They were the men who were to remake the Middle East, but 10 years on, the alliance of politicians and neo-conservative thinkers who launched the Iraq war are a discredited band.
GEORGE W. BUSH
As US president and commander-in-chief of American forces, George W Bush bears ultimate responsibility for launching the war to topple Saddam Hussein, an act he perhaps hoped would secure his legacy.
Now 66, and apparently happy to pursue his artistic endeavors in a Texas retirement, the high point of his public life came after the 9/11 attacks when he stood at the ruins of the World Trade Center and defied America’s enemies.
The image of him as a resolute leader with a bullhorn might have lingered longer had he not, two months after the start of the 2003 Iraq war, appeared on the deck of an aircraft carrier under a “Mission Accomplished” banner.
The mission was far from accomplished and Iraq haunted the rest of his presidency, even after his 2004 re-election, bleeding America of men and wealth even as his justifications for the invasion fell apart.
While the Republican leader’s American conservative base largely turned its back on him because of his uncontrolled spending, Iraq ultimately became the main factor discrediting him before a world audience.
Former British prime minister Tony Blair admitted last month in an interview with the BBC about his support for Bush going into the Iraq war: “I’ve long since given up in trying to persuade people it was the right decision.”
Even more than that of his close US friend, the Labor leader’s entire legacy has been tarnished by a conflict that a majority of Britons opposed even when it was still claimed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.
As the most successful left-wing elected politician in British history, always more popular abroad than at home, Blair had hoped for a rewarding post-office life as a consultant after stepping down in 2007.
He did earn lavish fees from international contacts, and some recognition for his work as a Middle East peace envoy, but public appearances in his homeland are often marred by noisy protest.
While he still insists committing British troops was the right call, the 59-year-old admitted last month that the situation today in a still-violent post-Saddam Iraq is “not nearly what it should be.”
While Blair seems pained that the public won’t accept his justifications for going to war, former US vice president Dick Cheney shows no sign of having any doubts about the decision to fight.
“If you want to be loved, go be a movie star,” he snorts in a documentary movie due for release entitled “The World According to Dick Cheney” and based around a four-hour interview with the unrepentant 72-year-old hawk.
In Bush’s first term, Cheney wielded vast influence as the gatekeeper to information reaching the Oval Office, but saw his influence wane in the second term when even the president began to question his judgment.
But, according to the film, he still refuses to believe Saddam did not have active programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.
Former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld emerged from decades of backroom power politics dating back to Richard Nixon’s White House to become the unexpected star of the 2003 Iraq campaign.
The US press corps fell in love with his often blunt and sardonic briefings, which chimed with the belligerent public mood in the wake of 9/11.
But the needs of the war clashed with his goal when taking over the Pentagon — to cut costs by creating a lightweight, high-tech strike force unsuited to becoming an army of occupation.
As the Iraq campaign unraveled, the force he sent proved unable to contain a mounting insurgency. By 2006, retired generals, apparently speaking for many still in uniform, called Rumsfeld’s war planning “abysmal.”
Iraqi banker Ahmed Chalabi led the Iraqi National Council, an anti-Saddam exile group. His group is now blamed for having fed the Pentagon much of the false intelligence that once served as the pretext for invasion.
Cheney, Rumsfeld and a group of neo-conservative policy-makers and writers hoped Chalabi and the INC might take over Iraq as an interim government after the fall of Saddam, but his group was little-known and little-liked at home.
He settled for a series of lesser government posts in the new Shiite-led government.
In office, he was the one of the main proponents of the “de-Baathification” drive to rid government of alleged Saddam supporters, which alienated Iraq’s Sunni minority and fueled the revolt against US-led occupation forces.
Once the darling of the US administration — he was first lady Laura Bush’s guest at the 2004 State of the Union address — Chalabi has since flirted with US foe Iran and become a fierce critic of US policy in Iraq.
According to several insider accounts of Washington policy-making in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz was one of the first to call for an attack on Iraq as well as on Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Now a think-tank analyst, the neo-conservative has come closer than most to admitting that the public case for war was designed to maximize support for the invasion.
“For reasons that have a lot to do with the US government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason,” he said.