The Buck Stops Here or Does It?
by Kim Petersen
July 22, 2003
O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive!
-- Sir Walter Scott
In British Columbia, Canada three consecutive provincial premiers have resigned from office under a cloud. Two were pushed out and one, Premier Michael Harcourt, did the so-called honorable thing and resigned. In the 1970’s, one of the party’s cabinet ministers had become involved in illegally siphoning off proceeds from charity bingo games. Mr. Harcourt’s government had nothing to do with the bingo fraud but his party was tainted by the scandal. In an attempt to improve the party’s fortunes before the upcoming provincial election, Mr. Harcourt resigned in February 1996.
A usual concomitant of a strong leader is taking responsibility for what goes on during a leader’s watch. However, it didn’t seem correct that Mr. Harcourt should assume responsibility for something that occurred outside his tenure. Investigators from the RCMP special crime section had determined that there was no need for Mr. Harcourt to resign. Needless to say, Mr. Harcourt is still a much-respected person in British Columbia today.
A true leader accepts responsibility for what goes on under him or her. Therefore it was extremely odd and egregious that President Reagan could escape culpability through his purported poor recall of the events of Irangate, the selling of arms to the Islamic fundamentalist government in Iran and using the profits to supply the Contra terrorists fighting in Nicaragua. Okay, Mr. Reagan was not all there but it begs the question: Is such a person fit for leadership? Isn’t it the president’s job to know or at least surround himself with people who would make him aware of what needs to be known? A presidential admission of not knowing what is going on is an admission of incompetence.
In the aftermath of the scandal, several officials of Mr. Reagan’s administration were implicated. Years later, in 1993, independent prosecutor Lawrence Walsh concluded that Mr. Reagan and Mr. George Bush Sr. were indeed fully aware of the goings-on in Irangate.
Our present day political leaders are always seemingly on hand when they wish to associate themselves with good news. President Bush proudly donned the flying gear of an air-force pilot and emerged before a phalanx of adoring media after landing onto the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln just offshore of San Diego. He basked in the supposed victory of the illegal assault on the sitting-duck nation of Iraq. Yet when events started to turn sour over the now infamous 16-word inclusion of the fraudulent Niger uranium purchase in his State of the Union address, he ducked all responsibility for the words that he uttered. Mr. Bush insisted that the CIA was responsible for proof-checking intelligence in his speech. CIA director George Tenet became the sacrificial lamb.
Just a few days ago British Prime Minister Blair was basking in the adulation of an address to a joint session of the US Congress. This is the self-same prime minister who has still not apologized for the dodgy dossier compiled from plagiarized material and presented earlier as British intelligence justifying a hardline against the Iraqi regime of President Saddam Hussein. This is not surprising coming from a moral wizard who would have us believe that the means are inconsequential in search of the ends.* Mr. Blair ostensibly is an adherent to the Platonic credo that national leaders are permitted the privilege of lying when they deem it is in the national interest.
One of the latest means in Blair’s lying is the tragedy of Dr. David Kelly, whose death turns out to be likeliest a suicide. Dr. Kelly was the victim of finger pointing by No. 10 Downing Street as the alleged source of the government having “sexed-up” its dossier. His death has ominous repercussions for Mr. Blair. Dr. Kelly’s family are grieving over the mistreatment he received from the government.
Mr. Blair, now in the Far East, was dumbfounded by a reporter’s question posed in Japan: “Do you have blood on your hands, Prime Minister?”
Quickly the responsibility was deflected from Mr. Blair and directed to the Ministry of War. Minister Geoff Hoon was unwilling to be the fall guy and pointed his finger predictably elsewhere.
Alistair Campbell ducked and sought to scapegoat first the BBC and when that fizzled out, officials eventually trotted out Dr. Kelly’s name. The attempt to shine the light away from the government has instead focused the spotlights on Downing Street and especially Mr. Campbell, who is now considered “a liability” according to political insider David Clark.
Mr. Blair’s neck is also on the table. Former minister Glenda Jackson spoke out:
“I have to say it seems to me that the Prime Minister should really be reconsidering his position. Ministers are responsible for actions and the actions that were engaged in by No. 10... in my opinion, a clear political case must be answered by those who are ultimately responsible.”
“Bullets should be bitten.” (1)
Then the BBC decided following the death of Dr. Kelly that they should end all speculation and divulge that he was indeed the source. Mr. Blair, Mr. Hoon, and Mr. Campbell seem to have been offered a breathing space while the BBC takes on some of the heat. Mr. Blair is reportedly “pleased” with the BBC disclosure. (2)
Richard Sambrook, the BBC's director of news states: “We continue to believe we were right to place Dr Kelly's views in the public domain. However, the BBC is profoundly sorry that his involvement as our source has ended so tragically.”
Andrew Gilligan who broke the “sexed-up dossier” story for the BBC still stands by his version and notes that Dr. Kelly had said similar things to other BBC reporters without raising the ire of Downing Street. “I want to make it clear that I did not misquote or misrepresent Dr David Kelly.”
Now there are calls for BBC heads to fall.
The BBC’s forthcoming has brought it into disrepute with Dr. Kelly’s family as well. Dr Kelly’s brother-in-law, Derek Vawdrey, says: “It's all very well for the BBC to come out with this now, when David cannot answer back. So much for protecting sources.”
“David was treated in the most despicable way by the Government, he was treated in a bullying way by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and it is my opinion that is what directly led to his suicide.”
From this one can conclude that Mr. Blair’s government is not off the hook with the Kelly family.
So far Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair, in an overwhelming display of diffusing responsibility, have managed to evade the political noose. These political miscreants are only too willing to sacrifice others for their own untoward ends.
It is time for lying politicians to be hoisted on their own petards.
* Recommended: a compelling article by Mike Langridge, “Niggles,” Britons for Peace, July 2003: http://britons4peace.org.uk/articles/niggles.html
Kim Petersen is an English teacher living in China. He can be contacted at: email@example.com
1) Brian Brady and Jason Allardyce, “Desperate Blair blames Hoon,” Scotland on Sunday, 20 July 2003:
2) Andrew Grice and Kim Sengupta, “BBC chairman under fire after admitting Kelly was key source,” The Independent, 21 July 2003: