Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Put Blair And Bush On Trial


Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the anti-apartheid warrior, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and general mensch, this weekend published an editorial in The Observer explaining his decision to pull out of a scheduled appearance at last week’s Discovery Invest Leadership Summit, in Johannesburg. His reason: Tony Blair would be there. Tony Blair, according to Tutu, shouldn’t be onstage in Johannesburg. He should be on trial at The Hague. George W. Bush, too. Probably some others.

Archbishop Tutu’s editorial begins with a sentence that is neither grammatical nor historical:

The immorality of the United States and Great Britain’s decision to invade Iraq
in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass
destruction, has destabilised and polarised the world to a greater
extent than any other conflict in history.

Surely Archbishop Tutu means to say it was the conflict itself, and not its immorality, that did the “destabilising”? (And didn’t the Austro-Hungarian declaration of war against Serbia in July, 1914, cause at least as much trouble?) Archbishop Tutu calms down a few paragraphs later, writing:

On what grounds do we decide that Robert Mugabe should go the
International Criminal Court, Tony Blair should join the international
speakers’ circuit, bin Laden should be assassinated, but Iraq should be
invaded, not because it possesses weapons of mass destruction, as Mr
Bush’s chief supporter, Mr Blair, confessed last week, but in order to
get rid of Saddam Hussein?

The cost of the decision to rid Iraq of
its by-all-accounts despotic and murderous leader has been staggering,
beginning in Iraq itself. Last year, an average of 6.5 people died there
each day in suicide attacks and vehicle bombs, according to the Iraqi Body Count project.
More than 110,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict since 2003 and
millions have been displaced. By the end of last year, nearly 4,500
American soldiers had been killed and more than 32,000 wounded.

There are no satisfactory answers to Archbishop Tutu’s questions, as a tired-sounding Tony Blair seems to acknowledge in his rebuttal:

I have a great respect for Archbishop Tutu’s fight against apartheid –
where we were on the same side of the argument – but to repeat the old
canard that we lied about the intelligence is completely wrong as every
single independent analysis of the evidence has shown.

And to say
that the fact that Saddam massacred hundreds of thousands of his
citizens is irrelevant to the morality of removing him is bizarre … his slaughter of his political opponents, the treatment of the Marsh
Arabs and the systematic torture of his people make the case for
removing him morally strong. But the basis of action was as stated at
the time.

In short, this is the same argument we have had many
times with nothing new to say. But surely in a healthy democracy people
can agree to disagree.


  1. garbage says

    He was clearly saying that both the USA’s immorality and the decision to invade have destabilized the country. Delete this smear piece, or learn how to parse language and attempt this post again.

  2. shanestud says

    The only reason the USA and Britain invaded Iraq was to remove Sadam and get their hands on vast oil reserves. Iraqi troops were not landing on the beaches of Long Island. Cheney boasted that captured Iraqi oil production would finance the US military effort. When hundreds of thousands of people were being slaughtered in Uganda the USA blocked a UN resolution to provide more UN troops. After Noriega fell in Nicaragua and the newly elected president went to Washington she could not get an appointment with Bush Sr. It’s not about spreading freedom and democracy. If you don’t have oil or gold or resources like Zimbabwe, Sudan or Somalia you’re probably safe from invasions that “liberate” you.

  3. Mike says

    They not only need to put Bush and Blair on trial but also the covert government groups who also has parts in the wars like the people in the CIA and MI5 who are responsible for the deaths of countless women and children as a result of their involvements.

  4. Buster says

    What the hell?

    First, the linguistic structure of Tutu’s sentence is correct. The fact that you appear to disagree (foolishly, I think) with his conclusion means that you find his statement either “inaccurate” or “poorly-phrased.”

    Second, I am perfectly comfortable assuming that Tutu, a man of great political and philosophical experience, meant precisely what he said. It seems a more likely possibility than the idea that he has been “caught out” by some 20-something bloggerboy whose grasp of English is too poor to understand that actual meaning of the word “ungrammatical.”

