questions about whether he's quitting because of the flare up over intelligence." Reich observes the Americans did not "care much about the details of Bush's strategy" so long as he was acting decisively.

Blair's confessional voice got him into trouble. Consider his speech at the Labour Party Conference, held that year in the genteel seaside resort of Bournemouth. Here the prime minister tried to explain why he had taken the country to war. Engaging his fireside chat mode, he invites the listener to identify not with his vision of evil and redemption but with his uncertainty and his vision of war as risk aversion, he contrasts "intelligence" to "fact" and points to interpretative choices: "Imagine you are PM. And you receive this intelligence. And not just about Iraq. But about the whole murky trade in WMD. And one thing we know. Not from intelligence. But from historical fact. That Saddam's regime has not just developed but used such weapons gassing thousands of his own people.…So what do I do? Say ‘I've got the intelligence but I've a hunch its wrong?’" (quoted in Observer, October 5, 2003). The recognition that the facts required interpretive leaps of faith led in turn not to applause for honesty but to discussions of spin and authorship that generated unsympathetic resonance from Blair's ongoing reputation as a master of image control and public relations. Had the evidence been hyped up? Who had written vital briefing documents—was it the Ministry of Defense or Downing Street? The murky information came to be seen as managed rather than honestly and openly interpreted and debated. And so Blair was to become bogged down in mind-numbingly detailed discussions of dossiers and briefings, of who said what to whom, on who had written what and where and when. This was to continue long after the end of large-scale conflict in Iraq (see for example the interview of Blair in Observer, July 6, 2003). Certain emblems became iconic collective representations or totems in this discourse. One of these was the so-called Dodgy Dossier on Iraq released by Downing Street in February 2003 to help make the case for war. It was quickly discovered that members of Alastair Campbell's Downing Street communications team had plagiarized large parts from an academic source. The government conceded that the production of the document had been a "Horlicks"—a public school kind of term roughly equivalent to "dog's breakfast"—and that the academic sources should have been credited. The Daily Telegraph (editorial, February 8, 2003) commented sadly: "Once again the No. 10 culture of spin is undermining a perfectly good case." Questions persisted. These asked whether Blair had misled the house with the document and his claims to have had "fresh intelligence" were false given that much of the material presented was already in the public domain.

As WMD still failed to materialize and links to terrorism proved elusive the scrutiny of claims intensified. When the government started to shift the goalposts in May and June 2003 and talk about evidence of weapons "programs" and the moral evil of Saddam Hussein's regime, critics instantly noticed the disjunction between this set of justifications and those that had led to the war. Blair faced increasing pressure for a judicial inquiry into the case for the war and how it had been made.

As this hullabaloo died down critics zeroed in on a claim in a government document of September 24, 2002, that WMD could be launched within forty-five minutes. To be precise the claim in the document had been: "Iraq's military forces are able to use chemical and biological weapons.…The Iraqi military are able to deploy these weapons within 45 minutes of a decision to do so" (British Government 2002, 18). This claim was not attributed to a source but was inserted along with other, less controversial statements about Iraq's ballistic missile programs and read in the context of a foreword from Tony Blair hinting that the government held more cards than it could reveal for "we cannot publish everything we know…the detailed raw intelligence" (ibid., 4). The picture was of an Iraq that could strike against a major city at the whim of Saddam Hussein, the implicit but not stated claim of an imminent and apocalyptic threat to Britain requiring immediate action. On March 17, Robin Cook had resigned from his ministerial post as foreign secretary in protest at the government's policy, stating that "Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of the term—namely a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic city target."

On May 29, a BBC journalist, Andrew Gilligan, drawing on a secret Ministry of Defence source, suggested on a radio program that the forty-five-minute claim had been inserted by Blair's press secretary, Alastair Campbell, in order to "sex up" the dossier and make a more convincing case for war from vague intelligence reports. By early June this row intensified. Suspicions grew that the claims were spin and lies and that the prime minister had misled Parliament when presenting the dossier and explicitly flagging the forty-five-minute claim. Some seventy-three MPs signed a petition demanding the government reveal the full evidence on which the claim had been made, and the Conservatives hinted that they might call for an independent inquiry if the previously secret information was not forthcoming. Weary of all the carping and sniping, Tony Blair started to snap at his critics. Labour MP Malcolm Savage suggested that the situation might be more serious than Watergate. The new foreign secretary, Jack Straw, was evasive when asked in a radio interview on June 2 if Iraq's threat was really less imminent than the dossier had suggested, switching the subject to talk about Saddam Hussein's "weapons program," and his failure to comply with UN inspectors. The Times (June 3, 2003) summed up the situation in the banner: "Criticism, Contradictions, Confusion and Concern." At the same time Clare Short, a senior Labour politician, launched a claim that Blair had made a secret war pact with Bush at Camp David as early as September 2002. This had established a timetable that locked Britain into conflict with Iraq.

