“NEVER part with your illusions,” advised Mark Twain. “When they are gone you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.”
I am reminded of the inimitable American and his earthy wisdom every time I hear Bush and Blair, the two illustrious leaders of the coalition of the willing, hold forth on the war on terror and why they are still fighting it.
As his departure day approaches, Blair appears particularly desperate to ‘protect’ his legacy. Like the proverbial cat on a hot tin roof, he is hopping from London to Washington to Baghdad to leave a lasting impression that will outlast his successor Brown.
Conservative leader David Cameron is spot on in likening Blair to a fading pop star on a farewell tour. But then Blair has always been a pop star. He has always been there to engage and entertain the media while his friend Bush went about the business of ruling the world.
But if you thought the British leader would shed a tear or two before his departure over the mess in Iraq, think again. In his farewell speech to the Labour party earlier this month, there was no hint of remorse over Iraq: “I did what I thought was right,” said the prime minister with a smirk and without batting an eye.
The next stop was Washington where Bush, ever in awe of his smooth-talking ally from across the Atlantic, rolled out a red carpet for him.
And there he was on the White House lawn defending the indefensible even as Bush watched his friend’s gift of the gab with uninhibited veneration: “We took a decision that we thought was very difficult,” Blair told the almost reverential reporters. “I thought then, and I think now, it was the right decision.”
And while you are at it, how could you miss Iraq? There couldn’t be a more appropriate, more picturesque photo opportunity than shaking hands with the boys in Basra. Ah! What perfect way to say adieu to a beautiful war. And what better way to sign off from 10, Downing Street.
Brown will never be able to claim this war as his own. This will only be remembered as his and of course Bush’s war.
So there Blair was in Baghdad shaking hands with Nuri Al-Maliki and Jalal Talabani and grinning into the camera. Again, if simpletons like you and me thought a chastened Blair would perhaps make a mention of making ‘mistakes’ over Iraq, they were in for a disappointment. “I have no regrets about removing Saddam, no,” a smiling Blair told a news conference with Maliki and Talabani.
But this one really takes the cake.
Blasting Iraq’s ‘interfering’ and ‘uncooperative’ neigbhours, the British leader thundered: “The future of Iraq should be determined by Iraqis in accordance with their wishes and it is important that all the neighbouring countries understand and respect that.”
Can you better that? Never mind the bitchy critics like me who wonder if Blair, Bush and other worthy members of the ‘coalition of the willing’ had done the same — that is, respect the wishes of Iraqi people allowing them to determine their own future when they invaded Iraq?
I for one find it difficult to forget the fact that the coalition invaded Iraq to bring down the regime, ignoring all appeals by the United Nations, OIC and Arab League for giving diplomacy a chance to resolve the issue.
Iraq was attacked despite the protestations by the IAEA teams that their inspections had failed to turn up a smoking gun or the so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Even the unprecedented peace marches around the world — largest ever to take place before a war — failed to dissuade those who wanted to make an ‘example’ of Iraq for the Arab and Muslim world. And oil, of course! Oil was the big bonus, the real incentive for going to Iraq.
I know the successful politicians like Blair can take any thing in their stride. They wouldn’t allow any inconvenient pangs of their conscience to affect their never-ending reverie. As far as they are concerned, what is happening in Iraq is but a stream of lifeless images, to be observed from a safe distance — from London or Washington.
But it beats me how you could sleep in peace at night when you know that you have sent nearly a million people to their deaths?
Announcing his retirement in Sedgefield, his constituency in northern England, earlier this month, Blair had declared: “Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right!”
Is lying to your people, and the rest of the world — hand on heart — that Iraq has the ability to unleash a WMD attack on Britain within ’45 minutes’ and attacking a defenceless nation ‘right’?
According to Britain’s own health journal, Lancet, more than 655,000 Iraqis had died in this war until last year, when this report appeared. Hand on heart, is this the ‘right’ thing to do, Mr Blair?
Okay, even if you give the invaders benefit of the doubt that they genuinely believed Saddam’s Iraq posed a ‘clear and present danger’ to the civilised West, has nothing changed over the past four years?
Now that we know Saddam’s WMD were indeed a figment of the neocon imagination, you would think Iraq’s liberators would squirm in their seats before insisting what they did was the ‘right thing’ to do. The fact that all those hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people — and the US and UK soldiers — died for a lie and continue to die doesn’t seem to have made any difference to the world Blair and Bush inhabit.
If the Bush administration is guilty of initiating this unjust and unreasonable war on Iraq, Blair’s Britain is responsible for aiding and executing it.
As former president Jimmy Carter has argued, it’s almost certain that the US wouldn’t have gone to war on its own, if Britain hadn’t joined the invasion. No wonder Carter describes Blair’s support for Bush as, “Abominable. Loyal. Blind. Subservient.”
The honourable members of the coalition may be too vain to own up their guilt. But can they really escape the consequences of their crimes against humanity?
There is undeniable evidence to suggest that some sort of divine justice has already come into play. All those responsible for or associated with this most unjust of all wars have begun paying for their crimes.
Pentagon chief Don Rumsfeld, who had dismissed Abu Ghraib and other crimes against Iraqi people shrugging off, “stuff happens,” is out in the cold despite Bush’s best efforts to save him.
Ditto his lieutenant and fellow architect of Iraq disaster Paul Wolfowitz. The White House picked up Wolfie to head the World Bank ignoring all protests from human rights groups. He had to go equally ignominiously last week, albeit for different reasons — for mistaking the World Bank to be his love nest.
Even secretary of state Colin Powell, who was not part of the neocon inner circle and is said to have opposed the invasion, is paying for his now infamous argument before the UN calling for the war.
And CIA chief George Tenet, who sat next to Powell in the UN even as he claimed to have ‘credible’ evidence that Iraq posed a clear threat to the civilised world, is gone with the wind too.
Scooter Libby, the chief of staff of Vice President Dick Cheney and another high profile member of the neocon brigade, is currently facing a long prison sentence for his role in CIA leak case.
And Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara, King George’s most cavalier knight, is going to be history soon too. The only remaining dramatis personae on history’s stage are Bush and Cheney, the original players of this absurd play. As Shakespeare tells us in Julius Caesar, “the fault, Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves.”
If one player after another is falling from grace in the tragedy called Iraq, the fault is not in their stars, but in themselves.
Although the jury is still out on this administration, which Carter terms as the most unpopular in US history, this president already holds the unique record of the first White House occupant with the lowest ever popularity ratings.
But it’s not history’s verdict that Iraqi people — fighting for survival every single day, every single minute — are interested in. All they are asking and waiting for is justice — justice for those who have denied them justice.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times and a commentator based in Dubai. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org