Why the George W. Bush–Tony Blair Political Bromance Is Still a Mystery
With all the tabloid fodder that’s come down the pike—Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall! Wendi Deng and former prime minister Tony Blair!—the relationship that still obsesses Britain most is Blair’s war-mongering bromance with then president George W. Bush
Now, let me see if I’ve got this straight. Rupert Murdoch has announced (in The Times of London, which he owns) that he intends to marry Jerry Hall, the supermodel who lived for many years with Mick Jagger. Murdoch until 2013 was married to Wendi Deng, a businesswoman best known for once having attacked an activist troublemaker who threw a pie at her then husband during a parliamentary hearing. Two years ago, Deng was rumored to have had an affair with Tony Blair, the former prime minister of Great Britain. And Blair, for most of the first decade of this century, carried on an open—though nonsexual—romance with U.S. president George W. Bush.
A commission appointed in 2009 by then prime minister Gordon Brown, and led by a privy councillor and retired British civil servant named Sir John Chilcot, has spent the past seven years investigating this last romance and is expected to issue its final report sometime in the next several months. Of course, Chilcot has been expected to issue his report on almost every date between 2010 and now. Chilcot was quoted as saying at one point near the beginning that the inquiry was actually taking longer than he thought and that it might be a year and a half before every i was dotted and every t could be crossed. That this takes time is understandable, given that the report has reportedly grown to more than two million words.
The Chilcot inquiry has become a modern-day, real-life Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, the lawsuit in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House that went on so long that it ate up in expenses all of the money at stake before it could reach a conclusion.
Official groups like Chilcot’s are a feature of governments of all sorts. They go by many names: Commissions; Inquiries; Commissions of Inquiry, for that matter. They also take many forms. Here in the United States they tend to be called congressional hearings. Sometimes they are given the designation “Blue Ribbon” or “Select.” Inquiries are usually official government bodies of some sort, but private or semi-private institutions, such as universities, resort to them, too. Government commissions can be run like trials, with testimony from people under oath elicited by special prosecutors who have unlimited budgets. For the government of the day, commissions offer an easy exit from whatever you may be trying to get out of. You pick a number, usually between 3 and 25 members (any fewer or any more is bound to be a farce), from among what the British call “the great and the good” (a wonderful, self-undermining compliment that giveth and taketh away simultaneously). You contact them with the happy news of their selection (and the per diem). You give them a sonorous official charter (or “charge,” if it’s in academe) to get to the bottom of this mess, whatever the mess happens to be. And then you put up your feet and forget all about whatever it is your commission is supposed to investigate. Two million words later …
Sir John Chilcot and his colleagues were officially supposed to be investigating Britain’s role in the Iraq war, from top to bottom. But all the attention has focused almost entirely on Tony Blair’s relationship with George W. Bush. That’s because it is taken for granted in Britain that the war was a horrible mistake, which London could have prevented by refusing to go along. It is also widely taken for granted that George W. Bush is a moron. I’m not saying he is a moron—only that in Britain he’s widely assumed to be one. (“Darling, he’s not a moron,” says Arianna. “My friend Dr. Kissinger explained it all to me. By appearing to be a moron, he had the whole world convinced that, if he said he was going to start a war somewhere, he was just dumb enough to do it. Total credibility. Brilliant. Call him up, darling, and offer him a podcast. Blogs are so 2015.”)
The important questions for the British, therefore, involve Blair’s role in enabling Bush to go to war—or, even more pathetic, Blair’s letting Bush talk him into it. Blair’s reputation is in the toilet, and many in Britain feel his shame. “Little brother” is only the kindest description of Blair’s relationship with Bush—and, by extension, Britain’s relationship with America. This is the “special relationship” they always prattle on about? Who needs it?
The British government—and, presumably, the American government as well—has detailed notes of no fewer than 130 conversations between Blair and Bush when both held the highest office in their respective countries. The government also has more than 20 notes from Tony Blair to George W. Bush. No doubt these documents could settle, or at least shed light on, the Bush-Blair relationship, and exactly when the two of them hatched their plan. (Correct answer: “A lot earlier than they ever told us.”) As of late 2013, the British government, now in the hands of the Conservatives, had not released the material to Chilcot. But by May 2014, it finally had.
Blair has a largely standard answer, which he has stuck to since 2004, about whether he regrets or wishes to apologize for his role in starting the war against Iraq. He says: Yes, he apologizes for having received and relied upon faulty intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s possession of W.M.D. (weapons of mass destruction, as I needn’t tell you). He says that he wasn’t aware that any of this intelligence was faulty (an assertion that one previous inquiry in Britain has treated with skepticism). Sometimes he adds that he also regrets that it didn’t occur to him that, after decades of dictatorship, postwar Iraq might not possess certain baubles of civil society such as, say, a functioning police force. But he insists that in removing Saddam from power—“regime change” is the euphemism—he had nothing to be ashamed of. Bush makes virtually the same argument.
Leave aside whether Britain or the United States should be going around the world looking for regimes to change in the first place. (Whenever we try it on for size—Iran, Cuba, Nicaragua, Iraq, Libya—the results are disastrous.) If “regime change” in Iraq had been such a good idea, why weren’t Bush and Blair using it at the time as the justification for invading? They didn’t—they used the threat of W.M.D.
Even taken at face value, Blair’s argument is a gnarly mess. His position boils down to this: (1) He is against war. (2) Nevertheless, because he believed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, he favored the Iraq war. (3) If he’d known that Saddam actually did not have W.M.D., he would have looked for another rationale, because Saddam was a nasty piece of work. (4) Except that it hadn’t occurred to him that Iraq would be hopelessly chaotic and ripe for ISIS if the U.S. and Great Britain just invaded, knocked off the dictator, and left. (5) Which, when it did occur to him, made him slightly apologetic. (6) But he’s not sorry about removing Saddam Hussein, even though that’s the reason for everything he is sorry for. With each passing year, Blair’s argument becomes more baroque. No wonder Chilcot had to keep on going.
Or have I got this all wrong? Maybe Saddam Hussein threw a pie at Tony Blair while Jerry Hall had an affair with Wendi Deng and George W. Bush took up with Rupert Murdoch. Sir John will figure it out.