15 years after the invasion of Iraq, still zero accountability for the war

15 years after the invasion of Iraq, still zero accountability for the war
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Today marks the 15th anniversary of arguably the most ignominious act in the history of American foreign policy: the invasion of Iraq. It devastated the lives of millions of innocents and inflicted terrible casualties on America’s military and their families. One should not mince words. The decision to invade will forever tarnish America.

Saddam Hussein may have been a loathsome dictator, but he was not a threat to the United States. He possessed no weapons of mass destruction and had no role in 9/11. The argument that the Iraq invasion was a necessary “Phase Two” in the “War on Terror” is laughable. The invasion of Iraq was a reckless war of choice made by belligerent policymakers with imperialistic personalities and opaque motives.

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Yet, there has been no reckoning for these policymakers. If they had been physicians who had killed hundreds of thousands of patients due to malpractice, they would have lost their license to practice medicine. But the political architects of the Iraq invasion have suffered no ignominy.

They continue to advise presidential candidates, staff prestigious think tanks, offer their opinions on Fox News, and appear on the opinion pages of America’s newspapers. They blame the catastrophe in Iraq on President Obama or the intelligence community or the military but accept no blame themselves. They offer no apologies to the hundreds of thousands whose lives were destroyed by their decisions.

Great Britain, to its credit, sensed the depravity of the Iraq War and in 2009 launched an “Iraq Inquiry,” an exhaustive seven-year investigation led by Sir John Chilcot. Unlike some investigations of the Iraq War in the United States that attempted to point blame at anyone other than the political class who actually launched the war, the Chilcot inquiry took for granted that Prime Minister Tony Blair and his senior advisers bore the primary responsibility for the disaster. The Chilcot report destroyed the public reputation of Blair, who infamously sent President Bush a note in September of 2002 assuring him that “I will be with you, whatever.” In the British press, Blair came to be known as Bush’s "poodle.”

Yet, a reader of the Chilcot report can feel some sympathy for Blair. He rightly believed that the United Kingdom’s relationship with the United States was its most important alliance and that public opposition to Bush’s policy on Iraq would preclude British input on the direction of that policy. Blair’s advice to Bush, while ignored, was also generally sound.

Blair attempted to slow Bush’s rush to invade. He preached caution about regime change and urged that the focus be on disarming Saddam. He urged delay so that the weapons inspectors could do their work. He advised Bush to work through the United Nations and build support internationally, and he recommended that more time be devoted to planning for post-invasion challenges.

What is most disconcerting for an American about the Chilcot report is not the advice of Blair, but the actions of Bush. The report makes clear that Bush was going to invade Iraq no matter what allies advised, no matter what the international community thought, no matter what the weapons inspectors found, no matter that there was “no evidence of any Iraqi involvement with the attacks on the U.S. or active links to Al Qaeda,” and no matter what ambiguities were contained in the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. This was rash bellicosity, and no one has been held to account for it.

While Blair has had his political reckoning, the political reckoning for Bush and the team who engineered the invasion has yet to come. When the Chilcot report was released in 2016, a spokesman released a defiant statement: “President Bush continues to believe the whole world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power.” Given the almost unfathomable death and destruction unleashed in Iraq and elsewhere that began with the invasion, this continued defiance reveals a staggering moral obtuseness. It is deeply offensive.

Given that the architects of the Iraq disaster are still around and many of them are now pining for confronting Iran, Syria, Russia and others, there is all the more reason for an American version of the Chilcot inquiry. The great republics of history all dissolved in excess war. If the United States is going to take that route, we should at least do it with eyes open about who led us down this road.

William S. Smith is managing director and a research fellow at the Center for the Study of Statesmanship at the Catholic University of America.