Responding to Chilcot: more deceptions from Tony Blair on Iraq
by Ian Sinclair
8 July 2016
The United Nations con trick
This morning BBC Radio 4 Today Programme interviewed Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister from 1997-2007, about his central role in the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. Asked by presenter John Humphrys about the secret 28 July 2002 memo that Blair sent to US President George Bush in which Blair wrote “I will be with you, whatever”, Blair replied:
“The whole purpose of it [the memo] was to ensure that the Americans went down the United Nations route to dealing with this, which we then did. And we had a [UN] Resolution in November 2002, which had the terms of that resolution been satisfied then there wouldn’t have been a war.”
Blair is repeating the narrative – largely accepted by our media – that he persuaded a reluctant Bush Administration to work through the United Nations, in an attempt to solve the crisis peacefully. However, though Humphrys ignores it, Blair discusses exactly this issue in a later part on the 28 July 2008 memo. Under the heading ‘The UN’ Blair writes:
“We don’t want to be mucked around by Saddam over this, and the danger is he drags us into negotiation. But we need, as with Afghanistan and the ultimatum to the Taleban, to encapsulate our casus belli in some defining way. This is certainly the simplest. We could, in October as the build-up starts, state that he must let the inspectors back in unconditionally and do so now, ie set a 7-day deadline… There would be no negotiation. There would be no new talks with [UN Secretary-General Kofi] Annan. It would be: take it or leave it. I know there is reluctance on this. But it would neutralise opposition around the UN issue. It he did say yes, we continue the build-up and we send teams over and the moment he obstructs, we say: he’s back to his games. That’s it. In any event, he probably would screw it up and not meet the deadline, and if he came forward after the deadline, we would just refuse to deal.”
The language – “encapsulate our casus belli”, “no negotiation”, “we would just refuse to deal” – seems very far from someone sincerely interested in finding a peaceful solution to the crisis and using military action as a last resort.
Blair’s position on the role of the UN here mirrors other secret memos which have been subsequently released. In March 2002 Christopher Meyer, the UK Ambassador to the United States wrote to Tony’ Blair’s Foreign Policy Advisor David Manning about his recent meeting with US Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. “We backed regime change, but the plan had to be clever and failure was not an option”, noted Meyer. “I then went through the need to wrongfoot Saddam on the inspectors and UN SCRs [security council resolutions]”. How would this be done? A Cabinet paper from July 2002 explains: “It is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject (because he is unwilling to accept unfettered access) and which would not be regarded as unreasonable by the international community”.
The goal then, was to use the weapons inspectors and the UN as a tool for triggering war, not, as Blair continues to assert, to negotiate a peaceful solution to the crisis.
UN Resolution 1441: 2016 Tony Blair versus 2002 Tony Blair
At his press conference responding to Chilcot, Blair repeated his claim that Iraqi non-compliance with UN Resolution 1441 authorised the US and UK to take military action against Iraq:
“I persuaded a reluctant American administration to take the issue back to the UN. This resulted in the November 2002 UN Resolution 1441 giving Saddam ‘a final opportunity’ to come into ‘full and immediate compliance with UN Resolutions’ and to cooperate fully with UN inspectors. Any non-compliance was defined as a material breach…. as at the 18th of March, there was gridlock at the UN. In resolution 1441 it had been agreed to give Saddam one final opportunity to comply. It was accepted he had not done so. In that case, according to 1441, action should have followed”.
What Blair doesn’t say is Resolution 1441 was only passed by Russia, China and France on the understanding a second resolution would be required to authorise military action. Indeed,
on the day Resolution 1441 was passed by the UN Security Council Tony Blair himself said “To those who fear this resolution is just an automatic trigger point, without any further discussion, paragraph 12 of the Resolution makes it clear that is not the case.”
This was confirmed by the UK Ambassador to the UN, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who explained at the time:
“We heard loud and clear during the negotiations the concerns about ‘automaticity’ and ‘hidden triggers’ – the concern that on a decision so crucial we should not rush into military action; that on a decision so crucial any Iraqi violations should be discussed by the Council. Let me be equally clear in response, as a co-sponsor with the United States of the text we have just adopted. There is no ‘automaticity’ in this resolution. If there is a further Iraqi breach of its disarmament obligations, the matter will return to the Council for discussion as required in paragraph 12. We would expect the Security Council then to meet its responsibilities.”
The Al Qaeda link: nothing to do with me guv
During the Q&A session of his press conference on Chilcot, Nick Watt from BBC Newsnight asked Blair the following question:
“You say ‘For us to understand what happened, we need to understand how the calculus of risk changed after 9/11.’ But you were told then, and we know now, that there was no link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda.”
To which Blair replied:
“On the links between AQ and Saddam – it was never our case. There were elements of the American Administration that argued that there was a link between Saddam and Al-Qaeda. That was never my case.”
Contrast this clear disavowal with the content of the 28 July 2002 memo Blair wrote to Bush. Under the heading ‘The Evidence’ Blair tells Bush “I have been told the US thinks this unnecessary. But we still need to make the case. If we recapitulate all the WMD evidence, add his attempts to secure nuclear capability; and, as seems possible, add on Al Qaeda link, it will be hugely persuasive over here.”
So, to confirm, though Blair claims that he did not make a link between Al Qaeda and Hussein, the memo clearly shows Blair suggesting to Bush that “an Al Qaeda link” should be made with Saddam Hussein because “it will be hugely persuasive over here” – that is it will help persuade the population of the UK, and perhaps mainland Europe, for the need for war.