One has to wonder as to what must have been going through the minds of those who were advising George W Bush and Tony Blair to "come clean", so to speak, about their respective shortcomings regarding the conduct of the war in Iraq. With over 2,460 American and 106 UK soldiers killed in Iraq (not to mention untold thousands of dead Iraqis), the two people in the world most responsible for the ongoing debacle in Iraq displayed the combination of indifference and ignorance that got them neck deep in a quagmire of their own making to begin with.
President Bush kicked himself for "talking too tough", while the British prime minister ruminated on the decision to disband the Ba'athist infrastructure that held Iraq together in the aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein. Neither expressed any regret over the decision to invade Iraq in the first place.
Bush made no reference to the exaggerated and falsified claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction he and his loyal ally bandied about so freely in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Blair, recently returned from a visit to Baghdad where he met with the newly appointed prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, did not reflect on the reality that the Iraq of Saddam Hussein was a more peaceful and prosperous land before British and American troops overthrew the Iraqi president and condemned Iraq to the horrific reality of insurgent-fed civil strife.
"Despite setbacks and missteps, I strongly believe we did and are doing the right thing," Bush remarked, although he was quick to add, "Not everything has turned out the way we hoped". That, of course, could qualify for the understatement of the year. For his part, Blair spoke of faulty judgements, perhaps the greatest of which was to underestimate the scope and intensity of the insurgency, which he in typical fashion characterized as fighting against the democratic process, as opposed to struggling against an illegal, illegitimate and unjust occupation.
Blair shared his reflective insights at moment when the people of the United Kingdom were wrestling with new revelations concerning how he misled their attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, into putting forward a legal finding that enabled Britain to go to war with Iraq void of a second United Nations security council resolution. Blair had apparently told Lord Goldsmith that Iraq was in "material breach" of its obligations, despite the fact that no new intelligence on WMD had been unearthed, and UN weapons inspectors were on the ground in Iraq receiving total cooperation from the Iraqi government. Not a peep from the prime minister on this matter, though.
For his part Bush waxed eloquently about the cost of war to America. "No question that the Iraq war has, you know, created a sense of consternation here in America," the president said. "I mean, when you turn on your TV screen and see innocent people die day in and day out, it affects the mentality of our country." He added: "I can understand why the American people are troubled by the war in Iraq. I understand that. But I also believe the sacrifice is worth it and it's necessary."
Of course, the president remained mute as to the current visit to Iraq by the commandant of the Marine Corps, General Michael Hagee, who in the light of recent accusations of excessive force on the part of Marines fighting a life and death struggle in the Anbar province of Iraq, were cautioned to kill "only when justified". Some 717 Marines have lost their lives in the fighting in Iraq, most in the violence-prone Anbar province, where the Iraqi insurgency is particularly deeply entrenched. Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment are accused of slaughtering scores of innocent Iraqis in the aftermath of a fire-fight that followed a deadly attack on the Marines by a road-side bomb. In the middle of a conflict not of their making, fighting an enemy as deadly and resolute as they themselves are, the Marines are now lectured by general's to destroy only that which needs destroyed, kill only those who need killed, as if war was ever that easy.
Instead of focusing on the horrific reality of the unmitigated disaster that these two politicians are solely responsible for inflicting on their own respective armed forces and the people of Iraq, Bush deflected any talk about bringing American troops home. "I have said to the American people, 'As the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down,'" he said. "But I've also said that our commanders on the ground will make that decision." Blair dutifully chimed in that, in the aftermath of his Baghdad visit, he "came away thinking that the challenge is still immense, but I also came away more certain than ever that we should rise to it."
Both politicians were playing to their respective electorates, Blair in an effort to forestall his inevitable departure from government, Bush trying against hope to prevent a democratic landslide in the mid-term elections upcoming in November. But they both forgot that, to paraphrase an old military saying, "the enemy has a vote, too." And the Iraqi insurgency votes on a daily basis, its ballots counted in the bodies of those killed because of the violence brought on Iraq thanks to the decision by Bush and Blair to invade.
That decision, based upon lies and deceit, and done in pursuit of pure power (either in the form of global hegemony, per Bush, or a pathetic effort to ride Bush's coattails in the name of maintaining a "special relationship", for Blair), underscores the reality that when it comes to Iraq, both are resting on a policy that is as corrupt as one can possibly imagine.
Void of any genuine reflection as to what actually went wrong, and lacking in any reality-based process which seeks to formulate a sound way out of Iraq, these two politicians are simply continuing the self-delusional process of blundering down a path in Iraq that can only lead to more death and destruction.
Perhaps the advisors of Bush and Blair thought they were going to put a human face on two leaders who had been so vilified over the Iraq debacle. If so they failed. The joint press conference was little more than a pathetic show where two failed politicians voiced their continued support of failed policies, which had gotten their respective nations embroiled in a failed war. To quote Blair: "What more can I say? Probably not wise to say anything more at all."
Scott Ritter is a former U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq (1991-1998) and Marine Corps intelligence officer. He is the author of "Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of the Intelligence Conspiracy to Undermine the U.N. and Overthrow Saddam Hussein."
Guardian Newspapers, Ltd.