Blair may have ‘signed in blood’ to topple Saddam a year before war
Tony Blair and President Bush might have secretly “signed in blood” a deal to
overthrow Saddam Hussein a year before ordering the Iraq war, according to a
former senior diplomat.
Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain’s Ambassador to Washington in the run-up to the
war, said an agreement to aim for “regime change” may have been reached
during a private meeting at the President’s Crawford ranch in April 2002.
He also said that, in his view, Baroness Thatcher would have had a clearer
grip on Britain’s policy towards Iraq. Giving evidence on the third day of
the Chilcot inquiry into the war yesterday, he criticised Mr Blair’s failure
to defend Britain’s national interest and to insist on much tougher
conditions for his support for the US-led invasion in March 2003.
Sir Christopher said the decision to overthrow Saddam had been taken in the
absence of advisers by Mr Blair and President Bush during a meeting at the
Texas ranch. Afterwards, Mr Blair referred to “regime change” in Iraq for
the first time.
“To this day I am not entirely clear what degree of convergence was, if you
like, signed in blood at the Crawford ranch.” he said. “They weren’t there
to talk about containment or strengthening sanctions.”
Sir Christopher said that Mr Blair would have been more influential if he had
attached more conditions to British support. “I think that would have
changed the nature of American planning,” he said. “By the time you get to
the end of the year it’s too late. I did say to London that we were being
taken for granted.”
Once the US miliary had started planning its strategy for an invasion in the
spring of 2003, it was impossible to delay, even though the diplomatic work
for a possible peaceful solution had not finished, he told the inquiry.
Sir Christopher said that he was “not making a party political point”, but
Lady Thatcher had been much tougher on the “special relationship” with the
Americans. He expressed frustration over the failure of the allies to agree
a diplomatic strategy to overthrow Saddam or to prepare properly for
victory, which would have prevented the country’s descent into chaos.
“Quite often I think what would Margaret Thatcher have done,” Sir Christopher
told the inquiry. “I think she would have insisted on a clear, coherent
political-diplomatic strategy. I think she would have demanded the greatest
clarity about what the heck happened if, and when, we removed Saddam
Even though refusing to send troops to Iraq would not have damaged British
interests in America, said Sir Christopher, he could not envisage Mr Blair
following the example of Harold Wilson, who refused to send British forces
“I couldn’t conceive that Prime Minister Blair . . . would have done a Harold
Wilson,” he said, “I can’t image in period post 9/11 that Tony Blair, like
Harold Wilson, would put distance between himself and the White House.” Sir
Christopher, Ambassador to Washington from 1997 to 2003, also compared John
Prescott unfavourably with Dick Cheney, the American Vice-President.
“I remember saying to London ‘This may be the most powerful Vice-President
ever’. I mean, his institutional opposite number was the Deputy Prime
Minister,” said Sir Christopher. “This was an unbalanced relationship and
probably didn’t reap the dividends that we might have expected.”
Sir Christopher said that the political strategy should have delayed the
invasion until the autumn of 2003. But the “contingency military timetable”
had been decided even before the UN inspectors went into Iraq to search for
weapons of mass destruction.
His words will draw comparisons to suggestions by some historians that the
start of the First World War was decided partly as a result of Germany’s
need to prepare its railway timetables for troop movements.
Although President Bush agreed to wait for the UN to pass resolution 1441 on
Iraqi disarmament and send Hans Blix to make inspections, there was no time
to come up with the evidence required before the scheduled start of the
invasion, said Sir Christopher.
“You found yourself in a situation in the autumn of 2002 where you could not
synchronise the military timetable with the inspection timetable,” he said.
“We found ourselves scrabbling around for the smoking gun. And we — the
Americans, the British — have never really recovered from that because, of
course, there was no smoking gun. The key problem was to let the military
strategy wag the political and diplomatic strategy. It should have been the
other way round.”
Sir Christopher expressed frustration that Britain was unable to gain much
diplomatic leverage from its position as America’s chief ally.
“I said to London the key thing now, quite apart from Iraq, is to translate
this popularity into real achievement, which benefits the national interest.”
But Britain failed to persuade America to liberalise transatlantic air travel
and, almost on the day when British commandos joined the fighting in
Afghanistan, the US imposed tariffs on imports of specialised British steel.
The inquiry will continue today with evidence from Sir Jeremy Greenstock,
Britain’s Ambassador to the UN at the time of the invasion.