So in the summer of 2003, Blair was caught up in a genre war that was really a form of retrospective accounting activity. It was not about what was going on in Iraq at that time, or what to do next, but rather about why in the past Blair had made what more and more people thought was the wrong reading of Iraq. Moreover, had he propagated this false interpretation of dangers knowingly in the lead-up to the war? Should he be understood in terms of the Discourse of Repression as the deceitful promulgator of incorrect interpretations? Or was he well intentioned but foolish?

Ongoing disputes about the minute facts of the case were components of this much larger game of accounting for the wrong genre guess and its implications. In early July the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (2003) reported on the government's use of intelligence with respect to the case against Iraq. This inevitably came to focus on the government's published dossiers. Although Alastair Campbell was exonerated and the government was cleared of lying, the report made the government look as if they had been playing tricks with spin. The "45 minutes claim did not warrant the prominence given it in the dossier, because it was based on intelligence from a single, uncorroborated source" (paragraph 70), and the language used in the September dossier had been "more assertive than that traditionally used in intelligence documents." The Committee called for an approach that retained "the measured and cautious tones" that were customary (paragraph 100) rather than "undue emphases" (paragraph 186). Moreover, the media guru Campbell and his Iraqi Communications Group seemed to have enjoyed too much influence (paragraphs 79, 122). The Committee also suggested that the government had been less than fully helpful in providing it with "access to intelligence papers and personnel" and was "hampering it in the work which parliament has asked it to carry out" (paragraph 170). The overall picture, then, was of a Blair regime that was economical with the truth, that had stretched its case, and that did not trust its own Parliament. The Discourse of Repression was gaining more traction.

A few days later things became yet worse. Through June a scrap had ensued between the BBC and Downing Street over Andrew Gilligan's allegations about the "sexed up" dossier. Just who was lying? Then the name of the source was leaked. He was a Ministry of Defence scientist, Dr. David Kelly, who was an expert on WMD. On July 18, 2003, he was found dead in an Oxfordshire forest having apparently killed himself. A formal inquiry was called, to be headed by Lord Hutton. This was to look into the circumstances of the death, and so it inevitably came to touch on the dossiers and the ways that intelligence had been treated. Equally pivotal was the question of who had authorized the leaking of Kelly's name, an act that might have driven him to his death. Gilligan? The BBC? Campbell? The Ministry of Defence? Blair himself? Over several weeks the Hutton inquiry heard evidence of Byzantine complexity.

The upshot of this activity was that even more mud stuck. A new narrative started to form in which No. 10 was looking as if it was at the heart of a fiendish conspiracy and cover-up involving phony justifications for war, dirty tricks, and spin. Campbell resigned, publicly stating that this was for reasons unconnected to Hutton, Kelly, or the dossiers—a claim nobody really took seriously given his increasingly Mandelsonian image and the need for Downing Street to be buffered from this. Campbell's situation had been compounded by the fact that Kelly was narrated as a man of honor. He was a quiet man, a scientist who was above politics and wished to serve his country. He was a man who had gotten out of his depth and been betrayed by politicians and bureaucrats. The government's treatment of Dr. Kelly had been "callous and cynical." It had "cut him adrift, dropping a series of hints about his identity and inviting journalists to guess his name." It was a game of "nudge-nudge, wink-wink" that had been "initiated on the direct instructions of the Prime Minister" (Daily Telegraph, January 11, 2004). The inquisition led to diverse visions of Blair molding him in terms of the Discourse of Repression. Had he become an irrational actor who saw what he wanted to see; a dependent puppet of Bush unable articulate his own vision; or a control freak hell bent on war, lying to the English people through his apparatus of spin and information control and cruelly sacrificing the life of the saintly scientist Kelly?

