Prime Minister Tony Liar

February 3, 2010

Elizabeth Schulte points out that British Prime Minister Tony Blair's appearance before an Iraq war inquiry begs the question: What about the rest of the murderous bunch?

SEVEN YEARS after the British government rushed to join the U.S. declaration of war on Iraq, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair finally had to answer for some of the lies he told.

The formal public inquiry in Britain last week into the legality of the Iraq war exposed--once again--Blair and the web of lies that backed up the British government's decision to participate in the invasion.

Asked whether he regretted his decision, Blair said no. Instead, Blair invited the audience to look back on the ouster of Saddam Hussein with "immense pride and achievement."

During the Chilcot's inquiry's six hours of questioning, Blair sat with his back to a packed audience that included the families of soldiers killed in the war. Theresea Evans whose 24-year-old son Llywelyn died in a Chinook helicopter crash in 2003, told the British Guardian newspaper, "I would simply like Tony Blair to look me in the eye and say he was sorry. Instead, he is in there smirking."

The Blair government, like the Bush government, used post-September 11 hysteria and a dossier of false claims about Iraq's imminent terrorist threat to rationalize the invasion of Iraq--despite the fact that no credible evidence existed linking the Iraq government with 9/11.

Antiwar activists outside the Chilcot Inquiry hearings in London call for Blair to be charged for war crimes
Antiwar activists outside the Chilcot Inquiry hearings in London call for Blair to be charged for war crimes

So far, the Iraq war and occupation has cost the lives of more than 1 million Iraqis, forced several million Iraqis to become refugees, and turned everyday goods that people need for survival into luxuries. The occupation of Iraq is highly unpopular, even in the U.S., with 67 percent of respondents in a September 2009 CBS/New York Times poll answering that the war was "not worth it," compared to 45 percent in September 2003.

Before the March 2003 invasion, public opposition to the war was strong, in the U.S., Britain and around the world--with millions of people turning out to massive antiwar protests.

WHAT LAST week's hearings make clear is that the goal of the U.S. and Britain was to oust Saddam Hussein, and building a case for why the Iraqi regime might be a threat was only important insofar as it achieved that aim.

Top among the long list of Blair's lies was the "evidence" that the Iraqi government had access to "weapons of mass destruction" (WMD)--stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. In September 2002, the Blair government released a "dossier" that "established beyond doubt," in the words of a foreword written by Blair, that Saddam had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons.

The 173-page dossier, it turns out, was based on conjecture, rumors and an out-of-date doctoral thesis--even its typographical errors found their way into the dossier.

Yet in September 2002, Blair told the House of Commons that the dossier was proof positive "that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes."

United Nations weapons inspectors and later U.S. inspectors never found evidence of WMDs. Scott Ritter, a UN weapons inspector who led inspection teams in Iraq between 1991 to 1998, says the UN personnel destroyed between 90 and 95 percent of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and its ability to manufacture them.

Evidently, Geoge Bush's Secretary of State Colin Powell agreed--in 2001. Filmmaker John Pilger found footage for his film Breaking the Silence of Powell in Cairo, Egypt, on February 24, 2001, claiming, "He [Saddam Hussein] has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to use conventional power against his neighbors."

Regarding the "45 minutes" claim, the New York Times reported in September 2003 that it "applied only to short-range battlefield munitions, an important distinction lost in its repeated mention in a document about long-range unconventional weapons."

WHILE IT'S a refreshing change to see the former prime minister have to answer for what he's done, Blair--now a "special envoy" to the Middle East for the United Nations--won't be punished for his crimes.

Furthermore, Blair certainly wasn't alone in manufacturing lies and false evidence. The U.S. government contributed its share and more.

Before Bush, the administration of Bill Clinton helped pave the way for a second war on Iraq. Clinton was responsible for the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998, which gave the U.S. and Britain the go-ahead for "regime change" in Iraq--later a key component of the so-called Bush Doctrine. The act reads in part, "It should be the policy of the U.S. to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime."

A month after passing the act with an overwhelming majority in both houses of Congress, Clinton authorized Operation Desert Fox, a four-day bombing campaign in Iraq.

Clinton not only paved the way for "pre-emptive strikes"--a popular term in the Bush administration--but set up the specter of a broader "war on terror." In a 1998 speech before the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Pentagon staff, Clinton argued, "In the next century, the community of nations may see more and more the very kind of threat Iraq poses now: a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction ready to use them or provide them to terrorists, drug traffickers or organized criminals who travel the world among us unnoticed."

As for George Bush, not only did his administration latch onto the lies in the Blair dossier to make its case for war, but it manufactured some of it own. For instance, the administration searched desperately to tie Saddam Hussein to the September 11 attacks, but failed miserably. The U.S. also tried to link Saddam Hussein with al-Qaeda, a group that had in the past called for the overthrow of Saddam's regime.

Despite having no evidence to back up these outrageous claims, the U.S. media repeated them. A large portion of the population responded to the avalanche of pro-war propaganda and actually believed that Saddam and al-Qaeda were linked.

Bush's drive to war on Iraq had some vocal Democratic Party opponents at the onset, but the so-called evidence of weapons of mass destruction sealed the deal for many congressional Democrats. That included 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, who voted to authorize the invasion.

When a Senate Select Committee reported in 2004 that there in fact were no WMD in Iraq, Kerry claimed that he was misled by the Bush administration. But former UN inspector Scott Ritter said that he tried to talk to Kerry about the lack of evidence of WMD. As Ritter wrote in August 2004:

Kerry cannot honestly say he was not aware of the paucity of verifiable intelligence concerning the existence of WMD in Iraq on the eve of war. I personally discussed this matter with Kerry in April 2000, and again with his senior staff in June 2002...Kerry knew that there was a viable case to be made to debunk the president's statements regarding the threat posed by Iraq's WMD, but he chose not to act on it.

Since this time, congressional Democrats and Republicans alike have criticized the Bush administration for misleading the American people and taking the U.S. to war in Iraq--but no one has asked for Bush to stand before an inquiry.

Maybe they're worried that people will want to see them do the same.

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