It seems that politicians are the only people who can get away with murder. And mass murder at that. And not just dictators and totalitarian politicians, but elected politicians and leaders, in purportedly democratic states.
It’s a strange, perplexing mystery to many people in the West, why George D. Bush, and the leading figures in his government, haven’t been formally questioned, preferably before the TV cameras, about the roles they played in the calamitous Iraqi war and occupation.
This wasn’t some war that was forced on the Bush government. It wasn’t a response to attack or aggression. The Nine Eleven attacks were from Al Qaeda, with no Iraqi input. It was a war of choice; a deliberate, unilateral act of regime change – launched on the back of a torrent of duplicitous scare propaganda and misinformation – with all the ongoing catastrophic consequences that we are all too well aware of.
In Britain, at least Blair and leading figures in his government, such as Hoon and Campbell, have had to face public questioning about the war, at the Chilcot Hearings. Though Blair put up a typically slick, though slippery and disingenuous performance, and ran rings around his questioners. In Holland there have been similar hearings to the Chilcot Enquiry. But there has been no similar public enquiry, and hours of hearings, for the primary architects of that disastrous war, Bush, and his key lieutenants, such as Rumsfeld, Cheney and Condoleezza Rice.
Where are the accountability, responsibility, openness and transparency – which are supposed to be the hallmarks of any authentic democracy – there, in the strange quietude and baffling silence, in the halls of power in Washington, concerning the Iraqi War?
Bush shouldn’t simply be allowed to wash his hands, like Pontius Pilate, and walk on by, as if this whole murderous debacle, that he initiated and pushed for – in the face of mounting criticisms, doubts and misgivings, across the entire world – was a matter of minor or trivial consequence. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed and mutilated, including allied troops and officials, because of the decisions he, and his cohorts, made. There was massive damage to Iraq’s infrastructure and economy, the loss of priceless artistic and historical treasures, a whole region was destabilised, and there was a huge upsurge in Jihadist and Al Qaeda terrorism, as a result of Bush’s go it alone war policy. He had plenty enough to say about Iraq while he was in power, why shouldn’t he have something to say about it now?
If he isn’t brought to account for what he did – if he isn’t made to answer questions, before the public he purported to represent, about the decisions he took, and the consequences they had – where would be the deterrence or warning for any future, extremist President, intent on wars of regime change and expansion – perhaps against Iran or North Korea? Such a person – perhaps buoyed up by the evangelic, protestant far right, and Murdoch’s Fox News propaganda machine – could look back at George D. Bush and note how he’s still treated like a respected statesmen, rather than a contaminated pariah – and feel that he too can take huge foreign policy risks and gambles, and even leave a murderous, hellish mess in his wake, and yet walk away from it without even getting a slap on the wrist. There is an old saying that if we don’t learn from the past we’re doomed to repeat it.
And there are still a number of alarming characters at the heart of the American political system, who don’t seem to have learned any lessons from the calamitous Bush legacy. You only have to look at the former Republican Vice Presidential candidate, and current darling of the far right, Sarah Palin, with her vacuous line in cheap, homespun populism, and her hopelessly naïve and simplistic views on foreign policy. And, regretfully, some of our own leaders don’t seem to have learned that much from those dire events. In one of the three Party Leaders debates, in the run up to our General Election, Brown at one point labelled the Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, as being anti-American, for daring to criticise aspects of US policy. As if that was a no-go area.
Though if there are any future repeats of the reckless war initiatives of the Bush type, America may well find that it has precious few, if any, allies in the free world, to back it up the next time. And there may well be no future Blair, ready to have deputy’s badge pinned on his chest and then saddle up to ride with the posse.
Already a committee of MPs in Westminster has now said that the so called Special Relationship with the US, should now be dropped as an irrelevance, and that we should be more mindful and cognizant of our own national interests rather than just sheepishly going along with America’s perceived foreign policy requirements. That too is part of the Bush legacy. France – which got it absolutely right over the Iraq invasion, despite all the flak and criticism it took at the time, as well as cheap and nasty rhetoric about ‘cheese eating surrender monkeys’ – will now be the model, in how relationships with America should be conducted, not New Labour or Tory Britain. That is ‘Old Europe’, to use Rumsfeld-speak. It is extremely doubtful if there will be some future Blairite patsy or stooge, at least in Western Europe, ready to go along, blindly and uncritically, with whatever foreign policy adventures some wide eyed ideologue in the White House might cook up in some future administration. Indeed if the French could be labelled as ‘cheese eating surrender monkeys’, for daring to oppose that folly, it makes you wonder what the appropriate words might be for the woeful administration that brought that catastrophe about? ‘Burger eating defeat-artists’ perhaps? Of course the French, unlike ourselves, have a tradition of robust, Gaullist independence, in matters of foreign policy, which enables them to march to the sound of their own drums rather than automatically doing the bidding of Washington.
The huge damage to America’s international reputation, not just with the Iraq war and occupation in themselves – but with related matters such as Abu Ghraid, Guantanamo Bay, Extraordinary Rendition, the whole concept of Unlawful Combatants, the cynical criticisms made about the Red Cross, and the legitimatisation of certain forms of torture by the Bush regime – has been one of the most negative by-products of the war. And it’s little wonder that people in the Middle East now take lectures from Washington, about liberty and democracy, with a bucketful of salt.
If this lack of democratic scrutiny and accountability, concerning such a huge, international issue, as the Iraq war and occupation, is evidence of America’s democracy in action, then it’s nowhere near as good as it’s cracked up to be. Though the very fact that such an inarticulate, obdurate, incompetent bungler, as Bush – a figure that some commentators are now considering as the worst President ever – was elected, twice, to the most powerful political office in the world, hardly gives the system the gold standard of success.
