Friday, November 27, 2009

Former British Diplomat Confirms That U.N. Inspectors Were Means To War With Iraq

On November 24, 2009 England began its third inquiry into the Iraq War, this time headed by John Chilcot. On November 26 Britain’s former ambassador to the United States Christopher Meyer testified. He confirmed what has been reported here before, that the Bush White House had decided upon war before the United Nations weapons inspectors returned to Iraq in November 2002. He told the inquiry, “The U.S. military timetable was already in place before weapons inspectors went in.” Meyer said the original invasion date had been set for January 2003, but was pushed back to March. He believed that the inspectors had no time to complete their work by that date, and instead the U.S. and England turned the process into a means to find evidence of Iraq’s WMD to provide a “smoking gun” to justify the war. Meyer told the inquiry, “It was another way of saying, ‘It’s not that Saddam Hussein has to prove he’s innocent, we’ve now got to bloody well prove he’s guilty.’ And we – Americans and British – have never really recovered from that because of course there was no smoking gun.” England’s former ambassador to the United Nations Sir Jeremy Greenstock agreed that the inspectors never had the time to do their job because the drive for an invasion was so strong in Washington.

Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair had been the original impetus to go to the United Nations and have weapons inspectors return to build support for an invasion. On March 12 and 13, 2002 Blair’s political adviser David Manning met with National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice in Washington where he suggested that inspectors be sent back into Iraq to build a legal base for war, and convince the international community of the U.S. and British’s case against Saddam because it was expected that he would refuse to give them unlimited access to his country. Later, on March 17, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz had lunch with Ambassador Meyer, where he suggested that inspections would be a way to trip up Saddam over WMD, and help justify regime change. In April President Bush met with Blair in Texas, where the Prime Minister again emphasized the need to go the U.N. route if the U.S. wanted British support. Bush finally agreed after Secretary of State Colin Powell lobbied him on the same point during dinner on August 5, 2002.

U.N. Resolution 1441 was eventually passed on November 8, 2002 and weapons inspectors entered Iraq shortly afterward. The U.S. and England saw them as a means to provide a justification for overthrowing Saddam however, rather than a way to disarm Iraq. When the inspectors found breaches of 1441 but no “smoking gun” Bush went ahead with the war anyway as planned in March 2003.

For more on the U.N. inspections see:

The U.N. Inspectors Were Right: Iraq Was Not A Threat

Charles Duelfer’s Account Of The End Of The 1990s U.N. Inspections

How The Administration Reversed Itself On Finding Iraq’s WMD

Interview With VP Dick Cheney On Weapons Inspections March 2003

2002 CIA White Paper On Iraq Vs The 2002-2003 U.N. Inspectors


Brown, David, “Invasion lacked legitimacy, Sir Jeremy Greenstock tells Chilcot inquiry,” Times of London, 11/28/09

Manning, David, “SECRET – STRICTLY PERSONAL,” 3/14/02

Marsden, Sam and Cordon, Gavin, “Iraq invasion was of questionable legitimacy, says envoy,” The Independent, 11/27/09

Melkle, James and Sparrow, Andrew, “Iraq war build-up ‘left us scrabbling for smoking gun’ says ex-UK ambassador,” Guardian, 11/26/09

Meyer, Ambassador Christopher, “CONFIDENTIAL AND PERSONAL,” British Embassy, Washington, 3/18/02

Burrough, Bryan, Peretz, Evgenia, Rose, David and Wise, David, “Path To War,” Vanity Fair, May 2004

RTT News, “British Investigation Into Iraq War Begins,” 11/24/09

Sparrow, Andrew, “Iraq inquiry – live,” Guardian, 11/27/09

Sparrow, Andrew and Melkle, James, “Iraq invasion legitimacy was in doubt, Chilcot inquiry told,” Guardian, 11/27/09

Stobart, Janet, “Blair words on Iraq changed after 2002 visit with Bush, Briton testifies,” Los Angeles Times, 11/27/09


bb said...

In the interests of accuracy, when referring to Resolution 1441, could you in future record that ot was a binding, Chapter V11 SC resolution which gave Iraq a "final opportunity" DEADLINE to comply with all the previous UN resolutions:

To wit:

"2. Decides, while acknowledging paragraph 1 above, to afford Iraq, by this resolution, a FINAL OPPORTUNITY to comply with its disarmament obligations under relevant resolutions of the Council; and accordingly decides to set up an enhanced inspection regime with the aim of bringing to full and verified completion the disarmament process established by resolution 687 (1991) and subsequent resolutions of the Council;

3. Decides that, in order to begin to comply with its disarmament obligations, in addition to submitting the required biannual declarations, the Government of Iraq shall provide to UNMOVIC, the IAEA, and the Council, NOT LATER THAN 30 DAYS FROM THE DATE OF THIS RESOLUTION, a currently accurate, full, and complete declaration of all aspects of its programmes to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other delivery systems such as unmanned aerial vehicles and dispersal systems designed for use on aircraft, including any holdings and precise locations of such weapons, components, sub-components, stocks of agents, and related material and equipment, the locations and work of its research, development and production facilities, as well as all other chemical, biological, and nuclear programmes, including any which it claims are for purposes not related to weapon production or material;"

Could you please point to where the Resolution demands a "smoking gun" ?

Could you also please point to exactly where in Meyer's evidence that he states "UN Inspectors were means to War with Iraq?" as you say in your header?

Or where Meyer states that Tony Blair and President Bush had decided to invade Iraq REGARDLESS of whether or not the UN Inspectors reported that Iraq had complied with UN 1441?

Joel Wing said...


