When George W Bush and Tony Blair steamed into Afghanistan on the hunt for Osama bin Laden, it began two decades of bloodshed based on lies and misdirection that led to countless lives lost and a duplicity that remains unpunished.
Unlike many anniversaries, no one in their right mind will be celebrating the fact that 20 years ago today, the US illegally invaded Afghanistan with the full support of the British government, heralding the start of two decades of misery that achieved absolutely zilch.
The vicious, heavily armed, beturbanned bumpkins now running the desperate nation are in the middle of orchestrating the flight of the country’s entire educated middle-class, by doling out exit visas and passports by the thousand to anyone who successfully navigates the bureaucracy and armed guards at the passport office. The very people who stand any chance of making a difference or holding the Taliban to account are fleeing for their lives as we speak.
You have to wonder if the men who are largely responsible for this sorry shower ever reflect on the damage they have wrought upon the Afghan people. And I don’t mean the leaders of Al-Qaeda, ISIS, or even the Taliban. I’m talking about Tony Blair and George W Bush.
So keen were the pair to pursue the political imperative of identifying and destroying the enemy in the weeks shortly after the horrors of 9/11 that prising Osama bin Laden from his Afghanistan hideout became the only goal that mattered.
As PM at the time, Blair told the House of Commons, “The Afghan people are not our enemy, for they have our sympathy and they will have our support… We act for justice. We act with world opinion behind us, and we have an absolute determination to see justice done and this evil of mass international terrorism confronted and defeated.”
How hollow those words sound 20 years later, after the loss of 174,000 lives in the ensuing war. And how baseless.
Because the terror and chaos that have seized Afghanistan since the US and its allies beat a hasty retreat just weeks ago are the legacy left by Blair and Bush. The abandoned military vehicles now driven around Kabul by violent Taliban thugs as they hunt down those Afghans who helped the allies are courtesy of the American taxpayer.
It’s not just Afghanistan that bears the scars left by the two former leaders, of course, because it was just the launchpad for the fight against Al-Qaeda, and the focus soon turned to Iraq, where in 2003 Blair and Bush decided on the basis of fabricated evidence that the terrorist organisation was based there and plotting against the West.
So flagrant was their misuse of intelligence to justify going to war at the time that in 2016 the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission unanimously found the pair guilty of crimes against peace, against humanity, and genocide. As a direct consequence of Blair and Bush’s duplicity, more than a million Iraqis lost their lives in that ill-conceived war.
At the end of their terms in office, however, both men simply walked away from power with the bodies piled up behind them and no real repercussions. They went on to make personal fortunes – not that Bush wasn’t already wealthy – and Blair continues to tour the elite speaker circuit, laughably lecturing the world on democracy, and holding court via his global institute to pontificate on the world’s problems. No remorse. No accountability. Nothing.
But maybe there is an opportunity to offer some redress as we mark the date that began their years of bombing and murder across the globe. How fitting if Tony Blair and George W Bush faced trial for launching those wars. It would draw a line under two decades of hell for millions of innocent civilians and show vital lessons had been learned.
Sadly, we all know this will never happen, but there’s no harm in dreaming. Ask the Afghans left behind after the latest ignominious retreat. Dreams are all they have.