Of course, Bush didn’t just preside over the Iraqi mess. There was the botched rescue operation in New Orleans, following the Katrina floods, that happened on his watch; as well as the crass failure of his regime to prop up Lehman’s Bank, that led to an international banking crisis, and a huge economic recession, that the whole world is still having to live with. He seemed to have the opposite of the Midas Touch; and not just with Iraq and Afghanistan. Everything he touched seemed to turn into a disaster.
You’d think that there would have been a whole plethora of exhaustive hearings and enquiries, on Capitol Hill, into the lead up to and prosecution of the Iraqi War and Occupation, with detailed, forensic questioning of Bush, and his top ministers and advisers. So that errors, misjudgements and outright deceits, could be pointed out. So that lessons could be learned, in order to avoid similar, self created catastrophes in the future. And so that the guilty parties could receive the opprobrium they deserved. But instead, we have had some strange outbreak of political amnesia or narcolepsy. And politicians, who have been shouting from the rooftops about the alleged iniquities of Obama’s healthcare reforms, have seemed to have taken an almost Trappist vow of silence on the whole Iraqi issue. It is the elephant in the room, though hardly anyone wishes to point out that it is actually there. Though perhaps the fact that so many politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, allowed themselves to be persuaded to support that disastrous war policy makes them rather reluctant to face the unpalatable truth of the matter, in order to avoid embarrassment and mea culpa.
Such enquiries are needed if only to nail down some of the cynical lies and deceptions the Bush regime used to try to justify the war. And some of which were used by the Blair government, in the UK, to similar effect. The non-existent weapons of mass destruction Saddam was suppose to possess. The alleged tie up between the Saddam regime and the Al Qaeda, suggesting that the Iraq regime had some connection with the Nine Eleven attacks on America; which was utterly bogus. These need to be highlighted by the political establishment, not just as a matter of justice and transparency, but in order to deter any future regime from using such disreputable and underhand means to launch illegal wars of their own. Though the fact that no one was brought to account for that other, earlier, disastrous American military intervention, the Vietnam War – which was also launched on a pack of spurious scares and alarms – doesn’t give one much confidence in that regard.
It can’t be just left to investigative journalists, documentary makers and historians to unearth the facts about that murderous debacle. The whole political system, which supinely allowed Bush, and his gang of Neocon ideologues, to carry out this disastrous policy – which cashed the cheques and voted its approval – must also try to clean up the mess that it helped to create.
Rather than being treated as some respected elder statesman, living out a peaceful and contented retirement on his Texas ranch, there are some people who would like to see Bush in the dock, answering charges of war crimes, like Milosevic. With perhaps Blair, and some of the other accomplices to the crime, along with him. Though of course such treatment is only meted out to the leaders of weaker states, not the Presidents of Superpowers or Hyperpowers.
America, and in particular the American political system, will, at some point, preferably sooner rather than later, have to come to terms with the whole Iraqi mess. Not only to examine how and why it happened, and why everything seemed to go wrong and unravel, but for the light it will throw, not just on the Bush White House and the team of committed insiders, but on the whole political system that allowed it to happen.
Bush wasn’t some dictator or totalitarian autocrat, who could make decisions, with a stroke of a pen, without having to consult or persuade anyone, but himself. He was a democratically elected leader, in a representative system. He had to take his party, and the Senate and Congress, along with him, and a significant tranche of the public, into sands of Arabia. The Iraqi debacle wasn’t just about Bush and his team. This was a wider, systemic failure of the entire political structure.
If the Iraqi occupation had been any kind of success – though a succession of typical Bushite blunders, such as disbanding the huge Iraqi conscript army, the de-Baathification of the civil service, and the failure to have enough occupation troops to effectively police the country, all ensured that it wouldn’t be – we wouldn’t have had such a length period of silence from Bush about that operation. Indeed contrast this quietude with the way Bush bragged and blustered on the deck of an American Aircraft carrier about what a great victory he had won and that the mission was accomplished. When, as we now know, the real conflict was just about to begin.
They say that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and that truth is the best propaganda. If the American political system doesn’t address the whole issue of the Iraqi war and occupation, at some time, it will be seen to be indulging in a sustained cover up operation. A contrast can be made between this current quietude in Washington, concerning the Iraqi debacle, and what has recently happened in relationships between Russia and Poland over the fraught issue of the Katyn Massacre. The Russians, after decades of Stalinist and Soviet stonewalling on that issue – at one point even claiming that the Nazis were responsible for it – have now fully admitted their responsibility for the appalling Katyn Massacre, in which over twenty thousand Polish officers were murdered by the Soviet regime, in an act of Stalinist paranoia. They have now fully acknowledged that it was carried out by the Russian regime, at the time. They have issued formal apologies for that awful atrocity, and shown a graphic Polish documentary about that outrage, on Russian TV. The previous Russian failure to address that issue, to pretend that it wasn’t there, had only succeeded in poisoning relationships between Russia and Poland, that were already pretty ropy and frayed, for complex historical reasons. And this current openness, and honesty, on that painful issue, has, according to many commentators, opened a new, and more positive chapter in relationships between those two nations. (Despite the tragic deaths of the Polish political and administrative elite in a plane crash, near Smolensk, while, with terrible irony, on their way to commemorate that very historical event). But it meant coming to terms, in the present, with bitter and terrible events in the past. The only way to exorcise a ghost is to confront it, not pretend that it isn’t there.