The British Iraq Inquiry heard testimony from former Prime Minister Tony Blair today and it’s terrific that C-SPAN is airing it. What the United Kingdom is dealing with is the hangover of the crimes of George W. Bush, crimes that have been conveniently swept under the rug on this side of the pond. Blair was Bush’s poodle and now he finds himself in the hot seat defending the actions of his former master. Seeing a former Prime Minister grilled is a wonderful thing. We’d never see a U.S. president in a similar predicament because, ironically, the president is now more of a monarch than any executive in Britain.
The panel that grilled former Foreign Minister Jack Straw and now Blair should illustrate to Americans what “accountability” might look like. With the Senate’s confirmation of Ben Bernanke for another term as Federal Reserve Chair the United States could use some lessons in accountability. At least the British are making an attempt at understanding the level of criminality, deceit, and the manipulation of public opinion that led the U.S. and the U.K to launch an illegal war.
Blair, pathetically, tried to argue that Saddam Hussein had the potential to quickly build a nuclear weapon based on what Blair claimed the Iraqis were trying to procure — like those aluminum tubes that had zero nuclear applications? Blair also tried to make the case, indirectly, that Saddam was such a butcher that the Iraqi people are better off today without him. I’ll leave that point for others to debate. But with all the bloodshed Iraq has suffered since the launch of that terrible war in March 2003 — (there were recently in Baghdad three synchronized suicide car bombings that destroyed two of the best hotels in Iraq killing 36 people and wounding 71) — raises the question: If compassion for the plight of the Iraqi people motivated the attack then why did Bush and Blair assign themselves the roles of the Great White Gods deciding what’s best for the brown-skinned, backward people of Iraq? Surely, toppling a tyrant would not require lying and coercing the world community into going along.
Tony Blair was more important than George W. Bush in selling the Iraq war to a skeptical world community. Blair articulated the warmongering propaganda with an erudite reasonableness that the inarticulate Bush never could. Blair’s prevarications before the Iraq inquiry commission I caught on C-SPAN were disgusting. He continues to play the same role he did in 2003 creating a veneer of civility and rationality to the pursuit of aggressive war. He “responded” to questions but didn’t “answer” them. His technique (which he’s quite good at) is to re-phrase the question and then opine and wax eloquent about nonsense that has already been handily debunked, such as his twisting the true intention behind United Nations Resolution 1441.
Blair restates the crimes of Saddam Hussein against his own people as if that was really one of the main reasons the U.S. and U.K. invaded the country, overthrew its government, occupied its land, and controlled its people. Blair and Bush told us at the time the war was all about Iraq’s alleged “weapons of mass destruction” and if he only “disarmed” everything would be fine. We’ve known for years that the British “sexed up” their intelligence on the WMD threat Iraq posed just as CIA Director George Tenet did in the U.S. to give Bush a “slam dunk.”
Blair insisted that U.N. Resolution 1441 somehow authorized aggressive war when it did nothing of the sort. When pressed, Blair admits that France, Russia, and China were dead set against passing a resolution that would give Bush the green light for aggressive war to seize Iraq. Blair blows smoke around 1441 to try to obscure the fact that there never was a U.N. resolution authorizing a war of aggression against Iraq. And the only way under international law there can be an aggressive war that is “legal” is if there is a resolution from the Security Council authorizing the use of force. It’s really quite simple. Blair is just bullshitting us again with his erudite-sounding (especially to American ears) obfuscation.
George W. Bush needed Tony Blair to legitimize and sell his military action against Iraq, a military action that Bush’s first Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, said the Administration was committed to long before September 11th, 2001. Bush needed a “multilateral” fig leaf and Blair provided it. Blair, who had to face British public opinion, pressed Bush to at least go through the motions of trying to get a U.N. resolution. Bush and Cheney concluded they needed Blair so they went through the charade of sending Colin Powell to lie to the world on February 5, 2003. Iraqi Unmanned Aerial Vehicles that could spray anthrax on U.S. coastal cities from floating platforms in the Atlantic? Give us break.
The Downing Street “smoking gun” Memo of July 23, 2002 shows clearly that Bush was going to wage war on Iraq no matter what the U.N. wanted and that Blair better get on board. When they couldn’t get the resolution authorizing the use of force they simply pointed to 1441 as giving them authority even though it explicitly did not. Blair is still standing by this false argument. Pathetic. The fact is that the Iraqi government could have been in total violation of 1441 and Bush and Blair still would have had to go to the U.N. to get another resolution authorizing the use of military force — the one action that the U.N. Charter takes more seriously than all others.
There’s much to learn from the inquiry going on in England right now and Americans should be following it closely — it’s the closest thing we’ll ever get to “accountability” since our former leaders, all of them, are above accountability, even for the crime of lying the country into war. In that sense, the British Iraq Inquiry is really more about the United States than it is about the United Kingdom.