  5. jason says

    The problem with Tony Blair’s rebuttal is that it proves he lacked the courage of his convictions to state these reasons back then. Instead, he and Bush used some phony notion of WMD’s as a pretext to invade Iraq. As such, Blair is a fail.

  6. Brandon K. Thorp says


    I’m fine on grammar, thanks. The problem with the sentence is that it begins treating the word “immorality” as its subject, and ends as though its subject is “decision [to invade].” I don’t see how that’s ambiguous.

    The more important point, I think, is that Archbishop Tutu said the war in Iraq was the most destabilizing war *ever*, which suggests he’s writing in the heat of passion. I mentioned the Austro-Hungarian war against Serbia — a war that led, very quickly, to World War I and the Russian Revolution, and more distantly to World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, and all the rest. Archbishop Tutu knows this. Which means he’s being hyperbolic. Which, given the sensitive nature of his essay, is probably a bad idea. Feel free to disagree.

    Anyway — what’s with the sacred cows? I’m a great fan of Archbishop Tutu’s, but that doesn’t mean I think he’s immune from criticism. Nobody is. And I do think his questions about the slippery scales of justice are good ones, as I hope I made clear. To criticize is not to pan.

    – BKT

  7. Lee says

    Tutu needs to die already he’s clearly Los his mind Saddame had to go he massacred tens of thousands useing death squads, nerve gas, and bombs he was a monster and the only way to deal with monsters like him is to show no mercy. I am no bush fan but I supported both wars 100% evil must be hunted down and destroyed wherever it is

  8. LOSERS says

    Here come the trolls with their childish comments! Bashing the messenger (Towleroad) and Bishop Tutu in an effort to turn the focus away from the real culprits, George & Company. These are the same people who refuse to acknowledge the huge DEBT accumulated for this war which was an excercise in STUPIDITY. They won’t admit that it was not needed and was a huge burden on this country, economically and morally. But, they will go back to their Tea Party rallies and say the debt is so huge and it’s all Obama’s fault.

    Btw who ended the war? Obama. Who gets the blame for the trillions in debt because of it? Well, they blame Obama of course. In their minds did their St. George do anything wrong? Nope.

    They are hypocrites.

  9. BABH says

    How and why the war started is, I think, still debatable. It’s long-term effects are still unknown, and only history can judge them. But then there’s the hard fact of widespread, officially sanctioned (by both Bush and Blair), and proudly admitted (by Bush at least) torture.

    Tutu is right about one thing: there is really no doubt that these men are war criminals, according to the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture, and U.S. and British law.

  10. johnosahon says

    ‘Surely Archbishop Tutu means to say it was the conflict itself, and not its immorality, that did the “destabilising”?’

    Who are you to question what Tutu meant? the immorality of the war was just as bad as the conflict, lots of nations either did not follow USA or redrew earlier because they felt America lied to get in there in the first place.

    And if Blair and Bush’s excuse for going into iraq was that Saddam killed people, then why should Bush and Blair not be arrested and tried for the deaths of the Iraqi citizens?

    Maybe, the USA should have been invaded by Canada, and Europe for the treatments of blacks in the 60s.

  11. Sargon Bighorn says

    “But surely in a healthy democracy people can agree to disagree.” As those democracies commit atrocities on non-democracies. Blair and Bush are the butchers of Baghdad.

  12. BobN says

    “Archbishop Tutu said the war in Iraq was the most destabilizing war *ever*, which suggests he’s writing in the heat of passion.”

    Or, perhaps, that he looks into the future and sees the consequences tumbling on, decade after decade, as they most certainly will.

    As for prosecution, I’d gladly have Tutu face the grammar police and suffer the scolding he might get. I’m sure the penalties would be quite small compared to what Blair and Bush deserve.

  13. Lee says

    Wow you queens need to get a live bush was an ahole for sure but getting rid of saddame was a good thing or do y’all enjoy watching tens of thousands of Kurds, and Shias being gassed, shot, and killed in any other number of horrific fashions?

  14. jamal49 says

    Nice try at generalized political snarkiness, Mr. Thorpe, but, as usual, things just whiz right over the top of your head.

