Last Wednesday, July 6th, was George W. Bush's 70th birthday and should have been an occasion for celebration. He got a present that he probably would rather not have received, however -- the long-awaited report on the British role in the invasion of Iraq. The report offered no real surprises but validated the judgment of those who, like the author of a recent biography of Bush, believe he is the worst president in recent history. It was also a reminder of just how little Americans care about that assessment and its consequences.
The report was the product of the Chilcot Inquiry, a commission headed by Sir John Chilcot, a former British civil servant. The investigation, which took seven years and cost around $15 million, was ordered by then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. Its mandate was to examine British actions before and during the war and to determine what lessons could be learned from the experience.
The commission looked at over 150,000 documents, interviewed scores of witnesses and wrote a report that runs 12 volumes and 2.6 million words (four times the length of Tolstoy's novel "War and Peace.") It is for sale for 800 British pounds, which even with the sinking value of the British currency thanks to the referendum voting to leave the European Union, is still well over a thousand dollars.
For those not interested in investing the time and money required to read the report, here are its major conclusions as summarized by the British press:
• military action was not a last resort as the options short of war had not been exhausted;
• there were no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and the threat they supposedly posed was grossly exaggerated;
• the intelligence supporting the need for the invasion and the existence of WMD was presented with a certainty that was unjustified and proved to be almost entirely wrong;
• planning for post-war Iraq was wholly inadequate;
• the war did not achieve its stated objectives and was a failure;
• the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for military action were far from satisfactory. (Which is a polite way of saying it was illegal under international law.);
• the consequences of the invasion were underestimated; and
• Prime Minister Tony Blair overestimated his influence with Bush.
At the time, Blair was often referred to by critics as Bush's poodle because of their close relationship. The report includes copies of Blair's messages to Bush, which show they were discussing toppling Saddam Hussein a month after 9/11 and that in July 2002 Blair promised Bush "I will be with you, whatever."
The British lost 179 servicemen in the war, and pressure from their families helped prompt the writing of the report. It cost the lives of nearly 4,500 Americans, but there is little interest in an honest American accounting or even an acknowledgement of its consequences. Republicans want to forget it and most Democrats, who did not have the courage to slow the march to war, do as well. For instance, there is no official estimate of how many Iraqi civilians have died even though a case can be made that Bush is responsible for more of their deaths than Saddam Hussein was. Those that reject that possibility do so out of a desire to avoid thinking about the costs of the war rather than any objective analysis of it.
All the failings of the British government documented by the Chilcot Inquiry are merely reflections of the failures, duplicity and dishonesty of the American government. So happy birthday Mr. President. Let's hope the report solidifies the notion that even Donald Trump accepts -- that the war was as avoidable as it was disastrous. May your place in history (and those of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice and Tenet) always reflect that.