Thursday, September 29, 2016

Ignoring Consequences Continues to be Dangerous!

The latest issue of The New York Review of Books includes a scathing article bu Geoffrey Wheatcroft entitled "Tony Blair's Eternal Shame: The Report." The report in question is the so-called Chilcot, whose proper title is The Report of the Iraq Inquiry, the review of the motives and consequences associated with Great Britain entering the war in Iraq as a partner of the United States. The report was prepared by a Committee of Privy Counsellors chaired by Sir John Chilcot. This is a massive document, 6275 pages distributed across twelve volumes. However, as Wheatcroft observes, it should suffice for most to read the "62,000-word executive summary." To the extent that Wheatcroft's article amounts to a summary of that "executive summary," even that may be hard to take.

As might be guessed from the title, Wheatcroft's major target in former Prime Minister Blair. While he does not call
Blair's relationship with George W. Bush an "unholy alliance," it is clear that he was straining very hard to avoid that phrase. (He does, on the other, rather neatly deflate that concept of a "special relationship" between the United States and the United Kingdom as little more than a deceptive myth.)

The summary of Wheatcroft's summary comes with his concluding assessment of Blair:
And yet in the end Tony Blair isn't a messiah or a madman or a monster. He's a complete and utter mediocrity. He might have made an adequate prime minister in ordinary days, but in our strange and testing times he was hopelessly out of his depth. Now we are left with the consequences.
Since Wheatcroft is British, he kept his attention focused primarily on Blair. Whether or not that description holds just as well for George W. Bush is our business, not his. Nevertheless, I have to emphasize that the most powerful word in that quotation is the last one.

I have long held that we have become a culture that has tried to banish the word "consequences" from our working vocabulary. The last time I expressed this explicitly was in March of 2015. The idea emerged in my writing through observations that everyone seemed to be eager to jump into new technologies without thinking through the implications that technology might have for "unanticipated use." In other words we think only about the cool things we shall be able to do, assuming that they are also good things, totally overlooking the possibilities that "the next new thing" may serve more nefarious purposes we never bothered to consider. By all rights the aftermath of our adventures in Iraq should have been a wake-up call to us all to think about consequences before taking action, yet in today's immediate present, it would seem that few are bothering to think about how the vote they case in November (or the decision they make not to vote) is likely to have consequences on the same magnitude of those examined by Wheatcroft.

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