When it comes to the arms business…there’s no end to the good news from the Middle East. Take the [Obama] administration’s proposed new 10-year aid deal with Israel. If enacted as currently planned, it would boost U.S. military assistance to that country by up to 25% — to roughly $4 billion per year. At the same time, it would phase out a provision that had allowed Israel to spend one-quarter of Washington’s aid developing its own defense industry. In other words, all that money, the full $4 billion in taxpayer dollars, will now flow directly into the coffers of companies like Lockheed Martin, which is in the midst of completing a multi-billion-dollar deal to sell the Israelis F-35s.’ — Extract: Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex, © William Hartung, 2012.
‘The unnecessary war against Iraq has not only killed and wounded thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, but has actually increased the terrorist threat to the United States. An American attack on Iran would compound the damage geometrically, bringing about a major conflagration in the heart of the oil producing region of the Middle East, that would reverberate throughout the entire world. [Such a] disaster is highly likely unless the U.S. completely eschews all elements of its Middle east war policy….
….How did the U.S. come to formulate this colossally erroneous policy? This is not simply a question of significance for those who study history; it is of vital importance for those alive today. For it is only in understanding the origins of and motivations behind the current policy that we might establish an alternative, to extricate the U.S. from the existing quagmire and bring about the best settlement possible.’ — Extract: The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel, © Stephen Sniegoski, 2008
The release of the Chilcot Report in the UK reopened the can of worms that was the Iraq War, providing us an opportunity for reconsidering the rationale behind the decision and why all those responsible should be held accountable. Of greater import, with the fallout of the invasion still resonating across the Greater Middle East — exacerbated by even more ill-judged incursions into the region under president Obama such as in Libya and Syria — the Chilcot findings call into question U.S. foreign and national security policy, not just in the region but in broader spheres of influence on the geopolitical scene.
— The Endless Menace of Imaginary Hobgoblins —
After scrutinizing any number of analyses of the recently released Chilcot Inquiry Report — the long awaited ‘post-mortem’ of U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair‘s decision to support the George Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 and relieve its leader Saddam Hussein from the burdens of power — one could not help recalling Henry L Mencken‘s indelible maxim:
‘The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.’
Without doubt, as so often happens with these things, we were all menaced with a plethora of ‘imaginary hobgoblins’ in the lead up to the war, not least the specter of “mushroom clouds”, along with chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in the possession of a rogue state led by a maniacal despot with Hitlerian ambitions (shades of Godwin’s Law redux) who was supporting terrorists, which by ‘definition’, were the same ones who were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The existential dangers to liberty, democracy, peace and freedom were so palpable they simply could not be ignored.
Or so the story went. As we now know of course, none of these had anything to do with the real reasons why the United States and Britain (and several other nations including my own Australia) embarked on this unmitigated war of aggression and fraudulent exercise in hegemonic overreach.
And as might be expected, there was no shortage of commentators keen to provide their perspective on Chilcot, in everything from Blair’s culpability in the decision and whether he should be charged with war crimes; [to] whether the Inquiry addressed the real reasons the “Coalition of the Willing” actually went to war; [to] why other countries concerned (not least the U.S. itself, the instigator of the war) have not established their own commissions of inquiry; [to] what the implications of the findings are for all other countries involved — directly or indirectly — in supporting the decision.
Much of the focus of said commentary seemed to center on the role of Blair (who drew the most flak from the ‘opinionocracy’), and what his motives were in signing up for it in the first place. There were also the real and perceived inadequacies of the Report’s findings, most of which focused on its failings to shed light on the real reasons for the war. On its face, the fallout for Blair personally and politically was considerable. In his address to the nation after the Report’s release, the ‘stunned mullet’ look on his face — to say little of his body language — said much about the impact. Although not especially high in any event, his reputation and legacy are now in tatters.
