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Wednesday, Feb 04, 2004

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Bowing to the inevitable

B. S. Raghavan

AT long last, their comeuppance has caught up with the Bush-Blair duo. The case they had brazenly built up for invading and annexing Iraq solely based on the lurid visions of Iraq's President, Saddam Hussein, sitting over stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is falling to pieces.

With the chief weapons investigator, Mr David Kay, calling their bluff in unambiguous terms, both the US President and the British Prime Minister have painfully realised that their game is up.

Furiously casting about to extricate themselves from the cramped corner into which they have squeezed themselves, they have taken the time-dishonoured exit route of setting up inquiry commissions to go into the mucking up of intelligence concerning the non-existent WMD.

It has dawned on them that they can no longer afford to dismiss the rising tide of anger at the deliberate arm-twisting of the intelligence machinery by them as also by senior officials close to them to justify a totally indefensible war at such a huge cost in terms of money and lives and resulting in utter mess for all concerned.

The tremendous compulsion weighing on President Bush is easily explicable. The US presidential election is barely nine months away, and the leading lights of the Democratic party such as Senator Ted Kennedy as well as the contenders in the field for that party's nomination have been coming out with trenchant denunciations of falsification of intelligence by Bush Administration to mislead the public and the Congress into supporting the war.

Leave alone the Democratic party, a prominent insider belonging to Mr Bush's Republican party and a former Treasury Secretary to boot, Mr Paul O'Neill, had provided grist to the mill by revealing that Mr Bush and his war-hungry cohorts such as Messrs. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz had decided upon invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam, WMD or no WMD, at the very start of the current presidency, that is, early as in 2000 itself, even before the Al Qaeda attack of 9/11.

Mr Bush is face to face with the erosion of public confidence in his trustworthiness and his support base between now and the election time unless he is able to dispel by then the suspicion that he had knowingly taken the American people for a ride.

Mr Tony Blair also is in an invidious position. Few are taking seriously the Hutton report exonerating him and his Government of any attempt to "sex up" intelligence on Saddam's WMD.

On the contrary, polls show a conspicuous decline in his public standing. He too is in a bind, needing to buy time by means of an inquiry. As often happens, it is the intelligence community that is going to be called upon to pay the price.

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