Section 1.2 of the Chilcot Report discussed the difficulties the United Kingdom ran into trying to maintain its containment policy on Iraq. First, the international community and Arab states were losing interesting in Iraq, so it was more difficult to maintain sanctions against it. Second, elements in the new Bush administration were talking about removing Saddam as soon as they entered office. Despite that, London mistakenly believed that it could continue with its Iraq strategy.
At the start of the 2000s England saw Iraq as an outlaw state. London believed that Iraq still had WMD and a nuclear program despite United Nations weapons inspectors and in violation of U.N. resolutions. UK intelligence reports on Iraq became even more alarmist about Iraq’s intent on maintaining its weapons programs. As a result, the Blair government believed that Saddam Hussein was still a threat to the Middle East. In fact, Iraq had destroyed all its stockpiles and ended hopes of restarting its programs because it thought that U.N. sanctions would never end. Because it had done this in secret however and stopped cooperating with inspectors in 1998, the British thought that Iraq was still trouble. This miscalculation was shared by Washington and would lead to the 2003 invasion.
England still thought that the United Nations was the way to deal with Iraq, but the situation had dramatically changed. France, Russia, and China permanent members of the Security Council no longer believed in containment of Iraq and wanted to end sanctions. There were other members of the Council that were concerned about the humanitarian effects of the sanctions on Iraq and didn’t see the country as a threat. Finally, there was little support in the Middle East for sanctions either. International opinion had partly changed due to an intense propaganda campaign by Baghdad that emphasized dying and malnourished children. The fact that Iraq’s Arab neighbors wanted to end sanctions and didn’t have problems with Iraq contradicted a basic tenet of UK and US policy that Saddam was a regional threat.
Despite opposition in the United Nations, the Blair government was still committed to containment. A May 1999 review for example argued that bottling up Saddam was the only viable policy to follow. The next year another paper said that containment was failing, and support for sanctions was dropping as well. Saddam was manipulating the Oil for Food program to bring in money, there were no more weapons inspections, and Iraqi propaganda about the sufferings of the Iraqi people was working in the west. The only option London could think of was smart sanctions that would only focus upon military related materials. A separate document called for England to offer an end to restrictions on Iraq’s trade if it allowed inspectors back and they were able to confirm that Baghdad had gotten rid of its weapons programs. The problem was Saddam was feeling no pressure to cooperate with the west. England was realizing that the world was changing. Its original Iraq policy was forged almost a decade ago after the Gulf War, and now many countries had different opinions. PM Blair’s response was to push ahead with his strategy despite little chance of success.
The new Bush administration threw another monkey wrench into the UK’s plans. From 2000-2001 a number of British officials met with the new White House including a Bush-Blair summit in the United States. Initially, Washington said that Iraq was a low priority and it was in the process of reviewing its stance. As early as December 2000 however, British diplomats were reporting that there was talk of regime change in Iraq. When Foreign Secretary Robin Cook went to the U.S. in February 2001, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz said that they wanted Saddam gone, and no longer believed in inspections or sanctions. Secretary of State Colin Powell however, said he would work with London on a new sanctions regime in the United Nations. When PM Blair visited the U.S. he came away believing that he and Bush were on the same page. London was receiving different messages from different American officials because the administration had no Iraq policy at the time. As former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neil told journalist Ron Suskind in The Price of Loyalty the White House was going through all kinds of options for Iraq from smart sanctions to military options to supporting Iraqi exiles to regime change. Before 9/11 Bush simply told each agency to come up with its own policies while things were under review. That process was not finished before the terrorist attacks. Again, London responded by deciding that it had to convince the administration of its policy of new sanctions and returning weapons inspectors even though it knew that was opposed by powerful members of the White House.
The Blair administration entered the 2000s with its Iraq policy adrift. It wanted to maintain the same strategy of containment and getting the U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq it had in the 1990s. The problem was the international community had turned against England’s stance. There was a new government in the White House as well, and it had not figured out what it wanted to do about Iraq. London believed that Washington was still with it even though that wasn’t true of all the administration officials. Things would change even more after 9/11 and PM Blair would continue to believe that he could maintain his Iraq policy.
The Iraq Inquiry, “The Report of the Iraq Inquiry,” 7/6/16
Suskind, Ron, The Price of Loyalty, Free Press: New York, London, Sydney, 2004