by Max Brantley
By Ernest Dumas
From Coin Harvey to Gerald L. K. Smith, Arkansas has always offered a refuge for the reviled, so it is perfect that Tony Blair and George W. Bush flee here this week to escape the slings and arrows of their nations' brutal politics. A Presidential Leadership Scholars graduation provides the patina for the get-together.
The world's gentlest parson, Bill Clinton, will be here to comfort them. We'll not ask any hurtful questions about the disastrous Iraq war they led us into, although it killed 62 and wounded 465 young Arkansas men and women and left many others crippled in spirit. But if we do, we'll accept their lame answers: "The world is a safer place with Saddam Hussein dead." The Arkansas Democrat Gazette will pen a nice editorial about their heroic service in killing Saddam and buying the cradle of civilization for U.S. taxpayers.
Forgotten for the few hours they repose in this welcoming glade will be Donald Trump's savage attacks on Bush and his war, which deprived bubba Jeb of the office for which he was officially pedigreed. Forgotten, too, will be the scathing British commission's report last week that recorded in 2.6 million words how Bush and Blair led their nations into the disastrous 14-year (and counting) war through phony "intelligence," lies and appeals to patriotism.
Let's get it all out of the way before Bush and Blair get here so they can sojourn in peace alongside the healing waters of the Arkansas River as it courses by the Clinton library on its way to Napoleon, Ark., and the Father of Waters.
Iraq, after all, is or should be the overriding foreign-policy issue of the presidential campaign, for it represents the folly of well-intentioned U.S. policy in the Middle East for much of 60 years, which was to take sides in the tribal, sectarian and ethnic rivalries in hopes the people who seemed at least on that day to come closer to our values would prevail.
As a senator from New York, the Democratic candidate for president, our own Hillary Clinton, voted for Bush's war resolution in October 2002, along with nearly every Republican in Congress and most Democrats. Five of Arkansas's six members of Congress—all but Vic Snyder—voted for the resolution. Clinton has regretted her vote and pins her excuse on the language Bush stuck in the resolution emphasizing that every diplomatic effort would be tried before war. Everyone knew that it was window-dressing and that war was on the way, as a British diplomat in Washington wired back to the home office.
Iraq was Trump's finest hour during the dirty primaries, but, like everything else about his campaign, also his worst.
Trump said Bush stupidly got rid of a dictator who had slaughtered every terrorist entering the country, a slight distortion of the truth, and that the war made Iraq the breeding ground for Sunni radicals who would engulf much of the region.
But Trump also bragged he had publicly demanded that Bush not go to war. His only recorded remark praised the war. Like Clinton, he denounced it afterward.
The British report that revived so much calumny on poor Tony Blair only verified what previous British studies of the war had found. It was remarkable only for its depth and breadth, for the many years it took and for Blair's breathtaking message to Bush before the war blindly assuring the president, "I will be with you, whatever."
And for this: They did the study. It raises the question, why has the United States not done such a study of the war and its buildup? Congress has done study after study of the attack on the embassy at Benghazi, where the ambassador and three others died while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, but no investigations were made of the eight embassy attacks that killed 288 people in the years of Reagan, Clinton and the Bushes.
Investigations relentlessly pursue Hillary Clinton for her paranoid insistence on using her private email server, although no evidence has yet surfaced of the slightest harm coming of it except to her image. Congress authorized a bipartisan study of the 9/11 attacks, although the report glazed over the government's failings before the attack, omitting the daily presidential briefings where warnings of airplane attacks on U.S. sites were given and the CIA director's admission that he had briefed Bush's secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, on them two months before the attacks.
Yet there has been no investigation of the Iraq war planning, although it led to more than a million deaths and a cost to U.S. taxpayers that is estimated to exceed $6 trillion when all the medical bills are paid.
There is an answer. As the emails and everything in Washington demonstrate, nonpartisan study is an oxymoron.