The unexpected outcome of Britain’s “Brexit” referendum a couple of weeks ago has featured prominently in US news coverage of global affairs ever since. For the US financial markets, the uncertainty arising from Britain’s leaving the European Union has drawn great attention as pundits and ordinary people try to figure out how the predicted fall-off in investments inside and outside Britain will affect their corporate and personal budgets.
For our commentators on Big Ideas, Brexit provided grist for their mills. This first important step back from ‘ever greater union’ and widely expected evolution of the Old Continent into a United States of Europe shows that history does not move inexorably towards a predetermined end goal.
Our Neocons, “End of History” determinists by definition, are in despair. But for the rest of us, this development should be a source of inspiration: it is a victory for the concept of the free will of men to set their own course. It says loudly and clearly that we can be the captains of our fate. The downside is that it also says we bear moral responsibility for our actions or failure to act.
Another development of equal moment in the news from England was the long-awaited release on Wednesday, July 6th of the Chilcot Inquiry Report. Nearly seven years in coming, this Report presented the findings of an independent investigation chaired by Lord Chilcot that looked into the UK’s role in the Iraq War and particularly into the decision-making process of the country’s leadership. As we learn from the report, Blair gave Bush a blank check of unqualified support for military action eight months before the invasion.
Though it has gotten scant attention in American news, the Chilcot Report has very great relevance to us all. For one thing, the Iraq War of 2003 could not have been initiated without the support of a credible major ally like Britain. For another, the very existence of a mechanism like the Chilcot public inquiry is a reminder of what has been missing from American political life, to our great misfortune.
The Report found that, contrary to the assertions of Tony Blair at the time, the UK had not exhausted all diplomatic means available through the agency of the United Nations to resolve the dispute with Saddam Hussein over alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction in his possession.
The release of the report was accompanied by calls from leading British politicians for Tony Blair to face criminal charges in a court of law, possibly in The Hague, if only for purposes of proper attribution of culpability, though his actually being sentenced to prison was seen as remote by all parties.
Blair’s response to the Report was defiance. But the day after the Chilcot Report was released John Prescott, Tony Blair’s deputy prime minister expressed deep personal regret for his own action/inaction back in 2003, acknowledging that the invasion of Iraq was in violation of international law, saying further that he would carry this burden of guilt to his dying day.
Just following the Report’s release, I happened to be in Russia, where the weekly news wrap-up broadcast by state television’s Channel One on Sunday, July 10th devoted a long segment to the issue under the attention-grabbing headline: “Should Tony Blair Be Hanged?” Tongue in cheek, enjoying the irony of our double standards in the West, the station’s lead journalist remarked that Saddam Hussein was condemned to be hanged by an American-installed Iraqi court for killing 179 of his citizens. By his fatal decision to join Bush in the invasion of Iraq, Blair caused still more British subjects under arms to die (180). On top of that, of course, this war of choice caused Iraqi civilian deaths estimated to be between 150,000 and 500,000, uprooted one million Iraqis, who were forced to flee the ensuing civil war, and led to the eventual rise of Islamic extremism under the ISIL banner. Why should Blair get off scot-free?
It is easy, you may say, for the Russians to score these propaganda points. But their coming from a competitor for world influence does not make them less true. And they invite the question of why no similar investigation into the origins of the Iraq invasion of 2003 and the wrongdoing of our national leaders has taken place on American soil.
In fact, an initiative of that kind did take place in 2007 and 2008 in the House of Representatives led by Ohio Democrat Denis Kucinich, who introduced several resolutions aimed at impeaching George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other high officials in their administration responsible for planning and executing the Iraq invasion. A simple google search turns up relevant articles in The New York Times and the texts of the resolutions in question. For simplicity, I refer the reader to https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/110/hres1258/text which sets out in great detail the high crimes and misdemeanors of which Kucinich and his co-sponsors of the resolution accused the President, starting with fabrication of false information to enlist public support for the planned invasion.
Under the US Constitution, impeachment proceedings begin in the House, and the ‘trial’ takes place in the Senate. In this highly politicized context, nothing like the independence of the Chilcot enquiry occurs, and Kucinich’s initatives were stymied in the House by the vast majority from both parties. These Congressmen and women were all complicit in the Iraqi adventure. Indeed, in 2008 Kucinich was the only Democratic candidate for Congress who had voted against the authorization of military force that enabled the invasion. Put in other words, the system was not self-corrective.
The incoming president Barack Obama, who had campaigned on an anti-Iraq war platform, arrived in office in January 2009 in the midst of the worst economic and financial crisis since the Great Depression. Understandably, he did not want to spend precious political capital on addressing the errors or crimes of his predecessor. The past wrongs were not officially investigated, and no charges were brought. For his efforts, Kucinich was gerrymandered out of his electoral district and removed from national politics.
It is less understandable that a year or two into his first mandate, when the acute economic crisis abated and his hands were already free to tackle other challenges facing the country, Barack Obama continued to delegate not only the implementation of foreign policy but even its formation to the same set of reprehensible Neocon (Republican) and Liberal Interventionist (Democratic) advisers whom he took over from George Bush. Hence, the continuation of our immoral and often illegal military intervention in Afghanistan. Hence, our tolerance of ISIS insofar as it seemed to be a controllable tool against the Assad government in Syria whom these advisers have been so keen to overthrow. Moreover, in the one policy which has been identified as coming from the President himself, the greatly increased use of drones to assassinate insurgent leaders opposing us, with their inevitable “collateral damage” measured in civilian casualties, the President does not emerge smelling of roses.
The problem today is that the collective amnesia in the USA over the violation of international law and violation of the Constitution of the United States under George W. Bush in relation to the invasion of Iraq and our inattention to the distorted narrative on present dangers facing the country coming from the advisers and policy-makers held over from the Bush days may carry over into yet another US administration.
The likes of William Kristol and Robert Kagan, publicists and lobbyists for the invasion of Iraq, continue to be honored within the Beltway and their comrades in arms maintain a stranglehold on US foreign and military policy. They are now hovering around the electoral campaign of the putative Democratic candidate for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, in the hopes of clinging to power.
If we as a nation are to learn anything from the human tragedy we have sponsored in the Middle East over the past thirteen years, up to the ongoing civil war in Syria which our proxies among Gulf States enflame, then we must prosecute the war criminals In high office, whatever their party affiliation.
Gilbert Doctorow is the Brussels-based European Coordinator of The American Committee for East West Accord Ltd.