WOODBRIDGE, England, July 11 (UPI) -- Last week, two major government inquiries went public, one on this side of the pond and the other in Washington, D.C.
About the latter, FBI Director James Comey concluded that while Democratic presumptive candidate for president Hillary Clinton was "careless" in using private email servers to conduct classified business, criminal charges were not warranted. In London, the long awaited Chilcot Inquiry on how Britain (mis)handled the 2003 Iraq War and its aftermath was published, all 2.6 million words of it that took seven years to write and cost millions of pounds to complete.
While both Comey and retired civil servant Sir John Chilcot are men of talent and integrity, a common theme was missing from both inquires: accountability. In the Hillarygate case, at least 11 top secret documents were circulated in her unclassified emails. Had a person of lesser standing done the same, he or she would have been prosecuted or punished in some shape or form. For example, the number of U.S. military careers that have been terminated or ruined by mishandling classified material is not insignificant.
A retired Navy flag officer reminded me of an up-and-coming officer whose laptop computer containing sensitive but not highly classified material was stolen. The officer was de-selected for major command and sent to a meaningless job forcing an early retirement. I recall flying on a commercial airliner with my boss, then an army colonel, who was reading classified material but where no one could have possibly have seen the contents. An overly enthusiastic passenger however seeing the outside markings contacted the Pentagon and the colonel received a letter of warning. It turned out that the material was actually for official use only -- and unclassified. It made no difference.
With the caveat that few have had the time to read the entire Chilcot Inquiry, the 171 pages of the executive summary contained nothing new. Yes the July 28, 2002 letter from Prime Minister Tony Blair to President George W. Bush promised "we will be with you." However, it was clear even then that while Blair may have had reservations about the war, he had concluded that Britain would end up inside the tent following the American lead. It was not for naught that the wicked British media nicknamed Blair "the Poodle" because of his excessive deference to the president.
Way back in the latter part of 2002, some of us warned that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction and that war was not only unwarranted, it made no sense strategically. And after Iraqi Freedom began on March 20, 2003, virtually no competent outside observer failed to note that while coalition forces would eviscerate the remnants of Iraq's already depleted military and remove Saddam Hussein, the critical question of what next had to be answered. As the Chilcot report noted, that question was never addressed. Yet that tragic conclusion was already too well known.
What does the Chilcot Inquiry conclude then? Bush and Blair took our nations to a war that most people believe has been the worst foreign policy disaster in America's history (Britain having her share). Yes, the villainous Saddam has gone, one hopes, to a decidedly unhappy hunting ground. However, the war unleashed tectonic religious, ideological, ethnic and geostrategic forces in the region and beyond that have changed and will change the world order and not for the better. We know that.
But have Bush and Blair been held accountable? Obviously, no one is seriously considering the equivalent of Nuremburg War trials even though Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic was put in the docket in The Hague for mass murder in Kosovo. Democracies do not do that to their own as Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon went unpunished for Vietnam -- although it is arguable that Vietnam led to LBJ's early demise. Nor do we hold them accountable, although sometimes we vilify.
The same is true for Clinton. In a tough Wall Street Journal article, former Attorney General and federal judge Michael Mukasey placing Clinton "on the least wanted list," excoriated Comey's decision arguing that both felony and misdemeanor statutes clearly should have led to charges.
The larger lesson is less obvious. Unless leaders flagrantly break the law such as Nixon's Watergate cover-up, accountability in democracies is through the ballot box. Blair is not running. And we will see how Clinton does next November.
Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist and serves as senior adviser for Supreme Allied Commander Europe, the Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security and chairs two private companies. His last book is "A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces the Peace." His next book, due out next year, is "Anatomy of Failure: Why America Loses Wars It Starts."