Credibility no longer counts
WASHINGTON — Funny thing about America and Great Britain. I once thought their people cared about the credibility — and accountability of their leaders — especially when it comes to war and peace. But now I note with regret that the voters in both nations have other priorities.
We're talking about the fact that the leaders of both nations chose to invade Iraq for flimsy reasons that were deliberately drummed up to convince their people that a third-world country was a threat to them. Didn't the Brits say Saddam Hussein could attack in 45 minutes?
The historic election of Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair for a third term is a stunning affirmation that the British people no longer demand credibility from their leaders.
The false rationales for war by both Bush and Blair went up in smoke without a public outcry. I know Blair returns to power with a much smaller majority in the House of Commons — compared with his landslide victories in the past — apparently because of British disillusionment with the war. He also is hearing post-election calls from within his own Labor Party for him to step down. But still, he was re-elected.
In the case of President Bush, the ill-advised war against Iraq did not take center stage in the presidential election last November. His opponent, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., had voted for the war and delivered a coup de grace to himself by saying he would have done the same thing — invade Iraq, even after it had become apparent to all that the pretext for the invasion — Saddam Hussein's imaginary weapons of mass destruction — was a mirage. Kerry blew it big time.
The war issue became irrelevant at that point, not that it was highlighted in any major way by the timid Democrats, who should have knocked it out of the park.
Instead, they were afraid of being accused of not supporting the troops. Nonsense. They could have kept more Americans alive — nearly 1,600 Americans are dead now and thousands wounded — by calling for a military withdrawal from Iraq.
The Democrats also should have rejected the Bush policy of preemptive war, which is illegal under international law.
Instead the administration won the day by, among other things, encouraging the outrageous fabricators known as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth to denigrate Kerry's Vietnam War record. What a fiasco, especially when you know that none of the highly eligible Bush team went to that war. Our present commander in chief went to elaborate lengths to avoid doing so.
The record to date, by leaks and memos, is overwhelming on both Bush and Blair. For some unexplained motive, Bush obviously wanted a war and Blair wanted to be a player.
Iraq was on Bush's radar screen when he took office in 2001, perhaps even before. Books by former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Richard Clarke, former head of counter terrorism at the White House's National Security Council, both attest to early signs — even before 9-11 — that war against Iraq was high on Bush's agenda.
In the run up to the war, Vice President Dick Cheney and then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice used appearances on Sunday television shows and in speeches to friendly audiences to start the drumbeat that Iraq had unconventional weapons.
Meantime, Blair was doing his share to build public support for war, even though he knew that his case was thin.
As the British re-election campaign was ending, the May 1 Sunday Times of London published a secret U.K. government memorandum discussing a July 23, 2002, meeting between Blair and his top security advisers. The memo said that military action against Iraq "was seen as inevitable" and that Bush wanted to remove Saddam "through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD," weapons of mass destruction.
According to the Times, the memo said that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
The report was not disavowed by the British government. At the time of the memo, Bush officials were insisting they had no plans to attack Iraq.
I am not surprised at the duplicity. But I am astonished at the acceptance of this deception by voters in the U.S. and the U.K.
I've seen two American presidents go down the drain — Lyndon B. Johnson on Vietnam and Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal — because they were no longer believed. But times change — and I guess our values do, too.
Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers.