On a day when Britain's dizzying political wheel turned once more and when America was forced to reckon yet again with its problem of police brutality and gun violence, TV cameras in Washington on Thursday were all focused on a very different story. FBI Director James B. Comey delivered testimony at a five-hour House committee hearing where congressional Republicans grilled him on his agency's decision not to recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state.
GOP politicians were hoping for the presumptive Democratic nominee to be indicted, a move that would cast a cloud over the U.S. presidential election race.
Comey potentially gave Clinton’s political rivals some ammunition, conceding there was "evidence of mishandling” classified information and that an FBI employee who did the same “would face consequences for this.”
... But Comey said investigators did not find evidence that Clinton intended to do wrong with her email setup, and they determined it would have been inappropriate to charge her under a statute allowing for a prosecution based on “gross negligence.”
The question of Clinton's emails has sucked up a huge amount of oxygen in the American news cycle over the past year. While Comey has stated that Clinton and her staff were "extremely careless" in their handling of classified information, it's still unclear to what extent Clinton's email activities compromised national security.
Nevertheless, judging from the GOP outrage, it appears the emails and what Clinton may or may not have done with them will be a recurring talking point in the election cycle. It's interesting to consider the attention on the matter in a week when a very different investigation on the other side of the Atlantic finally came to light.
On Wednesday, as WorldViews discussed earlier, the findings of the Chilcot report, a seven-year investigation into Britain's conduct of the Iraq War, were released. The voluminous report proved damning reading for boosters of the 2003 invasion, especially former British prime minister Tony Blair, who was singled out for criticism by the British press.
The short of its findings: President George W. Bush and Blair, a willing accomplice, participated in a rush to war that wasn't justified by evidence on hand at the time, and presided over an occupation of Iraq that was disastrously ill-planned. Iraqis and everyone else live with the consequences of the invasion to this day.
On Thursday, Britain's senior-most diplomat linked the policies of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, which included the wholesale dismantling of the state of ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, with the rise of militant extremism in the region, particularly the jihadist Islamic State.
“Many of the problems we see in Iraq today stem from that disastrous decision to dismantle the Iraqi army and embark on a program of debaathification,” said Philip Hammond, Britain's foreign secretary, referring to Hussein's Baath party.
“That was the big mistake of post-conflict planning. If we had gone a different way afterwards we might have been able to see a different outcome," he said. "It is clear a significant number of former Ba’athist officers have formed the professional core of [the Islamic State] in Syria and Iraq and have given that organisation the military capability it has shown in conducting its operations.”
Last year, my colleague Liz Sly wrote a lengthy piece on how former Baath party cadres occupied prominent roles within the Islamic State. "Even with the influx of thousands of foreign fighters, almost all of the leaders of the Islamic State are former Iraqi officers," she reported.
The enduring legacy of the invasion, which had authorized approved by an overwhelming vote in Congress (including by Clinton, then a senator representing New York) despite significant mass protests, is in American politics still a matter of debate, rather than investigation. As WorldViews discussed Thursday, neocon supporters of the war have pinned Iraq's failures and dysfunctions not on the decision to take out Hussein, but on the Obama administration's supposedly premature moves to disentangle his nation from the conflicts of the Middle East.
Yet, as the Chilcot report shows, senior intelligence officials had been warning the British and American leadership of the dangers of intervention for years. It cited Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of Britain's MI5 security agency from 2002 to 2007: “Our involvement in Iraq radicalized, for want of a better word … a few among a generation … [who] saw our involvement in Iraq, on top of our involvement in Afghanistan, as being an attack on Islam,” she said.
Meanwhile, a recent Brookings poll found that a majority of Americans, especially millennials, saw a connection between the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis.
This begs the question: Where is the American Chilcot inquiry? The British, after all, were junior partners in the whole thing yet they produced a huge, authoritative study of the war, far greater than any such inquiry commissioned in the United States. To be sure, there have been a couple of investigations into the war, including a 2008 Senate intelligence committee report that found that the Bush administration exaggerated the threat posed by the Iraqi regime, from the presence of banned weapons of mass destruction in the country to its tenuous links to militant group al-Qaeda.
But there has been nothing so far on the scale of the Chilcot report, and certainly no inquest into the Iraq War has captured the American public's attention the way the British inquiry did at home.
In both her writings and public statements, Clinton has offered something of a mea culpa for her support of the war. Last year, she called her 2002 vote in favor of the war a "mistake" and in her 2014 book, "Hard Choices," admitted that she "got it wrong." But there is an entire world of pro-war establishment politicians and experts who have yet to face the intense scrutiny heaped on Blair across the pond.
That includes Bush himself, who remains a prominent figure in public life, as Guardian columnist Trevor Timm notes:
[Bush] is an in-demand fundraiser for Republicans not named Donald Trump, and he gets paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to speak at corporate events. The chances of him ever saying in public, “I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you can ever believe,” as Blair did on Wednesday, are virtually non-existent.
It's also curious given the extent of time House Republicans and some media organizations have spent on what took place on one day in the Libyan city of Benghazi, when four American personnel were killed in a terror attack on U.S. facilities in 2012. There have been six investigations into the incident, which occurred while Clinton was secretary of state, over the course of four years.
Last month, Slate jokingly calculated that if the American lives "cut short in Iraq" — some 4,500 personnel — "are worth as much attention as the lives cut short in Benghazi, House Republicans would have launched 6,750 investigations of the Iraq war to have been conducted over the course of 4,500 years."
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