But They Shouldn’t Be Rewarded for Failure
Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu recently withdrew from a conference because former Prime Minister Blair was also a speaker (and, unlike Tutu, receiving a lucrative fee). Citing the suffering caused by the Second Iraq War, Tutu called for the prosecution of Blair, former President Bush and other leaders as war criminals:
… those responsible for this suffering and loss of life [in Iraq] should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in the Hague [the international criminal court].
Tutu implicitly compared Bush and Blair to monsters such as: Serbian General Ratko Mladic, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, and Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif.
Tutu is right — the Second Iraq War was a tragedy — but intent matters. While I truly admire Archbishop Tutu as one of the great moral leaders of our age, I disagree (with deepest respect) regarding Bush and Blair — they aren’t criminals. Tragedy resulting from an individual’s actions is regrettable, but isn’t in and of itself a crime. Intent, rather than the act, makes someone guilty. (In Latin, actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea — “The act does not make a person guilty, unless the mind is also guilty”.)
Bush and Blair had legitimate reasons to be concerned about Iraq. Saddam Hussein: was a mass murderer many times over; viciously attacked three neighboring countries; attempted multiple times to acquire weapons of mass destruction; was loathed by his own population for his cruelty; and failed to cooperate with UN-mandated weapons inspections. Multiple UN resolutions condemned Hussein’s leadership. Not a single country bordering Iraq supported or approved of Saddam Hussein. When coalition troops first entered Iraq, they were greeted as liberators.
The Second Iraq War, however, was a fiasco. The coalition offended the peoples of Iraq and the Middle East, and spectacularly mismanaged Iraq’s occupation. The Second Iraq War (and the civil war it triggered) killed over 100,000 civilians and 4,500 coalition military personnel, and cost over $1 trillion.
The outcome of this incredible suffering and expense was replacement of a totalitarian anti-Iranian government, with an authoritarian pro-Iranian (anti-Western) government. Recent opinion polls show that 65 percent of Iraqis believe they were better off, or at least as well off, under Saddam. I challenge anyone to cite one positive outcome from the Second Iraq War — for the U.S. or the UK, let alone Iraq.
Let me repeat for emphasis: Bush and Blair’s policies in Iraq cost over $1 trillion, killed over 4,500 of our own service personnel, and anti-Western Iran was the only country that benefited. This wasn’t leadership by criminal masterminds — it was mismanagement by incompetent buffoons. Despite this spectacular failure, Blair received a prestigious faculty appointment at Yale University, and is paid as much as $500,000 per speaking engagement.
Leaders often face making difficult decisions, with limited information, under horrendous time pressure. We shouldn’t criminalize mistakes and failures. But that doesn’t mean we should reward gross ineptitude. I admire Archbishop Tutu for withdrawing from the conference to publicly highlight the insanity of rewarding Blair.
Blair is no criminal, but for the sake of decency, he should donate his speaking fees to charities helping people damaged by his policies. Morally, that money belongs to the people whose lives were destroyed in Iraq.
This piece is cross-posted from the Huffington Post with permission.