Yet somehow through all of it, Blair managed to resist embracing suggestions he’d made the wrong call in lining up with U.S. President George Bush’s belligerent ‘bedlamites’ on the side of war. Indeed, as we know, the man said he’d do it all over again. Say what you like about the estimable former UK premier, but he’s doubtless a man of steadfast conviction. About the only other thing anyone might say in Blair’s defense is that he was at least prepared to face the music; this is especially so in view of the number of others who shared that “steadfast conviction” way back then who were on this occasion nowhere to be seen. This includes those in the media and on both sides of the political divide, many of whom are now either baying for his blood or maintaining a low profile for fear of drawing too much attention to their own culpabilities in either supporting the war, or not protesting it enough.
At all events, if Blair had hoped he might be able to redeem something of that tattered ‘rep’ in his address, this was not the way to go. He’d have been better off staying at home, drawing the blinds and bolting the front door shut — opting for an out of sight out of mind stance. As it was his comments just added more ballast to the opprobrium in which he was already held. He may however take some solace in that, whilst his stock in the court of public opinion may be irrevocably trashed — and despite a movement in the form of a petition to have him held legally accountable — there appears as of this writing to be little realistic expectation he’ll be fronting up to The Hague ICC anytime soon.
As for the Report’s inadequacies, someone for whom these were especially evident was Bianca Jagger, human rights advocate and founder of her own eponymous Human Rights Foundation. In an interview with Afshin Rattansi from RT’s Going Underground, she acknowledges the Report did in fact emphasize the “failures of the intelligence” and the “lack of preparation” upon the part of Blair’s government (two realities that not even a total whitewash by Chilcot could conceal).
For Jagger though, an open, candid consideration of the “why” factor was the most glaring omission of the Report; insofar as she was concerned, oil was the ‘pachyderm on the political patio’, it being the real genesis of, and hidden justification for, the Iraq War. In her view the decision to effectively destroy Iraq — realized by the age-old stand-by strategy of regime change so favored for so long now by the powers that be on both sides of the Big Pond — was little more than an “oil conspiracy”, with oil majors BP and Shell leading the charge, albeit from behind the scenes.
In his response, Nafeez Ahmed also expressed similar views. Like Jagger, he noted that the actual motive was buried in the details, said “details” in this case being of the decidedly ‘fine print’ type. For both Britain and the U.S., their interest in Iraq’s oil wasn’t just so their respective oil majors could gain greater control over its vast supplies. Concomitant with that were “geostrategic” considerations in ensuring Iraq’s oil could be opened up to global markets with a view to stabilizing OPEC.
Moreover, for Ahmed, Chilcot takes at face value the notion that Britain went to war in Iraq because of a genuine belief that Iraq’s president Saddam Hussein posed an existential threat due to his much touted WMDs and his alleged links to terrorist groups. But, as he further notes,
‘That framing allows Chilcot to skirt over the idea that controlling Iraq’s oil was a motive for the war. The report does reveal extensive planning for the post-war aftermath — but [this] had little do with stabilizing Iraq….[Chilcot does] acknowledge the UK government was angling to ensure oil firms could exploit the UK’s involvement in the war…[whilst it] confirms the US and UK worked together to privatize Iraqi oil production and guarantee a takeover from foreign companies.’
— Was it All Worth It? —
As to whether Chilcot arrived at any useful considerations for the future, opinion as to whether it was all worth it was mixed to say the least. Given the response from many Britons, it would appear their worst fears have been realized; that indeed their former PM and his inner circle took their country to war under false pretenses. With the prospect of him being held to account seemingly negligible, no doubt this will compound the attendant angst and anger for all; for this reason alone they are unlikely to derive any solace from the findings.
By conventional definitions of the term then, a ‘whitewash’ it may not have been. But in the view of Brendan O’Neill, editor of the on-line news forum spiked, for all Blair’s egregious crimes, there is plenty of blame to be assigned, which begs the question as to why he is taking all the heat. O’Neill is right to remind us that around 244 Labour MPs and 139 Tory (Conservative) MPs voted for the Iraq War. This is to say nothing of the 557 MPs who, with the Chilcot inquiry still in its earliest stages — and with that the existential concerns of whether to embark upon another catastrophic war presumably being uppermost in the minds of the British people themselves if not their elected representatives — voted to bomb Libya in 2011.
