The story that won't go away

WASHINGTON — As the Obama administration continues to leave the invasion of Iraq to history, the pesky British who believe they were hoodwinked into being a part of it are not letting this sleeping dog slumber on.

In the public hearings in London that began in November, British government officials including Prime Minister Gordon Brown and former Prime Minister Tony Blair have undergone tenacious questioning from an appointed inquiry board on how and why the Brits were entangled in the misguided affair.

Blair testified in January that "the decision I took, and frankly, would take again, was if there was any possibility that (Saddam Hussein) could develop weapons of mass destruction, we would stop him. It was my view then and that is my view now." Blair said he regretted the divisions that occurred at home but had no regrets for getting rid of the Iraqi dictator, triggering shouts of protest from the audience.

Brown, who was Blair's finance minister at the time, testified earlier this month, unlike Blair, that he regretted the loss of 179 British forces but believed "we made the right decision for the right reasons." He focused on his role in assuring that the needs of the British troops in Iraq were fully funded.

Blair left office last June bearing the brunt of the highly unpopular war in Britain. Brown in succeeding him now faces a parliamentary election of his own in June, and he and his Labor Party are regarded as the underdog, though recent polls indicate that he is gaining strength.

The story that won't go away had more life breathed into it recently with an observation from former Bush White House adviser Karl Rove in his memoir. Rove said his boss probably would not have invaded Iraq had he known the weapons of mass destruction he alleged did not exist.

"Would the Iraq war have occurred without WMD? I doubt it," Rove wrote in the book, "Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight." He wrote: "Congress was very unlikely to have supported the use-of-force resolution without the WMD threat. The Bush administration itself would probably have sought other ways to constrain Saddam, bring about regime change and deal with Iraq's horrendous human rights violations."

That view, however, flies in the face of the fact that Bush resisted returning to the United Nations for further support to invade, and when it was denied he went ahead anyway, and Blair with him. Bush did so even though Saddam Hussein had agreed to let weapons inspectors return to resume their search for the non-existent WMD peril.

President Obama, in his naive administration directive not to look back at the past but to focus on the future, declined to conduct an inquiry into the invasion he himself opposed. He rejected calls by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and other Democrats for such a review of the Bush policies that have left Obama with two wars to clean up.

Now, however, word comes from London that senior Bush officials have been called upon by the British inquiry, headed by former Whitehall official John Chilcot, to testify on their involvement in events that led up to the Iraq invasion.

If the Bush officials do testify before the British inquiry before this election, either in person or in writing, their role in the whole fiasco will be hashed out again. There doubtless will be political ramifications in Britain and on this side of the Atlantic as well.

But the prospect of this pile of very dirty American laundry having to be scrubbed, washed and hung up to dry on a British clothesline is a scandal in itself. Obama seldom passes up the opportunity to remind the American public that much of the woe that that now weighs him down he inherited from the previous Republican administration. If he feels so strongly about it, why leave this airing to the Brits?

Inasmuch as our government is unwilling to probe the American-orchestrated foreign-policy blunder — arguably the worst in this nation's history — it's better that it is being done in London than not at all.

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