The country and the Commons were doubtful enough about the war even when they were told that Saddam's lethal capability was certain. If they had known that it was only the supposition of some intelligence officers, the opposition to military action would have been irresistible. And the doubts do more than undermine the dossier that changed the public mood. They make the decision to go to war itself indefensible. If young men and women are sent to die, the politicians who send them need to be sure that the sacrifice is justified. In Iraq, soldiers were sacrificed for a hypothesis which was rejected by some of the intelligence officers who were qualified to make a judgment.
Much of the evidence given on Monday confirms how imprecise a business intelligence gathering is. Conclusions are reached on the basis of probability. The dossier that justified war was the result of what amounted to a collegiate discussion, with some members supporting the eventual wording and some dissenting. It is impossible to justify war on a majority vote, a difference of opinion or a compromise over conflicting judgment about its necessity. Britain went to war under false pretences.
The inquiry will grind on. Alastair Campbell will, no doubt, be acquitted of personally and exclusively adding the 45-minute warning to the dossier, though there will be no doubt that Dr Kelly made that allegation and the BBC was justified in reporting it. That means that the BBC will almost certainly be vindicated. The prime minister will undoubtedly assert that he remains certain of the moral justification for the war. Civil servants may be censured and ministers may lose their jobs. We can look forward to weeks of lurid headlines. But nothing the inquiry reveals in future can be more important than the single fact that it demonstrated last Monday. The government exaggerated the threat from Iraq. If it had given the country an honest account of the danger the outcry against military action would have been too great for the government to resist or the prime minister to survive.
I think that's an accurate summation of what will happen in Britain. In Australia, of course, the government has no political difficulties, because
�thelred Howard the Unready did not get the memo.