January 30, 2004

January 30, 2004 | WebMemo on Europe

The Hutton Report: Implications for the Anglo-U.S. Alliance

British Prime Minister Tony Blair this week performed an escape act worthy of the great Houdini. Faced with the biggest ever parliamentary revolt against his Government, over its Education Bill, as well as the most important political inquiry in recent British history, he emerged remarkably unscathed on both counts. The independent report by Lord Hutton[1], an appeals judge commissioned to investigate the death of British scientist David Kelly[2], cleared the Prime Minister of the charge that he willfully manipulated intelligence in the lead-up to the Iraq war. It was a powerful rebuttal of the anti-war critics who had taken aim at the heart of British foreign policy and the Anglo-U.S. special relationship.

Thus the vindication of the Prime Minister was far more significant than the mere exoneration of a single politician. The Hutton Report exploded the myth propagated by opponents of regime change in Iraq, who fed the lie that the Iraq war was the by-product of sinister forces in both Washington and London, allegedly intent on going to war on false premises.

The Humbling of the BBC

The Hutton Report was a moment of truth for both the Blair Government and the British Broadcasting Corporation. In its immediate aftermath, the reputation of the British Government, and by implication the credibility of the U.S.-UK special relationship, remained intact. The same cannot be said of the BBC. The Report led to the humiliating resignations of the Chairman of the BBC, Gavyn Davies, and the Director General, Greg Dyke, and may result in many more casualties.

The world's most powerful public broadcaster was humbled by Lord Hutton, with many of its editorial and managerial practices called into question. The Report charged the BBC with broadcasting "unfounded" allegations that the government deliberately misrepresented evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, without proper editing or verification. As a result the Report gravely damaged the image of the BBC. Indirectly, the Report also calls into question the BBC's coverage of the Iraq war, and the Corporation's much-vaunted claim to be a neutral observer of major international events.

Implications for the Bush Administration

The findings of the Hutton Report will greatly weaken the case of anti-war critics of the Bush Administration, who have alleged that the U.S. and British governments manipulated intelligence in order to press the case for war against Iraq. The Administration relied heavily upon British intelligence assessments of Iraq's WMD program, particularly the now infamous September 2002 dossier.

Lord Hutton's conclusion that Tony Blair did not misuse intelligence, combined with Dr. David Kay's recent testimony[3] before the Senate Armed Services Committee that U.S. intelligence analysts were not pressured into giving false assessments of the threat posed by Iraq, ought to put to rest the conspiracy theories dreamed up by the anti-war Left.

The Anglo-U.S. Alliance Must Remain the Cornerstone

In the wake of the Hutton Report and the vindication of the British government's handling of the WMD issue, London and Washington should jointly focus on the preparations for the transfer of power in Iraq and the delicate negotiations which will take place over the coming months with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq's 15 million Shiites. Prime Minister Blair's role alongside President Bush in ensuring the development of a viable democracy in Iraq will be critical.

The Bush doctrine and the projection of U.S.-British power is reaping dividends on the world stage. The removal of Saddam Hussein and his subsequent capture has sent shock waves throughout the Middle East. The spectacle of Colonel Muammar Qadhafi, one of the most reviled tyrants in the world, pledging to end his quest to acquire weapons of mass destruction is direct proof that the strategy is working.

The Anglo-U.S. alliance must remain the cornerstone of strategic thinking in both Washington and London, as it has been since the Second World War. The world's two most powerful nations must remain united in their determination to achieve lasting peace in a free Iraq and to deal with the twin global threats of state-sponsored terrorism and the production of weapons of mass destruction by rogue states.

Nile Gardiner is Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy, and John Hulsman is Research Fellow in European Affairs, at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Nile Gardiner, Ph.D. Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

John Hulsman Senior Research Fellow

Show references in this report

[1] The Hutton Report can be found at http://www.the-hutton-inquiry.org.uk/index.htm.

[2] Dr. Kelly was a top adviser to the British Ministry of Defense and was regarded as the UK's foremost authority on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program. He took his own life last July after it was revealed that he was the source of a BBC story by journalist Andrew Gilligan questioning the Government's claim that Iraq was capable of launching WMD in 45 minutes.

[3] Kay is the former chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq.