Sunday, October 25, 2015

Meaningless Mea Culpa: All about Tony Blair's Dishonest Apology for the Iraq War

by Nomad

Blair UK Prime Minister IraqFormer British Prime Minister Tony Blair finally made an apology. To many, it was a startling admission. In fact, it was typical Blair, saying so much and yet saying nothing. He told CNN:
“I apologise for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong. I also apologise for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime.”
Sorry may be the hardest word but not for Tony Blair. That's what "whoops" sounds like in England I suppose. Still, we really need to look a little closer at Blair's barring of soul.  

A Dissection of a Deception

So let's take this statement apart, beginning with the faulty intelligence. How can you blame a leader when he is provided bad information? How can he be expected to be perfect?

Well, that excuse ranks on the "only following orders" justification at Nuremberg. It simply doesn't wash.

As columnist Paul Waldman wrote in May,  the whole idea that if only the intelligence had been more accurate, the war could have been avoided is a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts:
You can't understand the decisions that led to the Iraq War without grasping just how incredibly politicized the intelligence process had become in the months before the war. Every piece of intelligence that passed through the American government was subject to different interpretations depending on who was looking at it, and throughout there was intense pressure on people within the intelligence community to deliver to the senior people in the Bush administration—the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense, and others—exactly what everybody knew they wanted.
And what they wanted was war.
On one side sat the information they wanted to hear and on the other side was the information that conflicted with that. The resource was essentially ignored by both Bush and Blair.
The truth is that the Bush administration hyped every bit of intelligence it could find that could be presented as proving that Iraq presented a dire threat, while downplaying any information or conclusion that pointed in the other direction.
Plame and Kelly: We Don't Want to Know
And in that swamp of Washington, the administration was fully prepared to out a covert CIA agent, Valerie Plame, in order to keep any contradictory intelligence from departing from their narrative. Her crime? 
She wrote a memo that cast considerable doubt President George W. Bush's claim that "Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." She contradicted the narrative and she paid the price.

David Christopher Kelly. a British scientist and authority on biological warfare was hired by the British Ministry of Defence
After an off the record chat with a BBC journalist, Kelly mentioned that he was unhappy with some of the claims made by the government. He was call before a parliamentary foreign affairs select committee and aggressively questioned about being a leak. He was found dead two days later, on the morning of 17 July 2003, under what some said were mysterious circumstances.
Altogether the effect in both cases was chilling. The message was loud and clear "You are either for us or you are against us."

The intelligence agencies on both sides of the Atlantic did exactly what they were supposed to do. That wasn't the problem. If the leaders of the US and the UK choose to ignore or failed to appreciate the truth when compared to what was needed to justify their plan, it's not a matter of faulty intelligence.
That's just faulty decision making. To say otherwise is dishonest. 

Planning Problems
Next, we turn to mistakes in planning, Again, Blair fails to note (understandably) that it was not a case of having no other options or running out of time. Saddam Hussein was going nowhere. Indeed, there was no place he could go, except perhaps North Korea. He was pinned down by sanctions, no-fly zones and the threat of military force. His days were numbered and he knew it.

The UN pleaded with both Bush and Blair to allow sanctions and inspections to continue, but they objected using the faulty intelligence to support their untrue claims that, for example, Saddam was building a nuclear weapon and that he was preparing to launch a terrorist strike on the US or the UK.

Commander of the 18th Military Police Brigade in the 1st year of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Colonel Ted Spain and Terry Turchie, the former deputy assistant director of the terrorist division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have co-written “Breaking Iraq." In this book, Spain and Turchie lists the ten major mistakes, all of which could have been avoided. These include  
  • Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s deployment plans. They didn’t include an adequate number of military police to control the routes during the ground war, and then we didn’t have sufficient military police to control the streets after the ground war.
This in turn made it impossible to safeguard weapons depots and hidden caches.

  • Law and order was not given sufficient attention in the pre-war planning. This failed to provide a police system to provide security to the Iraqi citizenry and to instill a sense of trust in our Army.
  • The issue of detainees. There was really was no clear guidance on the categorization of them. It was really important to me to adhere to the Geneva Conventions, but I really had to make it all up as I went.
(And this opened the door for the things that went on in Abu Ghabri, which destroyed all coalition credibility around the world. The treatment of detainees provided a propaganda windfall for groups like ISIS. All as a result of no planning. )

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney had assured the American people (and Blair assured the more skeptical British public) that their respective troops would be "greeted as liberators" and would immediately start rebuilding their post-Saddam government without delay, using their oil profits.
We were bringing democracy to a people who had lived under crushing oppression. Invading and occupying their country.. well, we were doing them a great favor.

Who could have ever imagined that Iraqi would not appreciate the intervention and the occupation? Who could have foreseen that peace would be so much harder than bombing and invading?

When it comes to planning, it wasn't the commanders in the field who dropped the ball. It was critical problem of leadership.

Apology for a War Crime
To make Blair's knowing-what-we-know-now narrative work, it requires some major rewriting of history. It forces one to believe that there was very little dissent to the idea of invading and occupying Iraq and that is simply not true.

In fact, Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary-general at the time, pointed out in 2004, explicitly that the US-led war on Iraq was illegal.

Mr. Annan reminded reporters that the invasion was not sanctioned by the UN security council or in accordance with the UN's founding charter. In an interview with the BBC, Annan was asked directly if the war was illegal.
He replied: "Yes if you wish."
By that time, the occupation was well underway but even before that Annan had made it clear.
The UN chief had warned the US and its allies a week before the invasion in March 2003 that military action would violate the UN charter.
The invasion was obviously an illegal act, unapproved by all nations in the UN General Assembly. Long time allies, like France and Germany both said it was unwise and potentially catastrophic.
Yet Bush and Blair both proceeded without regard for what the world thought and what international law dictates. 

We Just Couldn't Know 
And the final part of Blair's so-called apology his mistake in understanding of "what would happen once you removed the regime." This is perhaps the worst of his misleading tardy mea culpa act.

He must know the truth. In January 2003, the European Parliament passed a nonbinding resolution opposing unilateral military action against Iraq by the United States. According to the resolution, "a pre-emptive strike would not be in accordance with international law and the UN Charter and would lead to a deeper crisis involving other countries in the region".

The French ambassador Dominique de Villepin gave an eloquent and composed warning what would happen if the invasion took place. In that speech, he said that nobody could say that war would be shorter than allowing the sanctions to work.
No one can claim either that it might lead to a safer, more just and more stable world. For war is always the sanction of failure.
He calmly reminded the assembly:
Ten days ago, the US Secretary of State, Mr. Powell, reported the alleged links between al-Qaeda and the regime in Baghdad. Given the present state of our research and intelligence, in liaison with our allies, nothing allows us to establish such links. On the other hand, we must assess the impact that disputed military action would have on this plan. Would not such intervention be liable to exacerbate the divisions between societies, cultures and peoples, divisions that nurture terrorism?
Villepin concluded:
"The option of war can appear initially to be the most rapid. But let us not forget that after winning the war, peace must be built."
What was the immediate reaction in America? A boycott of French products launched by Fox News (frivolous and fruitless) and the renaming of French Fries to freedom fries

The Other Warnings
There were plenty of other voices prior to the invasion that warned about the consequences. They, like the intelligence, were simply ignored. There were protests all over the world prior to the invasion.

Millions of people across the world attended February 2003 protests. In the US, even in the face of constant war-mongering by media channels like Fox News, only 31% supported using military force immediately in the weeks before the invasion.

It is generally estimated that over 3 million people marched in Rome, between one and two million in London, more than 600,000 in Madrid, 300,000 in Berlin, as well as in Damascus, Paris, New York, Oslo, Stockholm, Brussels, Johannesburg, Montreal - more than 600 cities in all, worldwide.

What was President Bush's reaction to the world rejecting his call to war? Contempt, condescension, and disregard.In February 2003, literally days before the invasion, the president gave this assessment of the protests:
"Democracy is a beautiful thing, and that people are allowed to express their opinion. I welcome people’s right to say what they believe. Secondly, evidently some of the world don’t view Saddam Hussein as a risk to peace… you know, size of protest, it’s like deciding, well, I’m going to decide policy based upon a focus group."
He told an interviewer:
The role of a leader is to decide policy based upon, in this case, the security of the people.
But Saddam posed no immediate threat, despite what he and his administration (including Blair) were claiming.

A leader must consider the consequences of his decisions too. And to help with that, he must rely on experts. And it wasn't merely the peaceniks and the uninformed giving warnings. Go back to 1 August 2002 - a full seven months before the invasion- and we find this New York Times headline:

Experts Warn of High Risk for American Invasion of Iraq. 

It's clear that, despite what Blair claims today, a huge number of well-informed people had strong doubts that things were going to go as planned. 
there was a broad consensus among the varied experts that if President Bush decided to use military force to remove Mr. Hussein — as many in Congress expect — the Pentagon could not assume that the Iraqi military would collapse without a fight or that Iraqi opposition forces could carry on the fight alone.
As we now know, that's not exactly what happened. The Iraqi opposition and the Iraqi military merely went below the radar, blending into the innocent population. 
If military leaders hadn't considered that possibility, then they really shouldn't have been given the job. 

If Blair was unable to understand the enormity of the opposition to the Iraq invasion and war, it certainly wasn't because the whole world wasn't trying to pass the message. He, like Bush, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice and Cheney, just didn't give a damn what the people, what the experts and what the rest of the world thought.
War was the goal and they got exactly what they wanted. 

A retired United States Marine Corps general and a former Commander in Chief of the United States, Anthony Zinni would later say:
In the lead up to the Iraq war and its later conduct, I saw at a minimum, true dereliction, negligence and irresponsibility, at worse, lying, incompetence and corruption.
So an apology is all Blair- who was instrumental in that debacle- has to offer now.

