Remember the Illegal Destruction of Iraq?
British political news has been consumed for the last several weeks by a formal inquiry into the illegality and deceit behind Tony Blair's decision to join the U.S. in invading Iraq. Today, Blair himself is publicly testifying before the investigative commission and is being grilled about numerous false claims he made
in the run-up to the war, not only about Iraqi weapons programs and
their ties to Al Qaeda, but also about secret commitments he made to
join the U.S. at a time when he and Bush were still pretending that
they were undecided and awaiting the outcome of the U.N. negotiations
and the inspection process.
A major focus of the
investigation is the illegality of the war. Some of the most embarrassing details that have emerged concerns the conclusions by Blair's own legal advisers that the invasion of Iraq would be illegal without U.N. approval. The top British legal officer had concluded
that the war would be illegal, only to change his mind under substantial pressure shortly before the invasion. Several weeks ago, a formal investigation in the Netherlands -- whose government had supported the invasion -- produced the first official adjudication of the legality of the war, and found it illegal, with "no basis in international law."
As Digby notes,
all of this stands in stark and shameful contrast to the U.S., which
pointedly refuses to "look back" or concern itself with whether it
waged an illegal (and horribly destructive) war. The British inquiry
has been widely criticized for being too passive and deferential and
lacking any credible threat of accountability (other than disclosure of
facts). Still, one could hardly imagine George Bush and Dick Cheney
being hauled before an investigative body and forced, under oath, to
testify about what they did as a means of examining the illegality of
that war. Doing that would fundamentally conflict with two leading
principles in American political life: (1) our highest political leaders must never be accountable for actions they take while in power; and (2) whether something they do is "illegal" -- especially the starting of wars -- is utterly irrelevant. Instead of formally investigating whether they broke the law, we treat them like elder statesmen who deserve a life of luxury and media reverence. Tony Blair -- who had no discernible expertise or experience in banking -- himself is showered with riches for a "part-time" job by JP Morgan and by other institutions who benefited substantially from his acts in office.
All of this underscores the fact that -- despite how much public debate it
has received -- we still childishly, and with moral blindness, refuse to come to terms with the true scope of our wrongdoing when it comes to the Iraq War. Several hundred thousand Iraqis -- at least -- were killed as a result of this war, with another 4 million being turned into refugees. As the Iraqi journalist and professor Ali Fadhil put it in 2008, on the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion: "basically, my assessment is we have a whole nation called Iraq, now it's wiped out." Contrary to conventional wisdom about the war, the alleged post-surge
improvement in Iraqi civil society has not remotely mitigated the destruction spawned by the invasion. As The Economist detailed in September, 2009, the U.S.-supported Maliki government is relying increasingly on Saddam-era tactics of torture, censorship, lawless sectarian militias, and brutal punishment of dissent: "Human-rights violations are becoming more common. In private many Iraqis, especially educated ones, are
asking if their country may go back to being a police state."
The invasion of Iraq was unquestionably one of the greatest crimes of the
last several decades. The fact that it was illegal -- a blatant
violation of international law -- makes it that much worse. Imagine
what future historians will say about it -- a nakedly aggressive war
launched under the falsest of pretenses, in brazen violation of every
relevant precept of law, which destroyed an entire country, killed huge
numbers of innocent people, and devastated the entire population. Have
we even remotely treated it as what it is? We're willing to concede it
was a "mistake" -- a good-natured and completely understandable lapse
of judgment -- but only the shrill and unhinged call it a crime. As
always, it's worth recalling that Robert Jackson, the lead prosecutor
at the Nuremberg Trials, insisted in his Closing Argument
against the Nazi war criminals that "the central crime in this pattern
of crimes" was not genocide or mass deportation or concentration camps;
rather, "the kingpin which holds them all together, is the plot for aggressive wars." History teaches that aggressive war is the greatest and most dangerous of all crimes -- as it enables even worse acts of inhumanity -- and illegal, aggressive war is precisely what we did in Iraq, to great devastation.
I'm periodically criticized for an "angry" tone in my writing, which
I always find mystifying. I genuinely don't understand why anger
should be avoided or even how it could be. What other reaction is
possible when one looks around and sees the government leaders who
committed these grave crimes completely unburdened by any
accountability and treated as respectable dignitaries, or watches the
Tom Friedmans, Jeffrey Goldbergs, Fred Hiatts and other unrepentent
leading media propagandists who helped enable it still feted as Serious
and honest experts, or beholds the current Cabinet and Senate filled
with people who supported it, or observes the Michael O'Hanlons and
Les Gelbs and other Foreign Policy Community luminaries who lent
trans-partisan credence to it all continue to trapse around still
pompously advocating for more wars that never touch their lives?
A few months ago, I did an MSNBC segment with Dan Senor, who is currently
a Fox News contributor, author of a book hailing the greatness of
Israeli innovations, a recent addition to the Council on Foreign
Relations, and husband of CNN anchor Campbell Brown. But back in 2003
and 2004, he was Chief Spokesman for the "Coalition Provisional
Authority" in Iraq -- the U.S. occupying force in that country.
Sitting in the green room with him before the segment, I was really
disgusted by the paradox that one is supposed to treat him as just some
random political adversary deserving of standard civility, respect and
respectability -- in other words, a Decent Person is supposed to forget
that he was an official who enable and lied about some of the most
monstrous acts of the last many years. And, of course, he was going on
MSNBC that day to opine about our current foreign policy options:
direct involvement in this horrific crime is no disqualifying factor;
it's not even a black mark against someone's credibility and reputation.
At least Robert McNamara had the decency to write a deeply humble mea culpa and spend the last couple of decades of his life living under a cloud
of deep shame and disgrace until he died. Do you think any of that
will happen to any of the people responsible -- in politics, the media
and our Foriegn Policy think tanks -- for the unimaginable crimes of
the last decade, particularly what was done in Iraq: Shock and Awe and
the Fallujah massacres and Blackwater slaughters and Abu Ghraibs and all the rest?
Of course it won't. They continue to thrive unabated even as Iraq tries
to re-build itself from the devastation they unleashed. As toothless
as the British investigation appears to be, at least there's some
public reckoning, compelled answers from their leaders, and an attempt
to determine the precise nature of their crimes. And the Dutch have
formally declared the war in which they were involved to be a crime.
By contrast, we treat it all as a pointless relic of the irrelevant and
distant past, all because the people who did it have banded together to
insist that the worst possible crime is not what they did, but instead,
would be if the rest of us examined what they did and insisted on