If the matter itself were not so grave, it would be entertaining to watch the antics of the government in evading responsibility for the September dossier. Alastair Campbell waxes indignant when it is suggested that anything in the dossier came from him. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw very deliberately told the Foreign Affairs Committee that the claim that weapons could be ready in 45 minutes was not his claim. The lack of enthusiasm to take credit for the September dossier is eloquent about the government's current lack of confidence in its claims.
But somebody somewhere has to take responsibility for how the government got it wrong, and I would not advise ministers to leave the blame to fall on the intelligence agencies. They have kept their heads down very loyally for the past month, but nothing would be more likely to provoke further murmuring from them than the sense that they were being set up as the fall guys.
Nor should ministers now be allowed to shrug their shoulders and say with a sigh that the intelligence agencies got it wrong. It was not the intelligence agencies that took the decision to go to war. The decision was that of the prime minister, and it was he who used intelligence to justify the case for war.
The tragedy was that the United Nations weapons inspectors had already demonstrated that the intelligence claims were unsound. Hans Blix observed again Sunday that whenever they went to a site identified by western intelligence they drew a blank. It is extraordinary that this gulf between our intelligence information and the reality on the ground did not prompt doubts in the government before they unleashed the war.
I fear there is some truth in the suspicion that Washington wanted the inspectors out of Iraq before they comprehensively proved that Iraq was no threat.
Last Sunday was the feast day of Doubting Thomas. Famously he was misplaced in his doubts. But it will no longer do for the government to take its cue from its sermons of last Sunday and urge us to have more faith in their claims that Saddam was a current and serious threat. If they hope to convince us that the war was justified, they will need to come up with weapons of mass destruction as tangible as the evidence that was required by Thomas.
The date the Nigerien evidence became inoperative is important. The Nigerien evidence was in Bush's state of the union speech and it was in Howard's war speech. The Nigerien evidence was used again and again by all three coalition leaders. If either of them knew at the time that they were citing an untruth their heads are going to roll. Or get thrown in the water.