Richard Reeves

What Did the Prime Minister Know and When Did He Know It?

OXFORD, England -- When I left Washington a few days ago, most Americans seemed generally unconcerned that our soldiers and spies had found no WMD, the weapons of mass destruction that were supposed to be the reason for going to war in Iraq. After all, we won easily, and we were finding mass graves that certainly proved Saddam Hussein was a homicidal monster.

So, in the United States, President Bush is more popular than ever. What a difference an ocean makes. In Great Britain, there is a frenzy over the missing WMD, and some members of his own Labor Party are saying that Prime Minister Tony Blair's government could fall over his "lying" to the nation and even to his own ministers.

This is some of what you see on a newstand in this old university town:

The tabloid Daily Mail: "Tony Blair's Private War" ... "He 'built case for war around three big deceits'" ... "If Blair did mislead us, he must go."

The moderate Financial Times: "Angry MPs to Press Blair on Iraq Weapons -- 'The allegations that we were misled into war are more serious than Watergate.'"

The conservative Sunday Times: "LIE ANOTHER DAY -- Have our intelligence services become the puppets of a lying government?"

The moderate-to-liberal Independent: "Revealed: How Blair used discredited WMD 'evidence'" ... "We were duped into war. Even the Americans admit it." ... "No, Mr. Blair, you won't get away with it this time."

The leftist Guardian: "Blair lied to Cabinet and made secret war pact with U.S." ... "Weapons are not all that is missing. The spooks have failed to track down Saddam and Bin Laden."

The conservative Daily Telegraph: "'We were misled. We were deceived.'"

I could go on -- and the British are. The story so far is that the country's intelligence agencies are leaking stories contending that the prime minister and his men forced them to eliminate their judgment that Saddam Hussein was not an imminent threat to anyone before the British released a 50-page intelligence report -- used both here and in the United States -- to justify the invasion of Iraq by the English-speaking alliance.

The greatest distortion, those sources say, was Blair's declaration that Iraq could activate chemical, biological and nuclear weapons within 45 minutes. Blair's own ministers and former ministers (two resigned as the war began) are saying that he had already secretly agreed to back President Bush on going to war, and then lied to them about that. The most important call for a full government investigation of those charges is not from any newspaper but from Blair's resigned foreign secretary, Robin Cook.

An American equivalent of what is happening here might be this: CIA Director George Tenet being identified as the source of stories saying President Bush made up intelligences in his public declarations of war; Secretary of State Colin Powell resigning and demanding a full inquiry into Bush's road to war; and Republicans in Congress calling for the impeachment of Bush for misleading the nation.

Anti-Americanism is suddenly exploding in the land we consider our last old partner. "The world's most odious partnership" is the headline over Peter McKay's full-page column in the Daily Mail. Often pro-American, McKay now talks of "the awful Bush." He wrote last Monday: "Do we need U.S. bases? No. Aren't they there to protect us? No. They exist to protect America. Would America accept European bases on its soil?"

Is this Blairgate? I don't know. The prime minister rushed home from a foreign trip to promise new proof that Iraq had or has WMD. I doubt he will be believed. The lies and deceptions that led up to this war are cracking our last old European alliance. President Bush may really believe that we have to attack Iran or Syria, but if we do it, we will be all alone.

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