Scott Ritter, the American weapons inspector who correctly stated that Iraq had no significant WMD stocks or manufacturing capacities, then was arrested after exposing himself to an ostensible 15-year-old who was, in fact, an undercover cop, resents the fact that he’s brooding in jail while the men whose far graver misdeeds he was a witness to still enjoy their freedom…
“I’ll just ask the fundamental question,” Ritter said, looking at me squarely across the table. “My personal missteps — how many Americans have died as a result of that? None. Other than my family, how many victims were there? None. And yet, in refusing to engage in a responsible debate about Iraq, how many Americans died? Thousands. And America seems to have no problem with that.”
He’s right, of course: none of the architects of the conflict – and, by the way, scores of people were killed in yet more bombings just today – have faced a moral still less legal reckoning for their behaviour. Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz and all the rest of ‘em have been enjoying their retirement. The intellectuals who campaigned for the war and made no effort to atone for it are treated with as much respect as they’ve ever been. Robert Kagan, for example, who began his calls for regime change in 1998; insisted “the weapons are there” many a time; described the conflict as “an important victory” and has, as far as I’m aware, never offered so much as a semblance of an apology, is an adviser to Mitt Romney and an influence on the President. Meanwhile, in Britain, Tony Blair is given millions to spout platitudes to plutocrats and Alastair Campbell is a guest of honour on toothless comedy programmes.
But why stop there? The extent to which the wealthiest, most powerful men and women in our societies are shielded from blame and, come to that, rewarded after their misdeeds isn’t confined to that bleak episode. People whose incompetence or indifference ensured that the attacks of 9/11 were pulled off without a hitch kept their jobs and in many cases were promoted. The bankers who did so much to ruin the economy have accepted million after million of bonuses. Henry Kissinger is still spoken of as if he’s worth more admiration than a mollusc.
A reason for this unaccountability is obvious: powerful men and women aren’t inclined to prosecute their friends. Their misdeeds are often in the interests of their class, as harmful as they are to others, and, besides, even if they have disapproved of them they’re wary of establishing a precedent for blameworthiness lest someone else judge them. I think there’s a less cynical – if no more palatable – mindset that can sustain it, though: a failure to establish an emotional connection with the repercussions of their deeds. Sure, they know what they’ve done, but they may not have the empathic capabilities with which grasp its significance. And neither do many of us. That, I guess, is why we don’t make half as much of a stink as we would if respected, influential public figures were known to have fondled themselves over webcams to adolescents. Ritter isn’t in a good position to judge anyone but, still, he isn’t wrong that there’s something sick about that.