As it was, many in this latter group of MPs were the same ones who’d voted for the Iraq War, and one suspects herein for many of the same reasons. In this case history didn’t just repeat itself — it tripped over itself on its way ‘back to the future’, a recurring refrain in the foreign policy narratives of both countries. Insofar as O’Neill is concerned, Chilcot is in fact an example of the “worst kind of whitewash”, of the political, moral and historical kind. He adds the following to underscore this point:
‘In giving the chattering classes what they desperately craved — hard evidence that Blair is wicked and his warmongering was a disaster and they are right to hate him now — Chilcot and the circus around it wrenches the Iraq War from its historical context and turns it into the psycho-dramatic folly of a hubristic has-been. In doing so, it washes away the context in which [it] could take place.’
Alexander Mercouris, in an article published in the wake of the Report’s release, dismisses Chilcot as “an irrelevance”; yet in doing so he nails some lucid observations about the Report and the fallout from it. The central tenet of his article is hard to resist, and is one that few appear thus far to be discussing — that being the ‘special relationship’ between Washington and the Mother Country. Again, this is principally what drove the decision — like that in Britain, essentially bipartisan — for Australia to do same.
That Blair himself could not resist said “clamor” is axiomatic, although there was much more to it than that. Even if Chilcot doesn’t quite spell out to what degree “much more” might be defined, for many observers there is probably little need to. The damage as they say is done, a mordant reality that will be most apparent for the families of those British soldiers who died for what was always for them a fraudulent, and ultimately lost, cause. As former British ambassador, broadcaster and human rights activist Craig Murray noted, Blair’s attempt to justify the invasion as an effort to prevent a 9/11 on British soil is patently “dishonest”. ‘Blair knew full well [that] Iraq had nothing at all to do with 9/11 — that was his friends and financiers the Saudi elite.’
Of course Blair is not on his ‘Pat Malone’ here as leaders of a number of Western nations began falling over each other in the scramble to climb onto the neocon wagon train, one which we all know now was heavily freighted with all manner of transparently fraudulent intelligence.
As we will see soon, we have a similar dilemma Down Under, despite there not being a Chilcot-type inquiry here, nor even as much brouhaha about our own involvement in Iraq. Along with the de rigeuer obligation of Washington’s satraps to ingratiate themselves with whatever White House administration is calling the shots, our own PM at the time John Howard and his U.K. counterpart were so enamored of the George Bush/Dick Cheney neocons they either couldn’t, or more likely didn’t want to, see the wood for the trees in the way. Cue then mucho back peddling ‘down the mountain’ in both cases when those much touted WMDs failed to materialize and the invasion and occupation — the latter even more ill-planned and poorly managed than the former was ill-conceived — morphed from debacle to disaster to quagmire and beyond to what can only be described as we speak as a never-ending catastrophe. We could say the rest is history, except that it’s decidedly not.
It needs be noted Mercouris’ earlier comments about how the ‘intel’ was fashioned to shore up Blair’s decision to enter the fray (and from there ultimately to sell the war to the British public), although not especially revelatory, are nonetheless of particular relevance. On such matters as going to war, there can never be too many reminders of the egregious and cavalier manner our political leaders and their MSM cheer squads distort and contort their bespoke narratives for less than noble, honest, public spirited designs. However unlikely it might appear, if Tony Blair himself ends up being hoisted upon his own petard and charged, then convicted, of war crimes, then some good might come of the Chilcot Inquiry. This would at least provide those British families affected by his government’s decision to join Washington’s imperial adventure some measure of consolation.
It may also deliver some comfort to the millions of Iraqis who were directly and indirectly affected, yet one imagines no amount of punishment meted out to Blair and his cronies will ever assuage those still alive. But from his stated preparedness he’d ‘do it all over again’, we might safely surmise Blair fully subscribes to the Madeline Albright school of thought (via Henry Kissinger) — that when it comes to determining the value of lives and livelihoods lost and whole societies, indeed nations, destroyed against that of the dictates of the Beltway bedlamites and the overarching imperatives of empire, the latter shows the former a clean pair of heels pretty much every time.
