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Iain Hunter: Allegations driving national policies

What a useful word is “alleged.” These days, when uprisings threaten to cross national borders, when nations seem poised on the brink of new wars, when unknown knowns are the closest we can come to certainty, allegations will do just fine.

What a useful word is “alleged.” These days, when uprisings threaten to cross national borders, when nations seem poised on the brink of new wars, when unknown knowns are the closest we can come to certainty, allegations will do just fine.

When bombs go off and limbs and lives are lost and terror stalks the streets, when the shouting and the tumult is translated to a tweet, allegation masks reality or distorts it.

When conclusions must be jumped to, and not arrived at with deliberation, governments are spurred to exploit opportunities presented by fear and prejudice.

A little more than 10 years ago, the U.S. and its coalition of the willing invaded Iraq, because of an allegation that turned out to be a lie. The weapons of mass destruction described in detail before the nations of the world didn’t exist.

What followed did nobody proud, and what followed follows still. Now, allegations about Iran are spurring nations to consider increased economic sanctions and talk about invasion.

Iran’s intent to manufacture nuclear weapons and, by extension, destroy Israel is an allegation, one widely accepted by politicians in the U.S. and Britain. Yet U.S. intelligence authorities have said consistently since 2007 that Tehran halted its nuclear-weapons program in 2003 and has not restarted it.

The International Atomic Energy Authority has verified that no nuclear material has been diverted to military purposes, and its inspectors are crawling all over the country, unlike in Israel and India, allies of the west, where they’re shut out.

What matters to those managing the fear of populations is that in protecting their own citizens or those of other countries, it’s more important that their actions are impressive than they are appropriate.

U.S. intelligence agencies last week were able to say with “varying degrees of confidence” that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on Syrians. On this claim, Britain, France and Israel have seemed to long for another coalition. They say that Assad has crossed a “red line” set by President Barack Obama, who’s showing less taste for another military intervention than his predecessor.

White House officials are showing admirable restraint, this time at least, saying “intelligence assessments alone” aren’t a sufficient basis for war. Neither, we must hope, are the belligerent postures of North Korea’s pocket leader.

Yet powerful American voices — those that once claimed the Monroe Doctrine extended to outer space — are demanding missile shields across the globe to protect “American interests,” which don’t always dovetail with world peace.

The allegations were fully a-twitter after the Boston Marathon bombing. Wrong suspects were identified by frightened, excited vigilantes. Motives were ascribed before they were known. Weapons that were supposed to have been used by the captured suspect were never found — but there was a lot of shooting.

As we’ve seen before, allegations demanded revenge and revenge was relished.

In Canada, a prime minister declares that action cannot wait for consideration of “root causes” because an unexplained horror must be condemned and an unidentified terror fought against.

And so it must be in this land of order and good government, where we are all defined as potential victims, and perpetrators are to be swept away into cages.

What happened in Boston was an opportunity for Stephen Harper’s government to push forward long-languishing anti-terrorism proposals: Suspects or witnesses who refuse to testify could be jailed for a year; suspects could be held in “preventive detention” for three days without charge.

The Canadian Bar and others have questioned the need for these measures and their violation of judicial standards.

Last week, Mounties seemed buoyed by the arrest of two men connected in some way to an “alleged plot” to derail a Via Rail train bound for New York. They were apprehended using the tools of ordinary law enforcement, just as the Boston bombers were in a more dramatic way.

It’s evident that terrorist incidents are becoming more likely. There’s a heightened need for intelligence that can be relied upon to justify extraordinary counter-measures, but they must be explainable and demonstrable.

Finding root causes must accompany rooting out.

Allegations alone won’t do.