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Tomorrow's UK Guardian/Observer reports that George Bush and Tony Blair reached a personal accord nine days after 9/11 to go to war in Iraq, in a story that's bound to have electoral impact on both sides of the Atlantic:
According to Sir Christopher Meyer, the former British Ambassador to Washington, who was at the dinner when Blair became the first foreign leader to visit America after 11 September, Blair told Bush he should not get distracted from the war on terror's initial goal - dealing with the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Bush, claims Meyer, replied by saying: 'I agree with you, Tony. We must deal with this first. But when we have dealt with Afghanistan, we must come back to Iraq.' Regime change was already US policy.
It was clear, Meyer says, 'that when we did come back to Iraq it wouldn't be to discuss smarter sanctions'. Elsewhere in his interview, Meyer says Blair always believed it was unlikely that Saddam would be removed from power or give up his weapons of mass destruction without a war.
Faced with this prospect of a further war, he adds, Blair 'said nothing to demur'.
Vanity Fair will publish the entire interview in a 25,000-word feature article on the Iraq war in the May issue, and this testimony will make some headlines in the US. However, as many of us have been saying since that same time frame, the Iraq war was a necessary and logical choice for the second front in the war on terror, for myriad reasons. Chiefly, the decade-long quagmire in Iraq had damaged the West's credibility in dealing with obvious security threats such as Saddam, and that standoff kept a large amount of our armed forces pinned down in the failing campaign for containment. Not only that, but since most of those forces were based in Saudi Arabia, they provided a continuing provocation for terrorists and threatened the stability of the Saudi government. That's not even considering the intelligence that informed Western governments of Saddam's WMD arsenal and capacity and the connections between Saddam and terrorists in Palestine and other areas, or the strategic reasons behing eliminating the largest military threat in the region at the advent of the war on terror.
Bush will be able to deflect criticism by reminding people that the official US policy towards Iraq was regime change, a policy mandated by Congress in 1998, and that the terror attacks on 9/11 forced him to make that policy goal a high priority. In the aftermath of the Clarke debate, where even Democrat Bob Kerrey wondered aloud why we didn't just invade Afghanistan before 2001 if we knew al-Qaeda based itself there, it's hard to question why Bush considered action against Iraq to be such a high priority. Blair, on the other hand, may have a lot more trouble explaining his agreement to Bush's plan, mostly because he allowed people to believe that he was a late convert to the plan. It wasn't the only mistake Blair made, either.
It was no secret that the impetus for the Bush administration's return to the UN to seek that elusive 17th resolution explicitly authorizing the use of force was a combination of Tony Blair and a reluctant Congress. However, Vanity Fair's article will reveal that France tried to stop the Anglo-American initiative -- in order to avoid the breach that developed:
Vanity Fair also discloses that on 13 January, at a lunch around the mahogany table in Rice's White House office, President Chirac's top adviser, Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, and his Washington ambassador, Jean-David Levitte, made the US an offer it should have accepted. In the hope of avoiding an open breach between the two countries, they said that, if America was determined to go to war, it should not seek a second resolution, that the previous autumn's Resolution 1441 arguably provided sufficient legal cover, and that France would keep quiet if the administration went ahead.
But Bush had already promised Blair he would seek a second resolution and Blair feared he might lose Parliament's support without it. Meanwhile, the Foreign Office legal department was telling him that without a second resolution war would be illegal, a view that Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General, seemed to share at that stage. When the White House sought Blair's opinion on the French overture, he balked.
And so it turns out, if this report is correct, that the French offered the Americans and the Brits a way to allow France to avoid any responsibility for the war -- and if accepted, France would not have blocked the Coalition's plans. Whether the French were sincere may be another question, as the French would renege on another verbal understanding with Powell and Bush in the days just after this incident. However, Blair's refusal to play along -- remaining more concerned with the "legal" justifications -- make him look a lot more Clintonesque than previously thought. At the same time, the Democrats in Congress pressured Bush to go back the UN one more time before taking action, and the combined fecklessness of Blair and Congress doomed the alliance.
If this report turns out to be true, you can expect it to be nothing more than a blip on the American electoral scene. As the Clarke testimony proved, Americans have already processed the Iraq war and are more interested in policy moving forward than in rehashing the decision-making process, and besides, Bush never hid his desire to comply with Congress' policy of regime change. Blair's been a bit too smart for his own good, and this revelation may wind up proving him to truly be the heir to David Lloyd-George, who won the war and wound up being chased out of office.Sphere It View blog reactions
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