Blair could be lampooned as a blithering idiot who acted on the basis of instincts and impressions not reason: "Tony sees terrorism, he sees WMD and he sees Saddam's brutality and hey presto! Without troubling to make any other connection between them he decides to invade Iraq" (Observer, October 5, 2003). With Bush he had engaged in a "game of fantasy Middle East Politics" (Guardian, November 21, 2003) and had indulged in the naive belief that Iraq would become a progressive role model. Another Blair was nobly well intentioned but misguided. "Nobody will be able to trust Tony Blair's judgment again," wrote one veteran columnist in the Observer (April 6, 2003), "He gambled on being able to restrain Bush and he failed." The perspective here is not only one of irony. His was "a political tragedy, Shakespearean in the cruelty of its denouement" (Observer, March 30, 2003) in which Blair, the pro-European, had abandoned Europe, assisted in the breakup of the UN, and turned his back on his own party. In joining with the conservatives of the United States and "fighting a barely legitimate war that is already a military and diplomatic quagmire" Blair had made a "historic political misjudgment" that had "increased the threat of global terrorism," not reduced it, and had "replaced the repression of Saddam Hussein with lawlessness and chaos" (Guardian, October 5, 2003).

A yet stronger position of critique identified a more sinister and gothic Blair and most strongly emerged out of readings of the disclosures to the Hutton Inquiry (discussed shortly). Here Number 10 is converted into something akin to Goebbels's propaganda ministry. It had "outed" the politically naive but truth-driven Dr. Kelly in order to destroy him. It had initiated a campaign against the BBC that diverted attention to points of fact when the BBC had been "correct in essence, if not in every detail." It had produced deliberately misleading dossiers in which "caveats and facts that might have revealed just how sketchy the real intelligence picture was were systematically filtered out and replaced with words of resounding certainty" such as the PM's claim in a foreword that there was a "serious and current" threat (Daily Telegraph, January 11, 2004).

Poll data suggest the rising importance of these new genres as the dominant resources for retrospective understandings of the war. The Baghdad Bounce of April seems to have worn off by June 2003. In April, public support for the war had stood at 63 percent. As the long, unusually hot summer of 2003 wore on and Kellygate thickened and curdled like milk left in the sun, Blair's symbolic pollution intensified. People moved to distance themselves from him. By June polls showed that most believed Blair had been in breach of the Discourse of Liberty—63 percent thought he had not been "honest and trustworthy" (Times, June 27, 2003). By September his approval rating was down to just 29 percent, with more than 50 percent feeling it was time for him to resign (Financial Times, September 27, 2003). Only 38 percent believed that the invasion of Iraq was justified (Guardian, September 23, 2003). This mood was to spill over into the contentious Labour Party conference of late September. Delegates called for a vote on the War in Iraq but this was blocked. In November, Blair hosted a state visit by Bush to Britain that was marked by massive protests against the now unpopular American leader. A poll for the Times (November 10, 2003) found that 60 percent of Britons disapproved of his handling of Iraq and only 40 percent thought Britain benefited from the close ties between the two leaders. For many the symbolic contamination seemed mutually reinforcing. By December a haggard looking Blair was identified as Britain's least trustworthy politician and as a potential electoral liability (Guardian, December 27, 2003). Politics had finally turned full circle—the fresh-faced critic of Tory sleaze, the energetic new broom of 1997 had become a Nixon-like figure holed up with his cronies in Number 10 and mired in allegations and suspicions.

The most dramatic evidence for this casting can be seen by fast forwarding to late January 2004 and the release of Lord Hutton's report into the circumstances of the death of the scientist and BBC informant Dr. Kelly. This exonerated Mr. Blair and Downing Street of wrongdoing. They had not "outed" the scientist or "sexed up" the dossier as the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan had claimed. To the contrary it was the BBC who had run false reports and failed to check its facts. Heads rolled as BBC director general Greg Dyke, the chair of the board of governors Gavyn Davies, and Andrew Gilligan himself resigned. This finding should have been a triumph for a vindicated prime minister. But as so often happens in times of crisis an official inquiry failed to resolve what Victor Turner (1969) has called a phase of "breach," in which schism and factionalism prevailed. However accurate or inaccurate the report, its attempts to find closure through a detailed scrutiny of the facts did not change the wider reading that was made of Blair. As I have been arguing throughout this book, "facts" and "reasons" are subordinate to genres and narratives. And so the report was narrated in turn as an establishment whitewash and as having terms of inquiry that were too narrow to address the real issues.