How Now, Mr. Blair?
So this begs the question, why? Why come out with an apology at this time? It's not going to bring back the half million people who died? It is not going to restabilize the region. Iraq will never return to what it was- for better or for worse.
This Humpty Dumpty was pushed off the wall by Blair and Bush and no amount of superglue is going to put the situation back together again.

Perhaps the former prime minister is acting out of fear of the tightening noose. Could he be attempting to use his last defensive attribute- his persuasive ability to mislead the public?  

In January, things began to heat up a bit for Blair when the House Lords was informed that Blair could face war crimes charges as a result of the long-delayed Iraq war inquiry report. 
That's correct, war crimes.
The inquiry, chaired by Sir John Chilcot, was supposed to be independent and impartial, "to identify the lessons that can be learned." It was initiated back in June 2009 by the then PM Gordon Brown. In those six years, things look just about how some skeptics predicted.

For its part, the UK government has not been extremely cooperative with the inquiry. For example, it reportedly blocked the disclosure of extracts of a conversation between President Bush and  Prime Minister Blair moments before the invasion. The government's excuse was peculiar. The disclosure of the conversation between the two leaders would present a "significant danger" to British-American relations
It's an odd justification. It seems much  likely that the information could lead to a scandal and a scandal cannot reasonably be considered a significant danger except to reputations.

According to one source, in 2012, the government vetoed the release of the documents to the Inquiry detailing minutes of Cabinet meetings in the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

To date, the inquiry report, which is very probably extremely critical of Blair and others in his administration, has not been released. Its release has already been delayed repeatedly and is scheduled for sometime next year.
Even that could be further postponed.

When or if the inquiry findings ever see the light of day, Blair might find himself the center of trouble that even his oratory can't fix. 

Blair on the Stand?
Would the inquiry be used as evidence in an International Criminal Court (ICC) trial against Blair? Well to answer that we have to consider a few points. The court has no retrospective jurisdiction - it can only deal with crimes committed after 1 July 2002.  That may be a problem but it explains why the government sought to conceal details of meetings in 2003. 

The ICC has automatic jurisdiction only for crimes committed on the territory of a state which has ratified the treaty, or by a citizen of such a state; or when the United Nations Security Council refers a case to it. More precisely a prosecutor only begins an investigation if a case is referred either by the UN Security Council or by a ratifying state. 
In this case, the UK  recognizes the ICC. The US does not.

The idea that the UK would ever allow one of its Prime Ministers to stand trial in the ICC is hard to imagine. That kind of treatment is reserved for African leaders only. It seem as though Anglo Saxons are by birthright immune from prosecution. 
It would lovely irony too. 
Let's not forget that London arrested human rights violations, General Augusto Pinochet in 1998. Prime Minister Blair fully back the General's arrest which he regarded as an aspect of his 'ethical'' foreign policy.

Is a trial for Blair far fetched? Yes, very much so. Don't hold your breath. Things don't seem to work out as they should. 
After all, Pinochet walked too. 

The Email Discovery
Recently, there was a flurry of Net-chatter about an email found - somehow- in the Clinton email box. A phony investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails expectedly actually turned up something interesting- an email from the then Secretary of State, Colin Powell to the president. Newspapers in the UK leaped at the document, making a lot of claims that are hard to take seriously.
There was barely a mention in the US press.  

Much can be implied or alleged from the pre-invasion top secret email but what is far less debatable is that by 2002, Blair was ready "to stand by" the president "as we move forward on the war on terrorism and on Iraq."
Remember this was nearly a year before the invasion and Blair claimed at that time to be searching for a diplomatic solution. 

Instead, the email suggests that Blair was working to present ways of selling the war to the world or as the document says "the strategic, tactical and public affairs lines that he believes will strengthen global support for our common cause." 

That's not what he was saying publicly at all. In the same month, April 2002, Tony Blair was in Texas at Bush's ranch. There he told reporters:
As for Iraq, I know some fear precipitate action. They needn't. We will proceed, as we did after September 11, in a calm, measured, sensible but firm way. But leaving Iraq to develop WMD, in flagrant breach of no less than nine separate UN security council resolutions, refusing still to allow weapons inspectors back to do their work properly, is not an option....
As I say, the moment for decision on how to act is not yet with us.
That Tony at his best. Skillfully, he connects Saddam with WMD- which didn't exist- with September 11- which Saddam had nothing to do with. The importance of the speech wasn't to specify facts but to establish misleading associations in the minds of the press and the public.    

In any case, whatever Blair was saying, the email tells a different story. At that time, Blair may have made a pretense that the two leaders were not hell-bent on war with Saddam. In fact, the deal had been done. The arrangements had already been made. It was all a matter of convincing the public.
As we have already noted, when Blair and Bush could not succeed in that, they disregarded the consensus opinion and embarked on their adventure. It proved to be a disaster for everybody concerned.
Today, Blair is apologetic in his fashion. 

The only remaining questions are whether justice will ever be served. And that's really the only true way to prevent another blunderous war.
Will the former prime minister ever be called to account for the part he played? Will George W. Bush or Dick Cheney?

An apology, even a genuine one, is a poor substitute for justice when you have the blood of 500 thousand people on your hands.