Compare the two American dramas that the world
was watching last Thursday.
In Houston, Texas, two former Enron executives, Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling,
were convicted of fraud and conspiracy for their role in the energy trader's
collapse in 2001 and could end up spending the rest of their lives in prison.
The jury concluded that Lay and Skilling lied to their employees, shareholders,
and the public about corporate finances; that their actions should be considered
as crimes; and that the two should be punished for that.
And in Washington, D.C., two current national leaders, U.S. President George
W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, conceded that there had been
a few "missteps" and "errors" in the conduct of the war
in Iraq that mostly had to do with style and management.
But they insisted that the ousting of Saddam Hussein was justified and suggested
that they had no plans to withdraw the occupying troops from Iraq. Mr. Bush
expressed regret for the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and some of his tough-talking
Mr. Blair said the "de-Ba'athification" of Iraq – the clearing out
of Saddam followers from the bureaucracy – had been badly handled. The two seemed
to be somewhat chastened but unrepentant on the Iraq war.
We now know that Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair led their nations into war based on
false pretenses (nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, Iraqi links to al-Qaeda)
and without any serious political, economic, and military postwar planning.
The result has been a bloody mess and a country descending into civil war.
Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed, as well as a few thousand
U.S. and coalition soldiers. At the same time, the financial cost of the war
is now estimated at $320 billion and is expected to end up being higher than
the Vietnam War.
And with all the misinformation and mismanagement that characterized the handling
of the war, not to mention Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and other human rights violations,
the credibility and prestige of the United States around the world has never
been so low, with Washington finding it difficult to mend ties with allies in
Europe and the Middle East.
At home, Mr. Bush's approval ratings have sunk to some of the lowest numbers
for any president in decades, while Mr. Blair's Labor Party suffered in recent
elections. In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, 32 percent of
Americans approved of Mr. Bush's handling of the war and 37 percent said it
has been worth the cost. The support for the war in Britain is even lower.
American news publications reported last week that thousands of middle class
and professional Iraqis, including many Christians, are fleeing the country.
Their major destination? Syria. In the last 10 months, the Iraqi government
has issued new passports to 1.85 million Iraqis, 7 percent of the population
and a quarter of the country's estimated middle class, according to the New
The New Republic reports that according to Iraqi estimates, between
40,000 and 100,000 Iraqi Christians have fled since 2004, many following their
own road to Damascus across the Syrian border or to Jordan, while many more
have been displaced within Iraq.
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, a spokesperson for Human Rights
Watch praised the role that Syria has played in absorbing Iraq's refugees. "Middle
East governments should follow Syria's example in accepting refugees and asylum
seekers fleeing violence in Iraq," the organization said in a statement.
So… let's see: America "liberated" Iraq in order to transform it
into a model of political and economic freedom that could bring about similar
changes in neighboring authoritarian Syria, which was (at one point) targeted
for "regime change" by the Bush administration. And now, members of
Iraq's middle class and Christian communities, the most Westernized, educated,
and professional segments of Iraq's population are fleeing to… Syria.
All of which gives a new meaning to Mr. Bush's "Mission Accomplished."
Indeed, trying to weigh the devastation that the Bush-Blair duo have inflicted
on their countries and the world as a result of the Iraq War against the damage
produced by the Lay-Skilling pair is like comparing a splash your kid made in
the swimming pool to the Indian Ocean tsunami.
Yet neither leader is going to be punished anytime soon for his "missteps"
and "errors" in Iraq. Mr. Bush will complete his second term in office
at the end of 2008, while Mr. Blair will be recalled as one of the longest-serving
prime ministers in British history.
The only verdict they'll have to face will be that of history.
Copyright © 2006 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.