Critics alleged Hutton had failed to consider the broader implications of the "sexed up" claim. Namely whether Number 10 had subtly altered words and phrases in the published case for war to make vague intelligence seem more certain and to make threats appear more imminent. Writing in the Guardian (February 2, 2004), David Clark, a former Foreign Office advisor, embodies this position for our purposes. He argued that Downing Street had "transformed the dossier to confect a threat that was serious and current" in order to put UN inspectors out of business and allow Britain to enter into a war alongside the United States. A sentence was deleted that indicated Saddam Hussein could not attack Britain; Blair should have indicated that the forty-five-minute claim referred to battlefield weapons only and came from a single source, the words "programmes for" were deleted from the title of the document: "Iraq's Programmes for Weapons of Mass Destruction." If Blair had not openly lied, neither had he been open, honest, or straightforward as demanded by the Discourse of Liberty. He remained tainted by the Discourse of Repression. Likewise an unrepentant Gilligan asserted that the spirit of his claims was true and that Hutton had become obsessed with irrelevant points of detail. Angry BBC staff posted a full-page newspaper advertisement. Poll data suggest that the report did little to cleanse Blair's reputation. Some 36 percent of those surveyed on behalf of the Times took a "less favorable" view of Blair as a result of "issues surrounding the Hutton report," and only 11 percent had a "more favorable view" (Times, January 30, 2004). Another poll suggested that 44 percent thought that Blair was not telling the truth and that he had in some way, authorized the "outing" of Dr. Kelly (Washington Post, January 31, 2004). The bulk of the media sided with the BBC and negative metaphors abounded. Far from absolving Blair, the Hutton report had been deeply flawed. Hutton had suffered from "blindness of Nelsonian proportions" in refusing to see what he did not want to see and had sprayed Blair's inner circle with "more whitewash than a Costa Brava timeshare" (op-ed, Daily Telegraph, January 28, 2004). Similar sentiments could be found in papers from across the political spectrum: the Independent, Daily Mail, Mirror, Express, and Guardian all expressed dismay.

Blair's case was dogged yet further at this juncture by the still ongoing, high profile failure of efforts to locate WMD. The Commons Intelligence and Security Committee reported in early February 2004, and once again latched on to the forty-five-minute claim made by the government as misleading. At the same time the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee reported that the "continued failure of the coalition to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has damaged the credibility of the US and the United Kingdom in their conduct of the war against terrorism" (quoted in Times, February 2, 2004). Like Bush, Blair responded by calling for an independent inquiry into prewar intelligence. To be headed by Lord Butler this was to explore why the intelligence organizations had got it so wrong. Blair was to have a harder time than Bush in playing this finesse. Opposing parties within the parliamentary circles attempted to open up the inquiry to wider issues of how intelligence had been used by the government as well as its accuracy. The Liberal Democrats rejected the remit as Blair attempted to shut out the issue of whether the war had been right or wrong. Then at the start of March 2004, the Conservatives bailed out as well, their leader Michael Howard complaining that the Butler Inquiry would be looking only at "structures, systems and processes" and not at "the acts or omissions of individuals" (quoted in Guardian, March 1, 2004). The credibility of the Inquiry took a nosedive. Blair was understood to have picked his own judge and to have set up a process that would not ask the critical questions.

Only in America did Blair remain for the most part positively coded in the war's aftermath. Here he could indulge more poetically and less apologetically in spreading the apocalyptic message. Receiving the Congressional Gold Medal in July 2003, he sounded like Bush as he spoke of a battle against a "new and deadly virus" called terrorism and received nineteen standing ovations. Replicating the kind of discourses we find in medieval diatribes against witches such as the Malleus Malificarum he invokes this evil's ability to turn "upside down our concepts of how we should act and when," that it "crosses frontiers," and "can spread like contagion" although it "isn't obvious." According to Blair the "new world rests on order" and the goal of the terrorists is to disrupt this by spreading global "chaos" (from Guardian, July 18, 2003).

The case in Britain, then, differed from that in America. A more dispersed and widely accepted apocalyptic reading of world events had facilitated Bush's military agenda. Blair endorsed apocalypticism in the effort to justify a war and remain loyal to his ally. Although there was substantial support for this view that should not be underestimated, Blair was powerfully constrained by the narrative divisions and dialogical activities in the wider British civil society. Dogged by calls for evidence from those still firmly in the low mimetic mode and haunted by his reputation as a spinmeister, Blair was to become caught up in a complex debate about facts and interpretations. This was to intensify, not abate, once the fighting appeared to be over. It is a debate that would have been pedantic if the stakes had not been so high. France illustrates yet another national outcome in the genre politics of the War in Iraq. Here we see the political fate that might have befallen Blair had he taken the low mimetic track himself.

Copyright notice: Excerpt from pages 181-95 of Why War?: The Cultural Logic of Iraq, the Gulf War, and Suez by Philip Smith, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©2005 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press. (Footnotes and other references included in the book may have been removed from this online version of the text.)

Philip Smith
Why War?: The Cultural Logic of Iraq, the Gulf War, and Suez
©2005, 264 pages, 1 line drawings
Cloth $35.00 ISBN: 0-226-76388-9

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