The rigged system that worked so hard to rehabilitate this trio of war criminals is exactly the same system now determined to put Trump on trial

There is not much to thank Dick Cheney for. But perhaps he deserves credit for one thing: illustrating how effectively our political systems can rehabilitate even the most monstrous of moral monsters.

Just watch this short clip that went viral on X (formerly Twitter), in which Cheney warns against the re-election of Donald Trump. Perhaps not suprisingly, it has proven a big hit with Democratic party supporters, those who once reviled Cheney for his role in invading Iraq.

In the video, speaking for Republicans Against Trump, Cheney declares: “In our nation’s 246-year history, there has never been an individual who is a greater threat to our republic than Donald Trump.”

That is almost certainly wrong, even judged in narrow, parochial terms that take into account only US domestic concerns. The damage unleashed by Cheney – and the shockwaves that continue to ripple abroad and at home two decades on – surely qualify him as an even greater menace.

But current president Joe Biden must be in the running too. He has risked all of our lives in Ukraine, by playing a game of nuclear chicken with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

Before grappling with such issues further, let’s offer a brief recap for those for whom the 2003 Iraq war is but a distant memory.

Cheney was vice-president during George W Bush’s presidency – and the man who actually ran the show.

While Bush struggled to form complete sentences – much as Biden does today – but looked all-American in his vintage leather jacket, the ghoulish Cheney went about arranging the destruction of entire countries, including Afghanistan and Iraq, on behalf of the military industrial complex.

Untold millions of people in the Middle East died, or were made homeless, or were driven across borders through his deceptions. Those wars, though catastrophic for the Middle East, were exceptionally lucrative for corporate interests invested in the West’s war industries.

Not least among them was Halliburton, which Cheney had headed until he became vice-president. Following the invasion, Halliburton was awarded a $7 billion contract in Iraq – without a competitive tender.

Cheney continued to retain large stocks in the company while it was helping to plunder Iraq’s resources, including its oil.

He did not just trash Iraq and Afghanistan. He intensified the dark sectarian forces unleashed earlier, in the 1980s, by the “Great Game” clash of imperialisms between the Soviet Union and the US in Afghanistan that spawned the mujahideen and later al-Qaeda.

The destruction of Iraq, in particular, launched the death cult of Islamic State, which would go on to gain a bigger footprint every time the US meddled in the Middle East, from Libya to Syria.

If anyone can rightly be described as a monster, if anyone should be in the dock at The Hague accused of the “supreme international crime” of launching a war of aggression, it is Dick Cheney. More so than the ridiculous, strutting Bush Jnr.

Short memories

But if we are considering how our political systems are designed to shorten memories so that not only can monsters walk among us but they are celebrated and profit year after year from their crimes, Tony Blair deserves a dishonourable mention.

If anyone is as politically and morally monstrous as Cheney, it is the vainglorious, power-worshipping British prime minister of that period. While Bush sold the neocon plan for Iraq’s destruction in a leather jacket, Blair sold it to Europeans – or at least those who were gullible enough to take him seriously – in crisp white shirts and power suits.

Blair’s role was to fill in the credibility gaps of the inarticulate, posturing Bush. Blair was the brains to Bush’s brawn.

Blair fronted the diplomatic push. He made measured but impassioned appeals for action to the public. And most especially – with the “dodgy dossier” of intelligence lies cribbed straight from the internet, claiming that Saddam Hussein could hit Europe with his stockpile of non-existent weapons of mass destruction in little more time than it takes to have a shower – he excelled at fearmongering.

It is hard not to notice how the treatment of Blair and Cheney exemplify our skewed political and moral priorities, even after much of the dust has settled in Iraq and across the Middle East.

The clamour grows daily for Putin to be dragged to the Hague war crimes court for invading neighbouring Ukraine. Back in March the International Criminal Court even issued an arrest warrant for him to be tried over the alleged forced deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.

