French Comment on the UK’s Kelly Affair

The big story over on this side of the Atlantic these days is the Dr. David Kelly affair blazing now in the UK. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been under pressure for weeks for supposedly misleading Parliament into approving Britain’s joining the Americans in war on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, raising scary prospects of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction which could strike Britain within 45 minutes. In particular, at the beginning of this month the BBC had issud a damning report, based on anonymous, inside information from a source within the government, that Blair’s administration had “sexed up” a “dodgy dossier” sent to Parliament to substantiate Iraq’s alleged WMD capabilities. (In other words, civil servants and/or politicians in Blair’s government had inserted language into that dossier that was much more alarmist than was justified, in order to bring Parliament around to Blair’s case for going to war – much in the same way that there has also been recent furore surrounding George W. Bush’s assertion in his State of the Union speech of last January that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger, an assertion which it now turns out was not even accepted as true by most of the Bush administration at the time.) Blair was certainly looking forward to a recent trip to the US (among other things, to address a joint session of the Houses of Congress) as a respite, a stay in a land where he is much more popular than in the country where he is actually Prime Minister. But no sooner had he left the US (to continue on to the West on an Asian trip) than the official who had been recently picked out as the likely “mole” who enabled the BBC to make its report – British biological expert Dr. David Kelly – was found dead near his home in Oxfordshire.

For the longest time – for far too long – the authorities who should have known better held off in identifying this death as the suicide that it was, and so kept alive the horrible prospect that someone had done away with the doctor out of concern for what more he could say to the press. But now we know that’s what it is, and the most recent news as of this writing has been the naming of Lord Hutton, a distinguished attorney and magistrate from Northern Ireland, to head the independent government inquiry into this affair. Crucially, the inquiry will have the narrow focus of the circumstances surrounding Dr. Kelly’s death – not the broader one of the completeness and truthfulness of the reporting to Parliament in the weeks leading up to the War in Iraq of Blair’s administration.

Naturally, this affair has generated reams and reams of reporting and commentary, especially within the UK but also elsewhere. Indeed, the concern that the populations of the countries of the Coalition might have been misled by the leaders about the urgency of going to war against Saddam Hussein is by no means confined to the UK or the US or exclusively to the other countries of the coalition. (In fact, in some of those countries – e.g. Poland – people are not much worried about the prospect at all.)
The Guardian offers a good selection of what various English-language newspapers – in the UK and abroad – are saying. As is the EuroSavant way, we’ll leave readers with that for English coverage, and instead examine the French press.

As a matter of fact, there’s a good summary of commentary on the Kelly affair in the French press from the Nouvel Observateur; that is, in the French regional press (except that it also cites L’Humanité, the Communist Party newspaper). I’ll leave that review of the French regional press to those French-readers among you.

L’Humanité is not French regional press; what does it have to say? As you might expect, editorial writer Jean-Paul Piérot has few good words for the British or American governments in his piece entitled Du sang sur les mains (“Blood on the hands”). He does not leave us guessing for long about his viewpoint; it’s right there in the paragraph immediately under the article’s title. “David Kelly is one more victim of the governmental lies to which Bush and Blair resorted to try to rally the UN to war against Iraq.” What could have led this eminent biological weapons inspector to kill himself? Did he suspect that he was being made into the “fall guy” (in French: mouchard) for the entire affair by his boss, British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon?

Piérot finds Dr. Kelly’s death a symbol. The entire wrangle of last spring at the UN was supposed to be about inspections. The peace camp around France, German, and Russia wanted to give inspections a chance to uncover Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and have them destroyed and so avoid war. The war camp of the US and the UK, plus various more minor friends, on the other hand, professed to already have the necessary proof that Hussein in fact possessed, and was hiding, WMD and so was in violation of UN resolution 1441. As an inspector himself, Dr. Kelly believed – perhaps naively – that the US and UK governments were seriously interested in inspections and the sort of expertise he could provide. It eventually dawned on him that they were not – that the decision for war had already been taken, so that the only remaining task was to “sex up” the case to convince others to go along.

So Dr. Kelly ultimately found himself one more addition to the list of victims of the war that has already included many thousands of Iraqis killed by the bombs and the weapons of the Coalition soldiers. (Pardon me for remarking here that the vast, vast majority of Iraqis are mighty glad to see Saddam Hussein go; if we could do a better job of providing them with such necessities as security, electricity, clean water, etc. they could even be convinced that they were in fact liberated by those Coalition soldiers.) When will Bush and Blair finally pay the political price for their derelictions?, is how Piérot concludes his commentary.

Tony Blair is far from paying that price, if Marc Roche’s report in Le Monde is any indication. To be sure, the pressure on him from the Kelly affair and Iraq in general is currently intense; some – including from within his own Labour Party, such as ex-Transport Secretary Glenda Jackson – are calling for his resignation. In addition to that, Ian Duncan Smith (leader of the opposition Conservative Party) is clamoring for Parliament to be recalled from its summer recess. (A suggestion which Blair, still on his tour of the Far East, rejected with the comment that that would produce “more heat than light.”)

Nonetheless, Tony Blair gives no indication of being ready to resign. Indeed, M. Roche reports that he is even planning a low-key celebration among an intimate circle, in the Barbados (he’ll be there anyway, you see, at least as current plans stand; he’s going on vacation there after he gets back from his Far East trip), on 2 August, which is when he will have exceeded Clement Attlee’s record for longest term served by a Labour Party prime minister. And, revealingly, he turned away suggestions that he turn the plane around and head back to Britain as he departed the US for Japan last week just as the Dr. Kelly affair was breaking into the newspapers. The days of public service (this time around, at least) of Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon and Blair’s director of communications, Alastair Campbell are said to be numbered, but not those of the Prime Minister himself.

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