Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The spoils of war: parting gift for Bush's brother in arms.

When Bush announced that he was awarding Tony Blair the Congressional Gold Medal for services rendered in the "war on terror" Blair was still the British Prime Minster and still seeking to be re-elected by the British people. This meant that he was never able to collect the award as he was already viewed as Bush's "poodle" and the sight of Bush putting a medal around his neck would have only further confirmed that view.

However, in the dying days of the Bush administration, the two war criminals have got together to have a hug and tell themselves that they did the right thing and that the rest of the world don't "get" the terrorist threat they way they do. Blair may not yet be collecting that Congressional Gold Medal, but he did turn up to collect the Presidential Medal of Freedom; awarded, I presume, for having the courage to wage war outside of international law.

The praise was generous and the applause long and heartfelt, in the ceremonial East Room of the White House where once Messrs Bush and Blair held defiant joint press conferences in defence of their war in Mesopotamia. "He understood the stakes in the war on terror," the President enthused, at one point seeming to wink in his guest's direction. "Tony Blair's entire career has been defined by his devotion to democratic values and human dignity. At his very centre this man believes in freedom."

Mr Blair listened, smiling faintly, as Mr Bush went on to use him as an undisguised metaphor for himself, eight days before he steps down as the most unpopular and least admired president of modern times – and the worst of all time, according to informal polls of historians in the US.

But as always Mr Bush believes in vindication, just as yesterday he insisted that Mr Blair will be vindicated, in the decision to unleash their war of choice in Iraq. "Tony Blair remains on the world stage; he will stand tall in history." Then the big moment came, as the former prime minister bowed forward slightly as his old comrade in arms pinned the gold medal with its blue and white ribbon, America's highest civilian honour, around his neck.

The notion that either of these men will "stand tall in history" strikes me as utterly ludicrous. Unless, of course, one considers being remembered for a catastrophic mistake as "standing tall".

For instance, we all remember Anthony Eden and the disastrous invasion of Suez, but he is remembered as a mistake never to be repeated which is how I imagine the world will remember Blair and Bush.

Both of these men have one legacy which overshadows everything else they did whilst in power and that was the invasion of Iraq; a decision which is almost universally acknowledged as a mistake.

Even by their own reasons for intervening - that Saddam was stockpiling WMD - the war should never have been waged. Of course, neither man will ever concede this point and both hope that history will one day vindicate them.

Whatever else, yesterday showed again that George Bush is not a man to admit error. In December 2004, in an identical ceremony, the 43rd president bestowed the medal of freedom on three others who distinguished themselves mightily over Iraq: General Tommy Franks, who went to war with too few troops; George Tenet, the CIA director who famously declared that Saddam Hussein's possession of WMD was a "slam dunk;" and Jerry Bremer, America's first viceroy in Baghdad, who botched the crucial first year of the occupation.

More than four years on, 140,000-plus US troops are still tied down in Iraq. But Mr Bush still believes that he and Mr Blair – whose eloquence did much to sell the war to the US public – did the right thing, despite the loss of more than 4,500 coalition troops, the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, and a bill of $700bn and counting.

I would honestly hope to one day see both these people face trial for what they have done. They ignored international law and went to war without a UN mandate. Because of their actions thousands of people are dead.

Blair left office - and Bush will soon follow - with both the wars they waged still going on.

And, even whilst admitting that the reason they gave for the need to wage war was ultimately false, they both insist that they were right to do what they did and appear in public together at silly ceremonies where Bush pins a medal to Blair's chest to commemorate a disaster.

What a pair of ridiculous arseholes.

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