There is, of course, no arrest warrant for either Blair or Cheney, even though in the hierarchy of war crimes their roles are almost certainly worse. Putin at least has an argument that his invasion was provoked by Nato’s efforts to move weapons ever closer to Russia’s border, undermining Moscow’s nuclear deterrent. That might qualify his attack, potentially, as pre-emptive.

By contrast, no one ever refers to the US and British invasion of Iraq as “unprovoked”, even though it undoubtedly was. The “dodgy dossier” was packed with lies, as was General Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations. There were no WMD in Iraq, as UN inspectors had warned. And Saddam Hussein had no ties to al-Qaeda. Every pretext for the invasion was disinformation – and intended to be.

For this reason alone, the rent-a-quote Blair has been remarkably careful to avoid talking about war crimes in relation to the Ukraine war. Whatever allegations he makes against Putin could easily be turned against him three or fourfold. Instead his focus has been simply on the mechanics of how to “defeat Russia”.

The man who, in power, so loudly and childishly framed world events as a clash of civilisations – in which the West was always on the side of the angels – speaks now in hushed tones about the manufactured moral crusade of the day: Ukraine.

Swamp creature

But it is far worse than the lack of an arrest warrant and trial. In Blair’s case, the media continues to treat him with reverence. His opinion is sought out. In no media interview is he ever confronted with the evidence that easily proves he committed the supreme crime against humanity in invading Iraq.

And worse still, his crime has actually been subsumed within his brand, becoming a selling point. He is an international statesman, an Elder, the head of a think-tank empire, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. He now has 800 staff dedicated to advancing his policies in 40 countries, including the latest recruit: Finland’s former prime minister Sanna Marin.

The truth is that, despite his official rehabilitation by the media and fellow politicians, much of the British public revile Blair. Which is why, by necessity, the power he wields – very possibly greater than when he was Britain’s prime minister – operates entirely in the shadows.

Blair, like Cheney, is still every bit as much of a swamp creature, a peddler of concealed corporate interests – from the oil industry and arms makers to the parasitic bankers that feed off the asset-stripping the other two excel in – as he was when he invaded Iraq.

One of his main clients is Saudi Arabia, a regime that has used its oil riches to bomb civilians in Yemen year after year, and to finance poisonous religious extremist movements that have helped to wreck entire countries.

His institute, representing corporate interests such as bankers J P Morgan and Swiss insurance behemoth Zurich, can now bypass even the miminal democratic accountability Blair was subjected to as prime minister.

Behind the scenes, Blair was the one advocating on behalf of his corporate clients for many of the science-busting Covid policies the UK government adopted, and he continues to push hard for the roll-out of digital identification technologies and for investment in artificial intelligence.

His Brave New World, privacy-destroying tech agenda, shared with the billionaire class, from Bill Gates to George Soros, is subjected to barely any scrutiny.

Which is why his brand grows, even as his credibility with the British public remains at rock bottom.

Grandpa of politics

Across the Atlantic, the dull-witted George W Bush may not have managed to establish an Institute in his name of comparable standing, but efforts to rehabilitate his image with the public have been more successful. His very gormlessness has been rebranded as down-to-earth affability, honesty and kindliness.

Back in 2003, Bush’s simple-mindedness offered Cheney and the West’s war industries the “plausible denialibility” they needed to shelter behind. The destruction of Iraq could be excused as an unfortunate, well-intentioned cock-up – a “humanitarian war” that turned out badly – rather than another colonial-style resource grab by corporate America.

Bush, an indisputable war criminal like Cheney and Blair who puts anything done by Russia’s Putin in the shade, has not only paid no price for his crimes. Instead, courtesy of the establishment media, he has been refashioned as the kindly grandpa of US politics.

Obituaries, when they come, will focus not on the Iraqi families incinerated by the Shock and Awe bombing campaign he greenlighted on entirely bogus grounds. They will show him reaching out to hand a sweet to Michelle Obama, wife of a supposed political rival, at John McCain’s memorial service and again at his father’s funeral.

A tender, bipartisan moment that is meant to serve as a stark, juxtapositional reminder that Trump supposedly exists outside this club of the great and good.

