To his legions of admirers, Lord Butler of Brockwell is known as a man of boundless optimism. If there is a blizzard outside the chalet, Lord Butler’s place is on the piste. If there is ice on the swimming pool, the Butler head is the first to broach it, notwithstanding the first-class brain within.
Facing a nation made deeply mistrustful by the relentless no-show of the weapons of mass destruction, Lord Butler could not help himself. Like a man driving a carload of squabbling children to a distant beach, he was determined to look on the bright side.
Look here, he said: how do you know these WMD are not going to turn up? Someone had sent his committee a fascinating picture of an Iraqi fighter plane buried in the sand, apparently in an effort to hide it. Well, said Lord Butler, in a remark that would get him an A in Key Stage 2 geography, “There is a lot of sand in Iraq.”
One can imagine the excitement his words will provoke in those of a romantic and enterprising disposition. Even now, epicene undergraduates will be vying for sponsorship for their expeditions of WMD discovery, and who knows what long-lost objects they may turn up in the sands of Mesopotamia.
They may find the plane of Amelia Earhart, or the racehorse Shergar, or perhaps Lord Lucan will spring from the dunes where he has been shacked up with an abominable snow-woman.
But it is frankly hard to believe, more than a year after the end of the war, that they will find a significant quantity of weapons of mass destruction. Not even Blair seems any longer to believe in their existence. He told a Commons committee the other day that he had given up hope of finding the objects that were essential to his casus belli.
And yet this is the Blair who, in September 2002, has “absolutely no doubt that they existed and they were a threat to this country’s interests”. As he told the Commons, the threat of Saddam and weapons of mass destruction is not American or British propaganda. “The history and present threat are real.”