At long last, civil servant Sir John Chilcot released his 12-volume study of Britain’s participation in the Iraq War. The report condemns Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government for misjudgments and miscalculations and for subservience to American foreign policy objectives, but it also blames Blair himself for misleading the British people and members of Parliament in making the case for war on September 24, 2002.
In that speech, and in the famous “dodgy dossier” that accompanied it, Blair declared that Saddam Hussein’s “WMD program is active, detailed and growing. The policy of containment is not working. The WMD program is not shut down. It is up and running” and that “he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes.. and that he is actively trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability.” In his preface to the dossier, Blair had asserted that British intelligence had “established beyond doubt” that Iraq was producing WMDs.
All that turned out to be not only false, but unwarranted even by Britain’s existing and flawed intelligence. “The assessed intelligence had not established beyond doubt that Saddam Hussein had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons,” the report says, and it concludes that “the judgments of the severity of the threat, the WMD, were presented with a certainty that was not justified.”
The United States has not conducted a similar investigation into the case that the Bush administration made for the Iraq war from August 2002 through March 2003, but it would likely come up with similar and perhaps even starker conclusions. Yet while Bush and Blair continue to have their strong detractors – most recently in Bush’s case, Donald Trump – they have remained honored public servants enjoying lucrative perks and pensions. Shouldn’t there have been some official consequences for their having misled their publics about whether the country needed to go to war?
In 1974, the Greek junta undertook a disastrous invasion of Cyprus intended to oust the Turks. They failed, and were booted out of office by their colleagues in the armed forces. Later, an elected Greek government had them tried for treason and sentenced them to long jail terms. Similarly, the Argentine generals who in 1982 invaded the Falklands and lost a war ended up in jail. By these standards, Bush and Blair should be currently occupying prison cells.
In my opinion, American presidents should not be jailed for poorly executing a war — by that standard, James Madison might have spent his last years in a cell — but what needs to be considered is whether chiefs of state in democracies should be officially punished for undermining the process by which a major decision, like whether to go to war, is made. Bush and Blair will have gotten off scot free. In the U.S., the threat of impeachment for a “high crime” does not quite do it. There needs to be some kind of sanction that will give the next president and prime minister a second or third thought before he starts exaggerating the danger that the U.S. or the UK faces from an adversary. Or if this is constitutionally impossible, what may work as a preventive measure is a much more rigorous application of the War Powers Act. Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn has suggested something along this line for the UK.