As Our Troops In Iraq Pull Back, It’s Time to Move Forward With The Truth About How We Got There (Joe Rothstein’s Commentary)

July 2, 2009

By Joe Rothstein

If Tony Blair had refused to go along, Bush, Cheney et al might still have invaded Iraq. We’ll never know. They were so determined to topple Saddam Huessin that maybe nothing would have stopped them.

But Tony Blair did go along, providing essential cover for the White House. The story (never true) that London was only 45 minutes away from Huessin’s WMD-armed missiles scared the daylights out of enough Brits to let Blair cow his Parliament. Bush’s State of the Union claim that “British intelligence” confirmed Iraq’s interest in obtaining nuclear materials from Niger was an important factor in cowing Congress.

They say, however, that what goes around comes around. I don’t really know what that means, but in the case of the Iraq war, the expression seems to fit. Blair enabled the White House to invade Iraq. Now Blair’s decision is coming back to bite all those involved. Probably Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and their British counterparts.

Why? Because the U.K. is doing what the U.S. should have done long ago—-and still should do. The British government is conducting a full-scale, no-holds-barred inquiry into the origins of the war. British Foreign Secretary David Milibrand told Parliament the other day that the inquiry will be free to apportion blame, write whatever report it likes and do everything except establish civil or criminal liability.

Britain’s Labour government has had to be pushed and shoved into this inquiry, and to make the inquiry public. Labour fears the result and its consequences, since both are likely to hurt Labour in next year’s elections.

They are right to be worried. They know, and we know, what will be in that report. So much has leaked out in newspaper and magazine articles and retrospective books on the subject over the years that the verdict is in before the inquiry even begins.

On both sides of the Atlantic, we know, for example:

—The White House tried to provoke Hussein into making some move that would provide a pretext for the war. Rumsfeld’s Defense Department was seriously bombing Iraq before Congress ever gave him the authority, or before the UN inspectors were finished looking for the mythical weapons of mass destruction. London’s Guardian newspaper last month ran stories detailing the traps that the White House and Downing Street, were baiting for Hussein.

–We know from the Downing Street Memo that the U.S. was trying to “fix” the intelligence to justify an invasion decision that already had been made.

–We know that the White House was lying to Congress and the American people to crush dissent from the million or more people who took to the streets to protest plans to invade Iraq.

–We know about the abysmal lack of planning done by the White House and the Defense Department to deal with invasion’s aftermath. That self-delusion prompted Cheney and others to predict the U.S. military would be greeted with flowers and sweets—and led to the violent years that followed.

Tony Blair apparently bought into Bush’s decision to invade Iraq when the two leaders met at Bush’s Texas ranch in April 2002—11 months before the actual invasion and when both were perpetuating the fiction that diplomacy was still an option.

The five person investigating body is made up of British grandees who have been in and around government and the ruling social set for many years. There’s a high level of suspicion in the British media and the public at large that the inquiry will go easy on Blair, Brown and others who were key players at the time.

But maybe not. I’ve been around a number of major U.S. investigations over the years beginning with Watergate. Few expected Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina to take on the bulldog role he assumed in getting to the bottom of the Nixon White House’s excesses. Few would have thought that mild-mannered, opera-loving, low-key House Judiciary Chairman Peter Rodino would bring down Richard Nixon during impeachment hearings.

Ignoble events and the power of truth often combine in potent, unexpected ways. The five members of the British board of inquiry know how unpopular the Iraq war has been in the U.K. If anything, its cost and stain have been felt more deeply by the British than by Americans.

The usually conservative Economist magazine describes it this way in its most recent issue:

“Perhaps most importantly, if intangibly, there is that…fractured covenant, between government and the people. The Iraq war is a great national welt of grief, shame and mistrust. Some of the damage—-the deaths, most obviously, but also the impact on Britain’s international standing and security, and on the Labour Party’s moral authority–—cannot be salved by Sir John (the inquiry’s chairman). But in a ceremonial, almost primitive way, some of the rancour might be lessened, if the process is overwhelmingly conducted in public….”

In other words, the hides of the guilty are not as important as a public revelation of the truth behind their actions.

Blair and Brown certainly will be called as witnesses and both have indicated they will testify. And the investigators will likely ask Colin Powell and others from the U.S. to take their places in the witness box. Indications are that witnesses will be required to testify under oath—something that was not done when President Bush set the terms of a U.S. inquiry into the missing WMDs.

Earlier this year, the Dutch government launched an inquiry into its own support for the war. Significantly, the Dutch intend to publish their report in November, suggesting that confidential information about the role played by the U.K. and the U.S. could become public even before the British inquiry reports.

President Obama has signaled that he doesn’t want to look into this rear view mirror, given all the obstacles still on the road ahead of him. But at some point he may have to concede that if the Dutch and the British have tried to purge themselves of the terrible stain called “Iraq” by getting to the truth, and have laid bare the embarrassment of lies and deceptions that dragged us all into that deadly, costly morass, the U.S—which bears most of the responsibility—cannot avoid its own day of reckoning.

It’s a decision that’s long overdue.