— The Best Available Propaganda at the Time —
Here in Australia one person was asking why our own leaders of the time have not had the blowtorch similarly applied to the belly in the wake of Chilcot. In a piece published on NEO the week after its release, James O’Neill, prominent human rights lawyer and commentator, observed that the then Prime Minister John Howard (whom George Bush risibly dubbed his “Man of Steel”), who made the decision to become part of that coalition, was still arguing it was the “right” decision taken on the basis of the “best available intelligence” at that time.
O’Neill noted also that along with Howard (or “Bonzai” as he was ‘affectionately’ known Down Under — to wit: “Little Bush”), the present Aussie foreign minister Julie Bishop expressed similar views. This to be sure is the stock standard mantra for all belligerents in those rare moments when they feel compelled to provide some justification for taking their respective countries to war based on prefabricated intelligence. It was either that one, or the other supremely bogus, belated fallback talking point which said that, although there were no proven ties to terrorist groups and no WMDs after all, the world was a “better place” for having rid itself of Saddam, conveniently ignoring all those other brutal, godless, megalomaniacal U.S. client dictators past and present who were as bad if not much worse than him.
In his must read article, O’Neill doesn’t just include an informed insight into the myriad legalities of this decision and provide us a measure of the gravity of its future implications insofar as international law is concerned, such as on what basis it should be applied or might be enforced in the future. Along with showcasing the flawed and fraudulent processes all belligerents employed in reaching their respective decisions, he calls into question the very legitimacy, effectiveness and purpose of international legal principles and precepts in light of how they have played out in the post-9/11 geopolitical zeitgeist, and of course, how they continue to do so under President Obama. O’Neill drolly noted (his observation not just applicable to those to whom it was directed),
‘[Both] Howard and Bishop are lawyers, although that is not immediately obvious from their views. Neither seems to have a basic grasp of the principles of international law, or even the law of evidence. Successive Australian governments of both major political persuasions have refused to conduct a formal inquiry into the circumstances under which Australia joined the Iraq invasion and occupation. This is probably because both major parties [Labor and Liberal] are culpable in ignoring both the law and the evidence.’ [My Emphasis]
Whether from a legal standpoint or not, like so many folks who have long abhorred the decision to go to war in Iraq, and for whom Chilcot presented few surprises in its interminable investigation of the process, O’Neill’s view is unforgiving. In his estimate, ignoring the evidence accompanied as it was by a promiscuous willingness to sign off on U.S. foreign policy misadventures, has led to ‘one of the greatest policy debacles in Australian foreign policy history’. The only other “debacle” that comes close here for us is Vietnam, which it should be noted, was one Britain itself did not subscribe to.
Of greater concern, the decision to invade Iraq occasioned the deaths of possibly up to a million of its citizens with millions more displaced and their lives and livelihoods devastated. This is an abject reality that cannot be over-emphasized, even as said “reality” confronts us all almost every day simply by tuning into the news.
It almost goes without saying that the ensuing, ‘no-end-in-sight’ refugee crisis in Europe is itself threatening — indeed is already undermining — the stability, security and very viability of the European Union, with the ‘Brexit’ vote at least in part both a response to, and a reflection of, this instability and insecurity. That this action immeasurably increased the threat and the reality of terror that plagues countries throughout the Middle East, South Asia, North Africa and beyond — “terror” to be sure forming the whole basis of why the eponymously titled war was declared in the first instance — is another reason it cannot be overstated.
And if that isn’t enough, the reality that the war’s perpetrators were repeatedly and loudly warned of the potential blowback from their actions — all of which they duly ignored, brushed aside, or marginalised and even attacked those issuing such warnings — is an additional reason. The only fault one could assign to those issuing these warnings might be that they themselves grossly underestimated this “blowback”, and didn’t press their case forcefully enough. Either way, given the zeitgeist of the time, any additional or voluble warnings one imagines would’ve still fallen on deaf ears. We did not need a Chilcot Report to remind us the Iraq War ‘Kool-Aid’ was at the time free flowing and in plentiful supply.
