Scooter Libby can be counted another casualty of the Iraq war. Compared to most of the other casualties, he has got off pretty lightly. The consensus seems to be that he will get a relatively short spell in prison – not the 25 years he could be liable for.
In the end, the case against Libby rested on the outing of a CIA agent and the messy details of a cover-up. But the origins of his downfall lie in the Bush administration’s frantic efforts to make the case for the Iraq war. Libby’s boss Dick Cheney asserted in the run-up to the war that there was no doubt that Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction and had an active nuclear programme. It was Libby’s efforts to try to shore up the argument that Saddam was going nuclear – by smearing people who had cast doubt on the claim – that ultimately did for him.
The Libby affair is reminiscent of the Kelly affair in Britain – which led to the suicide of a government scientist and two government inquiries. Once again, it was the belated realisation that the evidence on Iraqi WMD had been wildly over-spun that lay at the origins of the scandal – and that ultimately ruined lives.
However, I am taking a break from all the Iraq gloom by spending the week in Brussels. Yesterday, I saw David Cameron – the leader of the Tory Party – make his first major speech in the capital of the European Union. I think the Tories can count the event a modest success. Nothing embarrassing happened. The conference discussions on the economy, climate change and development were intelligent – although I am biased, since I chaired the economic session.
Cameron is now a familiar figure in Britain. But I was interested to see how he came across to other Europeans. Generally, the impressions seemed to be mildly positive. One Spanish journalist told me that he seemed “modern and dynamic. Like a watered-down version of Tony Blair.” Even Cameron’s chief ally in his new Movement for European Reform – Mirek Topolanek, the Czech prime minister – made the same comparison. When I chatted with Topolanek in a coffee break he told me – “The Tories don’t like it when I say this, but what they are saying on Europe is very like what Tony Blair is saying.”
Actually, I’m not sure the Tories would be all that displeased by the comparison. Of course, for form’s sake, they have to emphasise their differences with the current incumbent of 10 Downing Street. But, secretly, many seem to really admire Tony Blair.
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