Disastrous war

John Chilcot produced his report on the British government’s decision to go to war in and against Iraq. The conclusion couldn’t have been clearer: there was absolutely no legitimate reason to attack and invade Iraq. Moreover, the consequences of the fateful action were entirely foreseeable.

Writing for the London Review of Books, Philippe Sands summarizes the report’s contents and offers a running commentary. Sands:

Chilcot portrayed the Iraq War as a total failure of government. Two hundred British troops had been killed and many more were injured; 150,000 Iraqis had been killed ‘and probably many more – most of them civilians’; and more than a million people had been displaced. Lives were ruined; Islamic State has emerged in the aftermath, and Britain has been diminished.

Tony Blair, then prime minister, pledged his support for “whatever” George W. Bush decided. And “the decider” had made up his mind not long after 9/11 to go after Saddam Hussein, despite no evidence that Hussein had anything to do with the attacks of that day. During the interim between the decision and launching the war, Bush and Blair busied themselves with justifying their action.

Sands suggests that Blair’s complicity may have its own personal consequences.

Later that afternoon a defiant Tony Blair took to the airwaves. Chilcot had spoken for 25 minutes; Blair spoke for nearly two hours. Not for him the apology of his deputy, John Prescott, who wrote in the Sunday Mirror that, in view of the report, he now believed the war was ‘catastrophic’ and ‘illegal’. Blair instead defended himself, saying he’d take ‘the same decision’ again. This unhappy intervention will not do him any favours. It makes it more likely he will be pursued, perhaps for contempt of Parliament, or by civil claims, or claims of misfeasance in public office. He might even face worse, a possibility raised in the resignation letter tendered in 2003 by the Foreign Office legal adviser Elizabeth Wilmshurst, whose position has been vindicated by the inquiry:

I regret that I cannot agree that it is lawful to use force without a second Security Council resolution … I cannot in conscience go along with advice within the Office or to the public or Parliament – which asserts the legitimacy of military action without such a resolution, particularly since an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression; nor can I agree with such action in circumstances which are so detrimental to the international order and the rule of law.

Reputation theory and war

Many, if not most, of the wars fought and being fought have their basis in “credibility.” If the U.S. fails to take action against a putative aggressor, then the U.S. ceases to have credibility. And it seems that credibility trumps all other rationales for military intervention.

But upholding one’s “reputation” as a credible corrector of international mayhem turns out to be a false doctrine. Vox‘s Max Fisher reports.

If you have experienced even a few minutes of cable news coverage or handful of newspaper op-eds on American foreign policy, there is a word you will have encountered over and over again: credibility.

The United States, according to this theory, has to follow through on every threat and confront every adversary in order to maintain America’s global credibility. If it fails to stand up to challengers in one place, then they will rise up everywhere, and America will see its global standing, and thus its power in the world, crumble.

But there is a problem with this theory of credibility: It does not appear to be real. Political scientists have investigated this theory over and over, and have repeatedly disproven it.


Violent deaths are not beautiful, or glorious. Bullets pierce eyes and buttocks and slice off little fingers. Bombs mean nails and screws and assorted shipyard confetti shredding through human flesh and embedding infection and debris deep in the bodies of survivors. There is nothing glorious about any of it. People don’t die gloriously for their beliefs. They die instantly or silently or crying out in pain.

The notion of tactically risible but symbolically meaningful blood sacrifice is one that angry and stymied young men have always embraced, not least this week in Brussels. There is nothing new about disenfranchised twenty-somethings appropriating the images and ideas of whatever religion they happen to grow up around to tart up the essentially adolescent idea that blood cleanses, especially the blood of others.

What we now call radicalisation is simply the age-old desire of the young to believe in purity; to believe in it so completely that it comes above human life. But purity does not exist. Humanity isn’t good enough at any single thing to make it more important than the irreplaceable consciousness of just one of us.

— Maria Farrell, writing for Crooked Timber

The person trumps the idea.


Writing for The Nation, Joshua Holland reports on the motivations of ISIS bombers. Religion is certainly part of it. But most of the rationale for killing, often via suicide, is a reaction to actual and perceived oppression. He writes:

ISIS emerged from the insurgency against the US occupation of Iraq just as the Al Qaeda network traces its origins to the Afghan resistance to the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

If you believe in causal chains, then we have to point the finger at G.W. Bush and his merry band of neocons, most notably Dick Cheney, for creating the conditions that led to ISIS.

As Sir Isaac used to say, for every action there is an equal, opposite reaction. We can call it “blowback.”



It happened here

With Donald Trump’s rise comes talk of fascism. The terrified recoil and say “It can’t happen here,” fascism, that is. But fascism is no stranger to these parts, as Crosscut‘s Knute Berger recounts in a multi-three-part series, beginning here.

Especially pernicious were the words of the Seattle Times‘ publisher, Clarence Blethen. Berger writes:

An infamous editorial in the Seattle Times on March 8, 1933, headlined “No Persecution,” suggests how mainstream minds were being molded exactly along the lines of the propaganda Reinhardt and his colleagues sought to promote. “There is no organized mistreatment of Jews in Germany,” the editorial began, citing assurances the U.S had received from the German ambassador. “The apprehensions and fears so feverishly propagated in this and other countries are officially reported groundless.”

The editorial went on to blame Communists, saying “every channel of Communistic propaganda is being employed to discredit the German government and embarrass its plans. The most careful scrutiny of all authentic and dependable news reports from Germany has failed to reveal any evidence that persecution of Jews was being tolerated, much less encouraged by the government.” The Times declared that tales of persecution were “an evil rumor,” concluding that “there has been no racial persecution in Germany and will be none.”

Ironic that Blethen’s descendant, the current publisher of the Times, endorsed Bernie Sanders.

What’s at stake

Roger Cohen opines on the implications of Donald Trump, and they’re not pretty.

Trump is telling people something is rotten in the state of America. The message resonates because the rot is there.

Is the American democracy on the verge of collapse? Cohen:

This disoriented America just might want Trump — and that possibility should be taken very seriously, before it is too late, by every believer in American government of the people, by the people, for the people. The power of the Oval Office and the temperament of a bully make for an explosive combination, especially when he has shown contempt for the press, a taste for violence, a consistent inhumanity, a devouring ego and an above-the-law swagger.

As Europe knows, democracies do die. Often, they are the midwives of their own demise. Once lost, the cost of recovery is high.

In his column today, Paul Krugman argues that the very fate of the planet is at stake in November’s election. He’s writing about climate change and his belief that we’re close to a solution, though many scientists say that it’s already too late. Krugman:

And this is by far the most important issue there is; it, er, trumps even such things as health care, financial reform, and inequality.

So I’m going to be hanging on by my fingernails all through this election. No doubt there will be plenty of entertainment along the way, given the freak show taking place on one side of the aisle. But I won’t forget that the stakes this time around are deadly serious. And neither should you.

Will enough people show up at the polls to make a difference? We could just be too busy with other matters, all trivial, of course.