Yet putting the U.K. aside for the present, the big question for many is why there hasn’t been more of a clamor for a ‘full Monty’ stateside “Chilcot”. Although Blair can hardly claim to have been dragged kicking and screaming into the Iraq debacle, the reality is that is was always Bush and Co.’s war from the off. Which is to say, when it comes to keeping the ‘populace alarmed and clamorous’ etc., the Beltway bedlamites then and now are in a league of their own; for this closet Straussian cohort, ‘the merits of warlike enterprise’ are rarely in dispute.
As for why the Bush regime decided to go to war in the first place and why Britain, Australia and others so willingly joined them, as already noted, in the view of many it was indeed about oil. To be sure, the original nomenclature of the operation to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein was embarrassingly named Operation Iraqi Liberation, the attending acronym literally ‘spelling’ it out for all but the most politically myopic or perpetually naïve.
(By way of slight digression herein, one is tempted to ponder a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ moment in the Situation Room whence this revelation — that the Operation’s acronym spelt OIL — was first brought to the notice of the war’s architects gathered as they were plotting their next course of action. The mind boggles as to the look on the faces of those who thought their plan was a good idea at the time, coming to terms with the realization their unfortunately labeled ‘crusade’ into the cradle of civilization was one of recent history’s most revealing illustrations of a Freudian slip!)
In his Consortium News piece, the “Iraq War, an Unaccountable Crime”, Eric Margolis was one commentator who didn’t just reinforce what many were saying in response to Chilcot’s findings. As someone who’s been covering Iraq since the mid 70’s (by his own declaration he was not a big fan of Saddam Hussein; the dictator’s secret police once threatened to hang him as a spy), for him the process leading to the invasion was little more than an epic shell game. Margolis’ focus was rightly on the U.S., and on those who were the principal drivers of this extraordinarily ill-fated, ill-judged adventure. These include in the main Bush himself, along with Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld, a cabal this author has referred to previously as the “Shock and Awesome Foursome of the Bespoke Apocalypse”. That appellation seems even more apt in light of Chilcot’s findings.
Indeed, far from being ‘misguided’ (as some of the ‘half-hearted’ apologists for this interminable fiasco have claimed and are still doing so to this day), given that its origins lay in the unilateral and preemptive premises of the pre-9/11 Project for the New American Century doctrine as outlined in its manifesto “Rebuilding America’s Defenses”, it was quite possibly the most guided — preordained one might say — decision ever taken in U.S. foreign and national security policy history. In anyone’s lingo, this is a big call to be sure.
— On the Political Patio (That Other Pachyderm) —
The way Margolis saw it, there were two formidable forces in Washington clamoring for the war — these were: ‘[the] ardently pro-Israel neoconservatives who yearned to see an enemy of Israel destroyed’, after which there was ‘[the] cabal of conservative oil men and imperialists around Vice President Dick Cheney who sought to grab Iraq’s huge oil reserves at a time they believed oil was running out.’ Put simply, oil is not the only ‘pachyderm on the political patio’ that defines U.S. policy within and across the Greater Middle East. Margolis was as unequivocal as he was as unsparing in his assessment:
‘They engineered the Iraq War, as blatant and illegal an aggression as Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939. Britain’s smarmy Tony Blair tagged along with the war boosters in hopes that the U.K. could pick up the crumbs from the invasion and reassert its former economic and political power in the Arab world. Blair had long been a favorite of British neoconservatives. The silver-tongued Blair became point man for the war in preference to the tongue-twisted, stumbling George Bush. But the real warlord was VP Dick Cheney.’
Whilst Margolis’ viewpoint on the Zionist/Israeli influence in the decision to go to war in Iraq is especially insightful, it is far from unique. It’s been highlighted by a few brave souls previously, not least by Stephen Sniegoski in his book The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel.
In this seminal work, the author provides an unflinching insight into the influence of the Zionist neoconservatives and those simpatico with them who populate the highest levels of the decision making process in the U.S. government, in think tanks (e.g. American Enterprise Institute and affiliates), and in the mainstream news media (e.g. Fox News), the latter acting as the chief ‘carny-barkers’ for the war. The primary aim then and now is shaping U.S. foreign and national security policy to serve the prerequisites of Tel Aviv’s ‘Likudnik’ hardliners ever more frequently at the expense of the U.S. national interest.
