“It was a Freudian slip for the ages: during a speech in Dallas this week, former President George W Bush condemned the “decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq”. Whoops! “I mean of Ukraine,” he added a second later, as laughter rang out in the room. Isn’t it funny when a former president accidentally confesses to war crimes? Ha! Ha! Ha!
Tell you what, I’m not laughing. Nor are a lot of Arabs. I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the depravity and horror of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Iraqi prisoners of war – many of whom were innocent people who were arrested by mistake – were violently tortured by US and UK troops. Hundreds of thousands of civilians died. The entire country was left in ruins. And the suffering continued long after the occupying forces left. The US military’s frequent use of munitions containing depleted uranium in Iraq, along with military hardware abandoned by troops, poisoned the environment and the population. Even now babies are being born with severe birth defects linked to the invasion. “Doctors are regularly encountering anomalies in babies that are so gruesome they cannot even find precedents for them,” the lead researcher of a 2019 study said. “The war has spread so much radiation here that, unless it is cleaned up, generations of Iraqis will continue to be affected.” So, yeah, please excuse me if I don’t find Bush’s slip-up particularly funny.
You know what’s even less funny? The fact there has been zero accountabilityfor any of the architects of the Iraq war. Sure, some of the military personnel were convicted of crimes relating to torture of Abu Ghraib prisoners, but the people who were really in charge have faced no consequences whatsoever. Bush himself has had his reputation whitewashed in recent years; he has transformed himself into a cuddly grandpa figure who paints and pontificates about “unity”. As for his coterie of enablers, most of them went on to high-paying jobs and prestigious positions.
Before anyone starts making excuses for the architects of the Iraq war (“how could they have known?”), let me remind you that it was clear from the start that the war – and the flimsy weapons of mass destruction excuse used to justify it – was a sham. In February 2003 millions of people, including myself, in at least 650 cities around the world took to the streets to protest the US-led invasion of Iraq. It was the largest one-day global protest in history. Ordinary people could see the war was immoral and probably illegal – and yet there is a concerted effort in some quarters to rewrite the war as a deeply regrettable lapse in judgment that nobody at the time could really have been expected to get right.
Here’s a quick thought experiment for you: imagine it’s 2042 and Vladimir Putin has transformed himself from war criminal to cuddly grandpa who paints in his dotage. Imagine he slips up while making a speech and talks about the wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Ukraine. Imagine everyone in the room laughing. That wouldn’t be terribly funny would it? In fact, the idea that a guy like Putin could face zero accountability and spend his old age giving speeches instead of serving time for war crimes, would be horrifying. And here’s another question for anyone who thinks that a comparison between Bush and Putin is unfair: ask yourself why you think that is? Ask yourself why the Iraq war is any more justifiable than the Ukraine war? Is it because, deep down, you’ve been taught to think that Arab lives don’t matter?“