Only July 6 2016, the UK government is due to release its long-awaited Chilcot Inquiry, a seven-year investigation into the British government’s decision to, along with the US, invade Iraq. In July of 2009, the British government’s Labor Party was suffering a steep decline in popularity, primarily due to then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s 2003 decision to join the US in invading Iraq. Among other motivations, launching the inquiry, managed by Sir John Chilcot, was an effort to shore up that slide in the party’s popularity. The report was to take only a year, but apparently it has been difficult for the UK government to come to terms with its disastrous involvement. Numerous British authors have attacked Mr. Blair, and by extension, the American government for failing to understand the risks of toppling Saddam Hussein, namely a bloody revolution, massive loss of life, regional upheaval, and as the British journalist Peter Oborne argues it in his new book, Not the Chilcot Report, the creation of ISIS.
So what will the Chilcot Inquiry finally have to say? An inquiry with any integrity will invariably be damning. The American obsession to invade Iraq materialized well before 9-11. The Project for a New American Century (PNAC), an influential and fanatically conservative American think tank, was already sending letters to President Clinton in 1998 demanding the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime by force, and suggesting that a military invasion of Iraq could only be justified if the US suffered a major attack “similar to Pearl Harbor”. PNAC’s publicly stated view of the world was one dominated by American military supremacy, where the US would maintain a “benevolent global hegemony.” I’m guessing that PNAC didn’t request opinions from the rest of the world.
Two years after PNAC sent those memos, Bill Clinton was gone, and members of PNAC and signatories to those letters now occupied the White House and its administration. PNAC members included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Elliot Abrams, Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, Richard Perl, John Bolton, William Kristol, James Woolsey, Jeb Bush, and Richard Armitage, and amazingly, America’s “second Pearl Harbor”, 9/11, materialized shortly after they came to power.
A trove of documents obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act and available at George Washington University’s National Security Archives reveal that President Bush began making plans to invade Iraq from day one of his administration, well before 9/11. The 9/11 attack offered a very convenient pretext, and may help to explain why, before the attack, the Bush Administration ignored intelligence reports in Presidential Daily Briefings that an attack of great magnitude, using airplanes against buildings, was in the works.
After 9/11, the Bush administration claimed repeatedly that al Qaeda had been directed and supported by Saddam Hussein, that Hussein had developed a stockpile of WMDs including chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and that a nuclear attack on New York City was near certain if the US didn’t invade. However the only such “weapons” found after the invasion were the few remnants of a dismantled program from the late 1980s that Iraq developed to launch chemical weapons attacks on Iranian troops. Those weapons included mustard gas and sarin, and were the result of a program the Reagan Administration knowingly enabled when they agreed to allow the American sale of various strains of anthrax, and chemical-weapons precursors from Dow Chemical, to Saddam Hussein.
After 9/11, the Bush Administration created a mountain of lies and exaggerations to inflame American outrage and justify the invasion, perhaps the most absurd being the story of a fleet of mobile bio-weapons labs. In January of 2003, Colin Powell stood before the U.N. Security Council and told a convincing lie, that “‘Iraq has at least seven mobile factories for the production of biological agents – equipment mounted on trucks and rails to evade discovery.” This famously absurd claim came from “Curveball”, an Iraqi defector who ultimately confessed that he lied to German intelligence and later the US about mobile bio-weapons labs. The Germans had already determined that Curveball was only a taxi driver and his stories were empty fabrications, and they shared this knowledge with the CIA well before Powell’s speech to the U.N. But the Bush Administration repeated Curveball’s lies to the UN, because of course, it suited their agenda.
In January of 2015 the CIA declassified and released the very same report that the Bush Administration claimed justified the invasion of Iraq. With this report, the administration repeatedly claimed with certainty that Iraq was actively pursuing nuclear weapons, concealing a vast chemical and biological weapons arsenal, and posed an immediate and grave threat to US national security. However the CIA’s report says nothing of the kind. It is full of qualifiers and uncertainties, and directly states that Iraq had no active nuclear weapons program. According to an assessment of the CIA report by the government-funded RAND Corporation, the Bush Administration grossly exaggerated and contradicted the very CIA document they said justified the invasion. The bottom line is that the Bush Administration lied pervasively.
The result of course, was the perfect storm of fanaticism, arrogance, and the world’s most powerful military. As predicted by many experts, the invasion sparked a bloody civil war and created devastating regional upheaval. ISIS is a direct result. The total cost in terms of human agony, lives lost, and treasure wasted seems almost unbounded, and goes on to this day.
Tragically for the United Kingdom, then Prime Minister Tony Blair was Bush’s obedient lap dog, repeating every lie to the British public that the Bush administration told to America. America’s common allies, France, Italy, and Germany, refused to repeat the lies, but George Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, and Tony Blair pulled one off the biggest con jobs the world has ever witnessed, deceiving hundreds of millions. So what will be the outcome of the seven-year Chilcot Inquiry? Probably nothing. Given the mountain of evidence, it is simply not credible that Bush and Blair were victims of circumstances, misguided imbeciles who somehow misunderstood the facts and launched an accidental invasion. In terms of accountability, President Obama chose to do absolutely nothing about Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq and its consequences, about the lies the Bush Administration told America and the world, or about the Bush administration’s illegal rendition and torture program. And in all likelihood, the British government will do exactly the same. What is likely to be an exhaustive and damning report will result in nothing. But thanks to the Bush Administration and Tony Blair, this disaster will continue to play out for many years to come.