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Published: Monday, 2/7/2011

Blair's Iraq war 'mea culpa' has hollow ring

BY AMJAD HUSSAIN
BLADE COLUMNIST

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he regrets the loss of life in the Iraq war, although he has stopped short of apologizing for dragging his country into the war. His remarks came during his recent appearance before a government panel investigating Britain's involvement in the war. They were greeted by angry cries of "too late" from the public gallery.

Great Britain was a reluctant participant in Iraq. Then-President George W. Bush and his neoconservative advisers were able to talk the otherwise smart and erudite Mr. Blair into joining the coalition of the reluctant. Mr. Blair's own attorney general raised questions about the legality of the war, which the British people also opposed The British press derisively called the prime minister Mr. Bush's lapdog.

While Mr. Bush was going through the motions of diplomacy - and at the same time amassing American troops in the Persian Gulf region- there were massive demonstrations in Europe and in the United States against the impending war.

History ultimately will judge the futility of the Iraq war. But at the time, Mr. Bush, never a serious student of history, was reading from a script written for him by his neoconservative coterie of advisers.

For them, the time had come to reassert American influence around the globe and to change the political landscape in the Middle East and elsewhere. Implicit in this plan was continued access by the United States to the natural resources of those countries.

This scheme was neatly laid out in various publications by the Project for the New American Century, a neoconservative think tank. Members of this group held key positions in the Bush administration. Reading the groups's position papers, one can clearly hear the drumbeat of the Iraq war.

The neocons understood that the American people would not support a war without a compelling reason. They hoped for a Pearl Harbor-type event that would galvanize Americans to support the war in the Middle East. The opportunity presented itself on Sept. 11, 2001.

One could, with some difficulty, justify the invasion of Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. To go beyond Afghanistan into Iraq was a stretch that taxed the credibility of the United States and its reluctant allies.

In his farewell address, President Dwight Eisenhower, warned the American people about the influence of the military-industrial complex on the future of this country. The acquisition of unwarranted influence and the rise of misplaced power that he so eloquently talked about are evident in the growth of defense spending and the refusal of right-leaning lawmakers to cut that spending.

After hundreds of billions of dollars spent, the objectives of the Iraq war have not been achieved. Saddam Hussein's repressive rule was not the reason for the invasion. Neither were the fictitious weapons of mass destruction. It was Iraqi oil, plain and simple.

Iraq is in shambles. Sectarian strife unleashed in the wake of the American invasion continues to extract an unprecedented toll on Iraqi civilians. When the United States leaves Iraq, the average Iraqi will be worse off than he was under Saddam.

We often hold individuals accountable for their actions. But we never hold our leaders accountable for the costly mistakes they make that cause much American blood to be shed and treasure to be squandered. There have been 4,436 Americans killed in this conflict since 2003, according to icasualties.org. Costofwar.com says the war has cost the United States about $772 billion so far.

Then there is the human toll that no one talks about: the innocent civilians killed in Iraq. A conservative estimate puts the number at more than 100,000. The British medical journal The Lancet puts the civilian toll at more than 650,000.

Mr. Blair's partial mea culpa reminds me of Robert McNamara, the U.S. secretary of Defense during the Vietnam war. In 2003, nearly 30 years after the war ended, he said it had been a mistake.

The late Bill Mauldin drew a cartoon about Mr. McNamara's mea culpa. It showed an American military cemetery, where one dead soldier tells the soldier in the next grave to pass the word that it was all a mistake.

Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.

Contact him at: aghaji@bex.net



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