Andrew Sparrow. Read here in Guardin UK
Sir Christopher Meyer is the most high-profile figure to give evidence so far. A former press secretary to John Major and UK ambassador in Washington from 1997 to 2003, he infuriated the government with his views about the Iraq war in his memoirs. Broadly in favour of the war, he also strongly criticised Tony Blair's failure to get more from the US in return for backing the invasion. Here we examine the key moments of his evidence.
"It has to be emphasised that regime change in Iraq was official US policy. It went back to the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, passed unanimously by the Senate, by an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives, and signed into law by Bill Clinton in October 1998. So regime change and, to quote the act, "to establish a programme to support a transition to democracy in Iraq", was an official American policy which George Bush inherited from Bill Clinton. The fact that Clinton did not do very much about it is neither here nor there."
Although the decision to invade Iraq is often depicted as one taken solely by Bush adminstration neocons, Meyer said the Bush regime was not an "aberration" and there was "more of a continuum with previous administrations" than either US party was willing to admit. While some blamed "the nutters" in the Bush administration for inventing the regime change policy, this was simply not true, he said.
"Crawford was a meeting at the president's ranch. I took no part in any of the discussions and for a large chunk of that time no adviser was there … when David Manning [Blair's then foreign policy adviser] comes before you he will tell you that he went there with Jonathan Powell [Blair's chief of staff] for a discussion of Arab/Israel and the intifada. It was at that meeting that there was a joint decision between Bush and Blair that Colin Powell should go to the region and get it sorted. I believe that after that the two men were alone in the ranch until dinner on the Saturday night when all the advisers, including myself, turned up. So I'm not entirely clear to this day … what degree of convergence was signed in blood at the Texas ranch."
Blair met Bush at Crawford in April 2002 and we know from a leaked Cabinet Office memo that Blair said "the UK would support military action to bring about regime change, provided that certain conditions were met". The three conditions were: efforts being made to construct an international coalition, the Arab/Israeli conflict being "quiescent", and the UN weapons inspection route being exhausted. But the precise nature of the understanding between the two men has never been revealed, prompting allegations that Blair made commitments in Texas that contradicted what he was saying in public.
"The real problem, which I did draw several times to the attention of London, was that the contingency military timetable had been decided before the UN inspectors went in under Hans Blix. So you found yourself in a situation in the autumn of 2002 where you could not synchronise the military timetable with the inspection timetable … the result of that was to turn resolution 1441 on its head. Because 1441 had been a challenge to Saddam Hussein, agreed unanimously, to prove his innocence. But because you could not synchronise the programmes … you had to short-circuit the inspection process by finding the notorious smoking gun … and we – the Americans, the British – have never really recovered from that, because, of course, there was no smoking gun."
This was one of the most damning points made by Meyer. After the UN security council unanimously passed resolution 1441 in November 2002, the high point of British efforts to secure an international consensus, Hans Blix's weapons inspectors were admitted back into Iraq. But by that stage the US military was preparing for war in January (although the invasion did not start until March). Blix never had time to complete the inspection process and Meyer implies that the process was therefore something of a charade.
"We could have achieved more by playing a tougher role … if, for example, at Crawford Tony Blair had said: "I want to help you, George, on this but I have to say, in all honesty, that I will not be able to take part in any military operation unless we have palpable progress on the peace process and we have absolute clarity on what happens in Iraq if it comes up." I think that would have changed the nature – it would not have led to a rupture – it would have changed the nature of American planning."
Another damning charge. Meyer said that Britain "failed miserably" to use its influence with Bush to achieve any progress in the Middle East. The allegation that post-invasion planning would have been better if Blair had made more of a fuss is particularly serious. "We underestimated the leverage at our disposal," said Meyer.
"I'm not trying to make a party political point here whatsoever, but quite often I think about this – I think what would Margaret Thatcher have done. And she would have insisted – I take her name in vain, for Pete's sake, I may be struck with a thunderbolt – I think she would have insisted on a coherent political and diplomatic strategy and she would have demanded the greatest clarity about what the heck happened if and when you removed Saddam Hussein."
Meyer's comments about Thatcher will revive suspicions among some Labour figures that he's really a Tory.
The day's key moments
Sir Christopher Meyer revealed that before Tony Blair visited George Bush at Crawford in March 2002, Blair's foreign policy adviser, David Manning, gave Meyer a "chunky set of instructions" that covered Iraq.
Meyer said: "I'm not trying to make a party political point here whatsoever, but quite often I think about this, what would Margaret Thatcher have done … I think she would have insisted on a coherent political and diplomatic strategy and she would have demanded the greatest clarity about what the heck happened if, and when, you removed Saddam Hussein."
1441. That refers to UN security council resolution 1441, the "final warning" passed by the UN in November 2002, saying that Iraq was in breach of previous resolutions relating to WMD and paving the way for the return of weapons inspectors to the country.
It was bad for Blair. Meyer's main complaint was that Blair did not do as much as he could to influence Bush, particularly in relation to the Middle East peace process and post-invasion planning
Friday, November 27, 2009