    Yes, dear Brandon, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 WAS immoral. It was based on a complete sack of lies.

    Nowhere in that introductory paragraph does Archbishop Tutu state that the immorality of the premise for instigating the illegal invasion of Iraq had anything to do with “destablising” the region.

    Further, you completely slice off a HUGE piece of historical reckoning as to WHY WWI started. The “Austro-Hungarian declaration of war against Serbia” was about 1/5th of the total equation of why Europe began what was essentially a long and bloody European civil war.

    Bone up on history and get your facts straight, son, well before you try third-rate “analysis”, a part of which essentially was a put-down of what Desmond Tutu was attempting to say.

    And, yes, the Archbishop is correct. George W. Bush and Tony Blair are as criminal as the white European holier-than-thou racists claim Robert Mugabe is.

  15. rick scatorum says

    Of all the people to criticize, for such a non-issue.

    Tutu is practically a saint.

    And I believe “destabilize” is spelled with an “s” outside the US.

    Some supervision please.

  16. Rob says

    Brandon, your own prose is deeply flawed on many occasions and the thinking behind it seems very muddled. The fact that you would criticize Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the finest thinkers of our generation, would be crazy even if you were right on the grammar. But you are not. You don’t even understand what he is saying. Time for you to get some book larnin’, amigo. You are not up to the caliber of this site.

  17. Steve Scarborough says

    It’s beyond ridiculous to ask how one dares question Tutu’s views when the criticism was aimed at his sentence structure and not the substance of his argument. Hell, even St. Paul said that “the wages of sin IS death,” which would have got my ass kicked by Ms. Jackson in eighth grade English. What’s funny is that if the good Archbishop had had a chance to hear Thorp’s feedback before he published, he probably would have said, “Quite right, thanks, I was a little unclear there. But we DO spell stabilise with an “s” in the rest of the world, dear boy.” It’s unlikely he would have given himself an aneurysm over the edit Thorp got wrong or the one he got right.

  18. anon says

    Tutu’s default animus towards the Western first world nations, blaming them for all the problems of the 3rd world and Apartheid and AIDS in particular is well known. Sometimes his AIDS conspiracy theories are a bit over the top, such as the classic “spread by the CIA” trope. We do know that Apartheid fell because at the end of the Cold War western nations no longer feared Soviet expansion in Africa, which was one of the major reasons for post-colonial wars there. This pulled the rug out from under the National Party, which had long used the trope that they held back communism in sub-equatorial Africa to gain western support.

    However, Tutu’s big problem is that he was part of a group that called for armed civil conflict in SA to end apartheid and for other sub-equatorial post-colonial countries to invade SA and liberate it from apartheid, and he even hinted that Soviet (or UN) forces could be used. However, over the years his rhetoric was entirely inconsistent on whether to use force or not. Thankfully, Nelson Mandela was a better man than he.

  19. cadence says

    I don’t think that Blair and Bush can be tried for simply being uninformed and incompetent. Thousands of innocent people are dead because of their incompetence, but I think that the responsibility is on the voters and media to make sure that something like the Iraq war never happens again.

  20. JK says


    Tutu said that this war destabilized *and* polarized greater than other conflicts. He hasn’t said this was the most destabilizing war *ever*. Improve your parsing, your ‘grammatical’ interpretation is weak tea.

    The great war did not polarize the world save for the timing of states’ involvement. The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, you will recall, was much less explicable and with a legal footing that was starkly less established than that of previous conflicts.

  21. OKRELAX says

    @LEE: all well and good, but that was NOT the reason or the justification the Bush administration used to invade Iraq. Good effort to deflect though but we see right through it! Do you think it was a good thing to rack up nearly a trillion in DEBT to fund the Iraq war?

  22. redball says

    @Cadence: been a long time since i reviewed the history of the iraq war but i do believe maps and other documentation “showing” the presence of WMD were later proven to be BLATANTLY falsified. fabricated.

    that’s not “incompetence,” dear. that’s lying.

    but you are right about one thing: thousands died, were maimed, and otherwise suffered intensely because of these and other war crimes.

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