Placed in this context, the poster-boy for these hardliners Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments about 9/11 being “good for Israel” assume a whole new import.
The neoconservative cabal then persuaded Bush to invade Iraq in support of Israel’s own parochial foreign policy and purported national security interests. ‘Junior’ of course — the kindest thing about whom one might say was that he did not have a mind of his own and wasn’t required to do any heavy lifting in respect of policy — got ‘jiggy’ with it all without asking too many difficult questions. Most tellingly, for Sniegoski the fundamental reasons for embarking on this monumentally destructive conflict had less to do with oil than it did with Israel’s own foreign policy and national security priorities.
In their review of Sniegoski’s book, former CIA analysts/officers Bill and Kathleen Christison, note that it is the right wing of Israeli politics, the neoconservatives in the U.S. who strongly support Israel, and the Israel lobby (esp. organisations such as AIPAC, JINSA and affiliates) in the United States who have worked together, and are still doing so ‘to bring about more wars, regime changes, and instability, specifically the fragmentation of any Middle Eastern states that might ever conceivably threaten Israel’. They add the following:
‘….one purpose of such wars and other changes is explicitly to intensify the discouragement of Palestinians as the latter’s potential allies are knocked off one by one, making it easier for Israel, over time, to finish off the Palestinians. Those who believe it is vital to improve the human rights situation and the political outlook for the Palestinians must not only work to reverse present Israeli policies, but it’s more important that we work even harder to reverse [our own] policies.’
In order to take our narrative full circle then, in his piece titled, “US Still Ducks Iraq Accountability“, former CIA analyst Paul Pillar expressed the view that the Chilcot findings provide Americans an opportunity to reflect on the singular reality of the Iraq War. This is one that seems to have been largely ignored especially in mainstream media analysis, that being: It was the U.S. that initiated the Iraq debacle, with the U.K. becoming involved because Blair was concerned about ‘keeping U.S.-U.K. relations harmonious’, so much so he wrote to Bush declaring the geopolitical and diplomatic equivalent of unconditional, undying love, a declaration which speaks volumes, to wit: “I will be with you, whatever”.
‘Americans ought to think about the responsibilities of global leadership, and about how easy it is to abuse a position of power in which even [Britain] will fall in line. Dragging it into the Iraq mess was such an abuse of power. It was a betrayal of one of America’s most important and staunchest allies. It gives many, including not just in Britain but elsewhere, reason to be less inclined to follow the U.S. lead in the future.’
If Americans cannot bring themselves to this ‘place’, then Mercouris’ earlier assessment vis a vis Chilcot passes the ‘pinch test’; it is largely irrelevant, a sideshow of sorts. To this day, even during the reign of the ‘Peace President’, the bedlamites are still calling the shots. Whether for Americans, Britons, or Aussies or any other nations who might be called upon by Uncle Sam to do ‘his’ bidding in the cause of empire, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon, especially if Hillary Clinton snags the keys to the White House. In which case we can then expect to be menaced by a veritable conga-line of imaginary hobgoblins on an endless basis, at least until the aforementioned bedlamites — past and present — face war crimes charges themselves, or are ‘banished’ from the imperial realm.
As a fitting coda to the ruminations herein, the following observation — coming as it does from Margolis, a man whose long experience reporting on Iraq positioning him as an especially credible commentator — is noteworthy. For him, Bush, Blair (and I would also argue John Howard) all have the needless deaths of thousands of soldiers on their heads, the devastation of Iraq, [a] $1 trillion (plus) war, the ever-expanding mess in the Middle East, and the violence that we wrongly blame on “terrorism” and so-called “radical Islam.”
‘The men and women responsible for this biggest disaster in our era should be brought to account. As long as Bush and Blair swan around and collect speaking fees, we have no right to lecture other nations, including Russia and China, on how to run a democracy or rule of law. Bush and Blair should be facing trial for war crimes at The Hague Court.’
Cue here the sound of my inner preacher calling out: ‘Hey can Ah now gets me an “Amen” from the choir?’
1 August, 2016