We are, of course, meant to forget that, before Trump entered politics, there were plenty of photos of him rubbing shoulders at elite parties with the Bush and Clinton political dynasties.

In fact, image-laundering is a staple of our political systems. It is why most of the billionaire-owned media have continued to treat Biden deferentially, dismissing his glaring cognitive difficulties simply as evidence of a lifelong stutter, even as the president is regularly caught on video not only going off-script but losing any sense of where he is or what he should be doing.

In truth, the public image assigned to our leaders are force-fed into our subconscious – like stuffing a goose before slaughter – by a corporate media embedded in the same web of corporate interests that oils the tank treads of the West’s war machine.

High-wire act

Which is why Cheney’s claim that Trump is some kind of anomaly in US politics is so plainly nonsense. Or at least it is in the sense that Cheney means it.

True, Trump is an outlier. As a narcissist operating in the always-on, digital era – one in which distinctions between news and celebrity have been eroded – Trump happily suns himself in the glare of publicity.

He is a paradox: both political showman and shadowy corporate deal-maker. These combined roles make his a high-wire act, one in which the safety net of plausible deniability is removed.

He is no different from a corrupt Cheney, or a corrupt Gates, or a corrupt Soros. Except unlike them, Trump has given the swamp an incentive – at least, a temporary one – to expose him, not least because he cannot be rebranded as a philanthropist or elder statesman.

Elon Musk is treading a similar, reckless path – unless he can be corralled back into line. Once best known, and loved, for producing “planet-saving” electric cars, he has turned unlikely, and increasingy loathed, whistleblower: highlighting some of the corrupt ties between social media corporations and the intelligence services.

But the idea of good and bad billionaires is yet more misdirection.

There is no way to become that rich without being entangled in the inherently corrupt world of transglobal movements of capital, without carrying out secretive corporate operations that depend on the complicity of resource-rich states and their similarly corrupt elites.

Any billionaire could end up facing their own Russiagate if their rivals willed it. Each certainly deserves it. But only in Trump’s case is the incentive strong enough to carry it through.

Why? Because Trump found a replacement for the safety net. He exploited the paradox at the heart of his brand by presenting himself as the insider-outsider; the rich man fighting for poor, white America; the billionaire taking on the media owned by, and enriching, his best friends. He sold himself as the opposition to the swamp he feeds off.

Trump’s act, his man-of-the-people posturing, made it impossible for the swamp to rehabilitate him, as it has done Cheney and Bush. To exculpate him would be to indict itself.

Which is why the swamp is now trying to drown him in legal entanglements, to keep him out of the White House.

Soaked in blood

The paradox is coming full circle.

Trump draws his political power from the crowd, from the mob. Were Trump less of a narcissist, were he more of a political strategist, were he the Hitler so many imagine him to be, he could harness that support, mobilise it, to beat back the swamp’s onslaught and protect himself.

He would be able to browbeat his corporate friend-rivals into submission. But Trump is no Hitler. So the swamp is winning: it is crushing Trump legally and politically. It will seek to bog him down in legal difficulties, to sap him of political momentum.

But as is the danger with all paradoxes, the picture could yet grow more complex. The more the swamp tries to drown Trump, the more credibility it breathes into his showman’s bogus claim that he is standing up for the little guy. But also, and more dangerously, the more the swamp makes itself visible.

Trump’s vanquishment inevitably comes at a heavy price: focusing public attention on the reality that a tiny, corrupt, corporate elite has rigged the system to maintain its power and enrichment.

It should not have needed a Trump to have made this explicit. The arch-criminals Blair, Bush and Cheney are all soaked in blood. The fact that their images have been so completely laundered, that they are publicly treated as whiter than white, should have constituted proof enough that we are being subjected to a sustained campaign of gaslighting.

So long as swamp creatures like Cheney can direct our gaze exclusively at Trump, they themselves grow in power. They can keep waging wars, keep stealing resources, keep bombing children – and keep getting richer.

The system they built to maintain their power needs to be overthrown. But that cannot be achieved so long as it is only Trump – not Bush, Blair and Cheney – in the dock.

Jonathan Cook

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