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Britain's Chilcot Inquiry will shape Blair's legacy. How about Bush's?

The Chilcot Inquiry faulted former British prime minister Tony Blair's actions in the run-up to the Iraq War, and found that the country had little say in rebuilding.

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    British Prime Minister Tony Blair looks at US President George W. Bush at a news conference in the East Room of the White House in 2005. Britain's Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War revealed that prime minister Tony Blair had less of a say into post-invasion policy than he expected.
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Britain's long-awaited Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War was released Wednesday, offering a harsh rebuke of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair's role in encouraging Britain to join the US invasion of Iraq. The report concluded that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein posed no imminent threat to Britain and planning for the aftermath of the invasion was "wholly inadequate."  

The report's release coincides with the 70th birthday of former US President George W. Bush, who pushed for the war in Iraq to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and remove Saddam Hussein from power. No weapons were found, and most Britons and Americans now believe the war was a mistake.

The invasion of Iraq and ongoing turmoil in the region have come to dominate Mr. Blair's legacy in Britain, where the war was even less popular than in the United States. But the report also underscores how Bush's decision to lead the country into war continues to color his own legacy. 

"I don't know if the report is going to impact his legacy, but the invasion of Iraq is going to be the big thing that tarnishes his legacy," Natasha Ezrow, a political scientist at Britain's University of Essex who studies US politics, tells The Christian Science Monitor. "It's ongoing, it's been a disaster, and it's mutated into something worse," as the Islamic State now battles for control. 

The report re-enforces the "widely-held" views that the intelligence that led to the war was faulty and that planning for the aftermath was insufficient, George C. Edwards III, a presidential scholar who has studied Bush, says in an interview with the Monitor. 

In his memoirs, Bush wrote that he wished he had been more skeptical of the intelligence about weapons of mass destruction and had better planned for after the invasion.  

"Not only did we fight an unnecessary war, but the aftermath of the actual combat fighting was disastrous," says Dr. Edwards, who teaches at Texas A&M University. "It was destabilizing for the Middle East, disastrous for American soldiers, and disastrous for the Iraqi people."  

Bush was very unpopular by the end of his terms, with a CBS poll finding only 22 percent of Americans approved of his job as president by January 2009. Passing time has softened public attitudes, however, and by 2015, a CNN/ORC poll found that 52 percent had a favorable impression of Bush, compared to 43 percent unfavorable. 

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Memories of Mr. Blair haven't warmed as quickly. A recent YouGov poll found that only 8 percent of Britons polled said they thought Blair did nothing wrong, while 53 percent said they could never forgive him for leading the country into war.

The Chilcot Inquiry has sparked talk of an impeachment process against Blair, and possible civil charges from families of soldiers killed in Iraq.  

Among the inquiry's findings is that Bush largely ignored Blair's advice on how to address the issues in post-war Iraq, including recommendations about the role of the United Nations and control of Iraq's oil money. It determined Britain had no real say in the rebuilding of Iraq after the war, as it had no representation in the Coalition Provisional Authority which was set up to oversee reconstruction. 

Bush and the US had a very unilateral mindset approaching the war, says Professor Ezrow. She argues that Blair had "delusions of grandeur" of what his own legacy would be after a successful war and overestimated his own power with the US in Iraq decision-making.  

"I think he misunderstood the way that administration worked, the way they made decisions," she says. "It was very different from administrations of the past that may have been a little more open to other points of view."

Bush certainly isn't a popular figure in America, Edwards says, and the Republican primaries showed that aspiring leaders in the party generally distanced themselves from Bush. However, Blair is viewed even more harshly in Britain, he says. 

"You wouldn't expect the conservatives to like Blair, since he's the leader of the other party, and his party is split over the war in Iraq. So he doesn't have a big base," Edwards says. 

At the time of the invasion, public opinion in Britain was more anti-war than in the United States. In March 2003, the month the invasion started, only 23 percent of Americans believed the war was a mistake, according to Gallup, compared to 39 percent of Britons.

In the US, 51 percent believed the war was a mistake by June 2015, while 53 percent in Britain said it was the wrong thing to do by March 2013. 

The British public really turned on Blair once it was revealed that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Ezrow says. In the US, many saw that connection as less clear and was more willing to believe Iraq posed a terrorism risk and was dangerous, she argues. As a result, she says, Bush's intentions have been questioned less by Americans than Blair's have been by Brits. 

"People are disagreeing with the decision, but it doesn't seem to be near the kind of venom that this public has towards Blair," she says. "They really believed he lied, in Blair's case, and in Bush's case they think he was more earnest about it, that he really believed that there was some kind of threat." 

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