The long-awaited, 2.6 million word report into the UK’s involvement in the Iraq War was published Wednesday.
Among the report’s main conclusions (pdf) was that the US-led invasion in 2003 was not a “last resort.” Particular criticism is leveled at then-prime minister Tony Blair, who “overestimated his ability to influence US decisions on Iraq.”
Tracing the decisions that led to the UK joining the war, the report highlights a memo written by Blair to former US president George W. Bush on July 28 2002 (pdf). In the note, Blair makes the case for a coalition and a “workable military plan,” assuring Bush that he would be with him “whatever”:
I will be with you, whatever. But this is not the moment to assess bluntly the difficulties. The planning on this and the strategy are the toughest yet. This is not Kosovo. This is not Afghanistan. It is not even the Gulf War.
The military part of this is hazardous but I will concentrate mainly on the political context for success.
Getting rid of Saddam is the right thing to do. He is a potential threat. He could be contained. But containment, as we found with Al Qaida, is always risky. His departure would free up the region. And his regime is probably, with the possible exception of North Korea, the most brutal and inhumane in the world.
Blair goes on to note the possible “unintended consequences” of removing Saddam Hussein. Other European countries were reluctant to back an invasion “without specific UN authority,” he notes, except for one unlikely ally:
And—here is my real point—public opinion is public opinion. And opinion in the US is quite simply on a different planet from opinion here, in Europe or in the Arab world.
In Britain, right now I couldn’t be sure of support from Parliament, Party, public or even some of the Cabinet. And this is Britain. In Europe generally, people just don’t have the same sense of urgency post 9/11 as people in the US…
At the moment, oddly, our best ally might be Russia!
Blair suggests that emphasizing “WMD evidence; [Hussein’s] attempts to secure nuclear capability; and, as seems possible, add on Al Qaida link” would be “hugely persuasive over here.” Indeed, in a memo to his chief of staff a few months earlier (pdf), Blair fretted about the difficulties of “the persuasion job” at home and abroad:
… people believe we are only doing it to support the US; and they are only doing it to settle an old-score. And the immediate WMD problems don’t seem obviously worse than 3 years ago.
Issuing a statement after the release of the report this week, Blair said he would take “full responsibility for any mistakes”:
The report should lay to rest allegations of bad faith, lies or deceit. Whether people agree or disagree with my decision to take military action against Saddam Hussein; I took it in good faith and in what I believed to be the best interests of the country.