It appears the British are much harder on their former leaders than Americans.
Amid an inquiry into the 2003 military invasion of Iraq, David Cameron, the sitting British Prime Minister, called for public pressure on former Prime Minister Tony Blair over his refusal to release letters sent to US President George W. Bush in the lead-up to war.
Blair was expected to testify before Downing Street’s Chilcot Committee on Friday. Cameron, leader of the conservative faction in Britain’s government, said he hoped the inquiry would be “as open and clear as possible.”
The committee was recently told by Matthew Rycroft, Blair’s former private secretary, that he’d written two different retellings of the communications between Blair and Bush, in order to obscure what really transpired.
Rycroft was a significant figure in the ramping up of anti-war sentiment across the US and UK, after the release of a document he authored which came to be better known as the “Downing Street Memo.”
Penned on July 23, 2002 and marked “extremely sensitive,” Rycroft’s memo acknowledged that a deal had been made to invade Iraq and the particulars were already being worked out. At the time both nations were publicly declaring that no decision had been made, with some of the most ardent behind-the-scenes hawks even telling the press they hoped war could be averted.
While his remarks about Blair’s correspondence with Bush may have been revealing, Rycroft also told the committee: “Even if the prime minister had wanted to push the [US] juggernaut in a completely different direction, I suspect he would not have been able to and he didn’t want to turn it around anyway.”
Another earlier report to the Chilcot Committee by an anonymous official claimed that Blair was offered an out from the war mere days before the invasion, during a meeting with former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
“The point the foreign secretary was making, in my view, was that this was the final opportunity to decide on a different track – advising the prime minister that he still had a chance to avoid it if he wanted to,” the official wrote, according to The Guardian. “The argument he was making was more in terms of ‘If you want to avoid your own resignation, prime minister, you still have an opportunity and here it is. You have a way out and why don’t you take it?’
“It was offering the prime minister a way out if he wanted it …The thing that I was absolutely struck by privately was the prime minister’s response, the speed of it and the absolute insistence of it, and the fact that he had got his arguments all marshalled and all laid out.”
Other advisers to the former British prime minister said they regretted not warning Blair enough of the risks involved, calling their decision something of a rush to judgment.
In the US, efforts to investigate the Bush administration, over the wars, for its torture programs, secret prisons, invasions of privacy and a litany of other abuses, were seen as dead in the water. President Obama, at the beginning of his term, declared that his administration would be looking “forward” instead of backwards with regards to the prior administration’s most controversial actions.
The occupation of Iraq, which President Obama has continued, was said by US officials to be in its final stages. However, no plan existed to remove the massive US embassy in Baghdad’s “green zone,” where US troops would continue to be stationed indefinitely.
Since the war began in 2003, there have been up to 108,000 documented instances of violent civilian deaths, according to the non-partisan Iraqi Body Count project.