POLITICS HERE AND ABROAD….The Hutton inquiry into the Andrew Gilligan/David Kelly affair is proceeding apace in Court 73 in London, and loads of fascinating details about the build-up to war are seeing the light of day for the first time. I’m waiting a bit before I draw any firm conclusions about what happened, but in the meantime I’d like to make an observation about how the inquiry highlights some rather startling differences between political culture in the U.S. and Britain.

Yesterday, the headlines blared “No. 10 Knew Iraq Was No Threat!” based on this email from Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s chief of staff:

The dossier is good and convincing for those who are prepared to be convinced. [But] the document does not demonstrate a threat, let alone an imminent threat from Saddam.

Yowza! But here’s the next sentence in the email:

In other words, it shows he has the means, but it does not demonstrate that he has the motive to attack his neighbours, let alone the West.

And today another Powell email was read in court that said, “We need to do more to back up assertions….You need to make it clear that Saddam could not attack us at the moment.”

Leave aside for a moment whether this shows that Blair & Co. exaggerated the Iraqi threat. Instead, consider that Powell ? and presumably Blair ? were actually concerned not just with evidence that Saddam had WMD, but with whether he had either the intention or capability of using it. And they assumed their constituents would care too.

In the United States, Saddam’s intentions never even made it into the wide public debate. They were just taken for granted and the debate focused solely on his actual possession of WMD. In Britain, not only were his intentions not taken for granted, they were actually seriously considered at the highest levels.

Frankly, I can’t even imagine a conversation like that happening in the White House.

And there’s more. Consider the Hutton inquiry itself. David Kelly killed himself on July 18th, Lord Hutton was chosen to lead an inquiry within days, the inquiry opened on August 1st, and it was taking evidence by August 11th. Hutton is apparently widely respected, has been given a wide remit to conduct the inquiry as he sees fit, and posts all the evidence in the case on the Web daily. All this despite the fact that Tony Blair controls Britain’s government even more firmly than George Bush controls America’s.

And here’s the most surprising thing: my impression from following the testimony is that the inquiry is taken seriously by everybody, no one is refusing to testify, and ? to a degree ? the witnesses are all telling the truth.

This is really remarkable. In America, there would likely have been no inquiry at all since the minority party couldn’t force one. If there were an inquiry, it would take months to get underway and would be headed by a Republican stalwart. The government would cooperate as little as possible. And it would be painfully obvious from the testimony that the witnesses were interested solely in protecting the president and themselves.

In America, the culture of politics has become so debased that we all take it for granted that investigations are little more than political shows and that no one is ever really telling the truth. I’m not suggesting that Britain is a paradise of integrity and public service, but they seem not to have fallen nearly as far down the well of cynicism as we have. I wonder why?

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