Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has apologized for backing the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which he admitted led to the rise of ISIS. Expressing reserved regret for what he described as "mistakes" made in the war, Blair conceded that "you can't say that those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015."
Meanwhile, in the U.S., leading right-wing politicians are still stuck in denial. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has firmly maintained that his brother's war was a "good deal" because it led to the ouster of Saddam Hussein. He furthermore described the 2007 surge of U.S. troops in Iraq as "courageous."
Just a few months before, in May, amid inconsistent flip-flopping on the issue, Bush had again insisted that the world was "significantly safer" because the invasion had forced Hussein out of power. Perhaps this is unsurprising when 17 (81 percent) of Jeb Bush's 21 foreign policy advisers come from the George W. Bush administration. Yet Jeb is by no means alone.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney also proudly stands by the war he helped orchestrate. In a new book appropriately titled Exceptional: Why the World Needs a Powerful America, Cheney maintains that "we were right" to invade Iraq. He exalts "the bipartisan tradition going back 75 years of maintaining America’s global supremacy and leadership" and refuses to take responsibility for what critics have characterized as one of the worst crimes of the 21st-century.
In terms of the death toll alone, the Iraq War was nothing short of catastrophic. Over 1 million Iraqis died in the war, according to a Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) study authored by the Nobel Prize-winning medical organization International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. "And this is only a conservative estimate," the report notes.
Of the little-mentioned death toll, PSR remarked "Unfortunately, these deaths have been effectively hidden from our collective consciousness and consciences by political leaders seeking to pursue military solutions to complex global issues with little, if any, accountability."
Moreover -- the astronomical loss of human life in the U.S.-led war in Iraq aside -- America's own professed goals in the so-called War on Terror were completely foiled. Violent extremism was far from contained; on the contrary, it spread like wildfire. Al-Qaeda was not in Iraq when the U.S. invaded. It was the U.S.-led invasion that led the once small yet now enormous al-Qaeda to spill into Iraq, and subsequently fester in the region as a whole.
During the decade-long American occupation of Iraq, U.S.-backed sectarian death squads like the Wolf Brigades rampaged through the country, terrorizing, torturing, and killing, often indiscriminately. America's brutal policies and support for a sectarian Shia-majority government alienated the Sunni minority, eventually fomenting the rise of ISIS, the Frankenstein's monster of U.S. militarism.
The war itself was based on a lie; we know this now without a doubt. Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. And not only was it based on a lie; it was also illegal. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in no uncertain terms that the U.S. invasion of Iraq "was not in conformity with the U.N. charter. From our point of view and from the charter point of view it was illegal." (Moments after defending his brother's unilateral invasion of Iraq, nevertheless, Jeb Bush insisted that "we can't unilaterally go into countries.")
Yes, Iraq does today technically have a democracy, but that democracy is sectarian and discriminatory, widely unpopular and corrupt. Meanwhile, vast swaths of the country are controlled by one of the most horrific militias the world has seen since the horrors of World War II.
Tony Blair has apologized for setting the stage for this surge of bloody extremism, and the U.K. was not even the principal agent in pushing the war. The U.S. on the other hand was -- yet many American politicians still refuse to take responsibility for their actions.
In the meantime, taxpayers have footed the bill -- and a truly gargantuan one, at that. A 2013 study found that, after a decade, the Iraq War had cost $2.2 trillion. It noted that this figure would increase to $6 trillion over the next four decades, including interest. In 2008, Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz predicted the war would cost $5 trillion.
Regardless of your politics -- unless you support chaos, destruction, and the spread of sectarian extremism -- if you know even the most basic details about the Iraq War, you cannot reflect back on it as a victory.
And this is by no means the beginning of the violence. The U.S. government has tortured Iraq for decades. Up until the 1990 Gulf War, throughout the Iran-Iraq War that consumed the 1980s, the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein -- the very same dictator it would violently depose in 2003. New York Congressman Chuck Schumer remarked in 1991 that Saddam Hussein was "created in the White House laboratory with a collection of government programs, banks, and private companies."
In the 1990s, U.S.-led U.N. sanctions on Iraq completely destroyed the economy and resulted in the deaths of over 1 million Iraqis. U.N. Chief Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Denis Halliday resigned in 1998 in protest of the policies, which he said "satisfied the legal definition of genocide." Clinton administration Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, on the other hand, defended the killing of over 500,000 Iraqi children live on TV.
U.S. politicians have not even learned from this history, let alone more recent events. Cheney averred that "history will be the ultimate judge of our decision to liberate Iraq." Twelve years later, history has certainly been the ultimate judge: Iraq is in ruins, and chaos reins throughout the Middle East. Millions of lives have been lost, millions more turned into refugees, and extremism has spread far and wide.
The U.S. political establishment would do well to learn from Tony Blair, look critically at its own history, and admit guilt. Only then can a serious conversation not just about recovery, but also about reparations, begin.