Monday, January 18, 2010

Seen from the Future

We have been listening today to the hearings of what the British call an Inquiry, sometimes the Chilcot Inquiry (after its chair, Sir John Chilcot), a body that here we would call a commission; here is the Inquiry’s web site. Prime Minister Gordon Brown established The Iraq Inquiry on June 15 of last year. Its mission, as articulated by Sir Chilcot: “We will … be considering the UK’s involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned.” The way the yellow press would rephrase that is by saying: “Why did Britain get into the war? Was it dragged kicking and screaming by the Americans? Was Blair really Bush’s poodle?” The portion of the hearings broadcast today by CSPAN featured the testimony of Alastair Campbell, Director of Communications and Strategy to Prime Minister Tony Blair in the 2001-2003 period.

It was fascinating—in part because these Brits are so very eloquent, commissioners and witnesses both—because the tone is so much more conversational than in Congressional committee hearings where everybody seems to be posturing all the time—and because, in today’s instance, they got into the most awesome details on behind the scenes maneuvers, minute matters relating to the development and even the phrasing of dossiers on matter of intelligence, relating to personalities, to political, international, and bureaucratic relations, the tensions between the Americans and the Brits—and all this in what sounded to us as extraordinarily candid tones unimaginable in the United States.

One part of me—the glib intellectual surface—was enjoying this about like Brigitte enjoys watching Olympic skating events. Another, lower, more brutal part of me, in the process of trying to snatch a nap out of this daytime televiewing (lunch having just been had), began to grouse under the covers. As the fractal images became ever more complex at every enlargement —while sort of staying the same— my lower self wandered off into the future and wondered what they would say about all this in a time say about four hundred years out. By then this microscopic detail should have been compressed to the absolute basics. And the rude self came up with this:

America went to war because Baby Bush decided to take out Saddam if he had a chance, and he did have his chance with 911—his reason being that Papa Bush had gone wobbly in the same enterprise and drawn back from doing the job right. And Tony Blair had gone to war because he was not about to be the first British Prime Minister to part from the Americans and never mind that his public was massively against anything of the sort. As for secondary reasons, the future (four centuries out), still dreaming of the oil that had been, would also say that oil had played a role, on both sides of the Atlantic. The Bush clan, after all, came out of oil, not hard liquor, like the Kennedys. And Blair, a kind of continental born-again, had a bit of the crusader about him and Saddam enough of Satan to fit the bill.

Whoa, whoa! I cried (mentally) hearing this diatribe. What do you mean the future? What you’re unrolling here is the not-too-distant past. These were your very thoughts when the Iraq war was building. And don’t you remember my urging you to grow up and become a little more measured and analytical?

My lower self suffers being silenced, but not without a parting shot or two. He reminded me that we both had an uncle who, echoing millions in Europe, was sure that World War II was entirely due to arms manufacturers who wanted to have higher sales. And, he adds, before trying for a nap again, Eisenhower knew that—and called for the curbing of the Military-Industrial Complex after the war was over and he’d gotten what he wanted.

Not easy to live with my lower self. No it isn’t.

1 comment:

  1. Brigitte's lower self does enjoy ice skating events, occasionally. What that same lower self of hers, however, enjoys even more is watching and listening to these British PM Questions and Inquiry Panels. Those ever so articulate and well spoken Lords and Parliamentarians, unlike our own Congressional Committee - and Commission members, are seemingly never limited to 3- or 5-minute questions. They can just go on and on and on until they have said what they really wanted to get across. Marvelous!