Joe Conason's Journal

Our allies change their tune on WMD -- while our leaders prepare a fall guy.

Published July 10, 2003 11:54AM (EDT)

What they say -- but no longer believe
Everyone in the White House and Downing Street still proclaims that those weapons of mass destruction will be found somewhere, somehow, someday in Iraq. But today, BBC political editor Andrew Marr reports that at the highest levels of the British government, such statements are for public consumption only. Tony Blair himself is backing away from his previous predictions that coalition teams would find a forbidden arsenal. Instead, as of yesterday, the prime minister changed his emphasis to the likelihood of finding evidence of weapons programs, rather than actual weapons.

So far, very little evidence of either kind has turned up (despite the diligent efforts of U.S. and British army specialists, Fox News and Judith Miller). But Blair's shift is another sign that the pressures of public and press scrutiny are taking a severe toll on his credibility. Among the political figures in Britain who have demanded an "independent inquiry" into the Blair government's justification for war is former P.M. John Major -- a close friend of the Bush family and currently an associate of the president's father in the Carlyle Group. If their Tories want an independent probe, why are our Republicans so resistant?

Apparently they would rather just hang the blame on CIA director George Tenet, as a "senior administration official" did in anonymous comments to the Washington Post:

"If [CIA director George J.] Tenet had called up and said, 'Take it out,' we would have taken it out. When it was signed off on at highest level, it was not brought into question by those who would know or those who were tasked to know at the agency."

So Tenet is being set up as the fall guy, the outcome expected in Washington from this fiasco's earliest beginning. Given what we now know about the information made available to the White House and the State Department concerning Iraq's supposed attempt to obtain Niger's yellowcake -- the lie getting the most play at the moment -- I have my doubts as to whether Tenet is really to blame. But he has played the good soldier and done little to defend himself or his agency on this issue. Yet somehow I doubt he will be fired -- and kicked out into the cold where he might tell the whole truth.
[10:52 a.m. PDT, July 10, 2003]

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