Almost as if it were planned, former U.S. President George W. Bush rang in his 70th birthday on Wednesday with a remarkable gift: a reminder of his seemingly eternal impunity for war crimes committed in Iraq and beyond.
The long-awaited publication of the Chilcot Inquiry—the UK government's investigation into the lead-up to and execution of the Iraq War—amounted to a searing indictment of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, accusing him of deceiving the public and British Parliament about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction and following the United States blindly into an "illegal" war.
And at the very same moment that calls for justice—and Blair's head—echoed across London, Bush celebrated his landmark birthday mountain biking with wounded American veterans.
Happy 70th to my old man. Glad you're spending the day with those you admire, doing what you love. We love you. pic.twitter.com/Z0Ddx9eEYW
— Jenna Bush Hager (@JennaBushHager) July 6, 2016
The Chilcot Inquiry did not spare Bush. In fact, the U.S. president was depicted throughout as the aggressor, pushing Blair towards military action in Iraq, despite a failure to win support from the remaining members of the UN Security Council.
While many acknowledge that the seven-year inquiry is unlikely to lead to any substantial prosecution of Blair, the fact that former Prime Minister Gordon Brown pursued some measure of truth and reconciliation is notable when compared with the "reckoning," or lack thereof, that Bush has faced for what many say are war crimes.
"The former US president most responsible for the foreign policy catastrophe has led a peaceful existence since he left office. Not only has he avoided any post-administration inquiries into his conduct, he has inexplicably seen his approval ratings rise (despite the carnage left in his wake only getting worse)," wrote Guardian columnist Trevor Timm on Wednesday.
After taking office, U.S. President Barack Obama dismissed the idea of prosecuting Bush administration officials for the torture conducted under the so-called War on Terror, saying: "This is a time for reflection, not retribution. [...]We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past."
As Timm notes, "The only thing close to the Chilcot report in the U.S. was the Senate intelligence committee’s long-delayed investigation on intelligence failures in the lead-up to Iraq, released in 2008. The Democratic-led committee faulted the CIA for massive intelligence failures and the Bush administration for purposefully manipulating intelligence for public consumption."
However, all that amounted to was "a couple days of headlines" and "denunciations from the Bush White House (still in office at the time)."
The disparity has never been more clear than now, as the Guardian's Ed Pilkington pointed out, saying that the "findings of the Chilcot inquiry provide a moment to reflect on the fate of the two wartime leaders."
"While Bush was the invasion's prime architect, and Blair his all-too eager henchman—lapdog, as half the British people saw him at the time—their relative fortunes since stepping down from office would suggest the opposite relationship," he continued.
While the former British prime minister faces "renewed calls for him to be impeached," as Pilkington put it, "Bush, by contrast, has been left largely in peace to pursue his tranquil approach to a post-presidential life." He added:
Though far more American military personnel died in Iraq than their British brothers and sisters – 4,497, according to the website antiwar.com – Bush is more likely to be accosted in public these days about his simulated nude appearance in a Kanye West video than about any enduring responsibility for the carnage.
And yet, it was Bush’s decision to invade a sovereign nation without a United Nations mandate and with no up-to-date intelligence of an immediate threat by Saddam Hussein to attack the west with weapons of mass destruction. Bush may have had a team of loyal and ideologically driven neocon advisers goading him on – notably vice-president Dick Cheney and then secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld – but the decision to dispatch troops was his alone.
Indeed, others, including British GQ political correspondent Rupert Myers, also pivoted on the Chilcot release to examine Bush's current state of affairs.
Chilcot conclusion: George Bush's naive realism makes him the greatest painter to emerge from the White House pic.twitter.com/dxa0t9eOMm
— Rupert Myers (@RupertMyers) July 6, 2016