1. You know where the "smoking gun" comment comes from, it's from Meyer's testimony.

Resolutions can be interpreted different ways by the parties involved, and Meyer said that the inspections were about finding some kind of WMD to justify a war because the U.S. had already set the war date as Jan. 03 and then moved it back to March 03.

How else can you interpret his statement about inspections: "It’s not that Saddam Hussein has to prove he’s innocent, we’ve now got to bloody well prove he’s guilty.’ And we – Americans and British – have never really recovered from that because of course there was no smoking gun.”?

2) And so you're saying that the invasion of Iraq was justified because they didn't comply with 1441? Because the inspectors found no evidence of WMD or a nuclear program, and the CIA said that Iraq was not going to use any of those if them had them unless provoked by a U.S. attack, so the whole invasion is just because of non-compliance with the U.N., not because Iraq was any kind of threat.

Joel Wing said...

Blair Political Adviser David Manning memo after meeting with Condoleeza Rice, March 2002:
"- the Un [sic] dimension. The issue of the weapons inspectors must be handled in a way that would persuade European and wider opinion that the US was conscious of the international framework, and the insistence of many countries on the need for a legal base. Renwed refused [sic] by Saddam to accept unfettered inspections would be a powerful argument’"

UK Amb. Christopher Meyer memo after meeting Wolfowiz, March 2002: "But if it wanted to act with partners, there had to be a strategy for building support for military action against Saddam. I then went through the need to wrongnfoot Saddam on the inspectors and the UN SCRs and the critical importance of the MEPP as an integral part of the anti-Saddam strategy."

Amb Meyer to Chilcot inquiry, Nov. 09: "[Bush] in his heart . . . just wanted to get over there and kick Saddam out. In his head . . . he realized he couldn't just do that."

" 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 American military had been given instructions to prepare for war. Initially it was "we want you ready by January". There was a lot of confusion inside the American military establishment about the size of the force, they wanted to bring an army down from Germany and pass it through Turkey. So January was never realistic and in the end it went back to March.

All that said, when you looked at the timetable for the inspections, it was impossible to see how Blix could bring the process to a conclusion, for better or for worse, by March.

So the result of the 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, somehow or other, programme, preparation of war, inspections, you had to short-circuit the inspection process by finding the notorious smoking gun. And suddenly, because of that, the unforgiving nature of the military timetable, we found ourselves scrabbling for the smoking gun, which was another way of saying "it's not that Saddam has to prove that he's innocent, we've now bloody well got to try and prove that he's guilty". And we - the Americans, the British - have never really recovered from that because of course there was no smoking gun."

bb said...

Meyers said, according to LAR report,:

1. "a. " "the U.S. military timetable was already in place before weapons inspectors went in," Meyer asserted,"

Yes, the build up was well known at the time, it being a bit hard to conceal hundreds of thousands of troops and equipment pouring in to Kuwait.

2. "and looking at the timetable of weapons inspections, "it was impossible to see how [former U.N. weapons inspector Hans] Blix could bring the inspection process to a conclusion by March [2003]."

Exactly. Which was why the UNSC resolution demanded that Iraq comply with all its previous 17 resolutions and this time set a deadline well before the projected dates of the possible invasion (Feb or March 2003).

3. "U.N. Resolution 1441 was a challenge to Saddam Hussein to prove his innocence,"

Exactly. The UN Res did not require its inspectors to prove Saddam's guilt.

4" Meyer continued, "but . . . somehow you had to short-circuit the inspection process by finding the notorious smoking gun, and . . . because of the unforgiving process of the military timetable, we found ourselves scrabbling for the smoking gun. . . ."

That's right. The UN set deadline had the inspectors scrabbling around to find "proof" aka "smoking guns" because Saddam was not complying.

Of course, the inspectors would not have had to scrabble if Saddam had complied.

"It was another way of saying, 'It's not that Saddam Hussein has to prove he's innocent, we've now got to bloody well prove he's guilty.'"

Eaxctly. That is what the debate twisted into. But it was not the intention of Res 1441 which clearly required Saddam to "prove his innocence".

That is why there is no reference to a "smoking gun" in the UN resolution!

"And we -- Americans and British -- have never really recovered from that because of course there was no smoking gun."

Right again. But nobody knew for certain there was no smoking gun until after the war.

However, Joel, they WOULD have known if Saddam had complied with the Resolution. And he would still be alive and probably running Iraq today. Oy vey!

In the alternative universe, where Saddam complies by the deadline and Bush and Blair still go to war then you would certainly have grounds for the posts you make on this subject.

For the record, Tony Blair frankly stated on the record after the invasion that his greatest concern was that Saddam would "comply" with the resolution sufficiently for Hans Blix to so report to the UN, which would have stopped all international action, including sanctions, no fly zones etc aimed at his removal. Tony never made a secret of his desire for regime change, but that is a different thing to making the final decision to go to war after one has judged all other options have been exhausted.

bb said...

btw - just to be absolutely clear:

Meyer's statements about "smoking guns" are in no way related to confirming that "UN Inspectors were Means to War with Iraq".

All they are confirming is that, because Saddam did not comply, then UN inspectors were forced to find "proof", which if course they were unable to do without Iraqi disclosure.

Joel Wing said...


"4" Meyer continued, "but . . . somehow you had to short-circuit the inspection process by finding the notorious smoking gun, and . . . because of the unforgiving process of the military timetable, we found ourselves scrabbling for the smoking gun. . . ."

That's right. The UN set deadline had the inspectors scrabbling around to find "proof" aka "smoking guns" because Saddam was not complying.

Of course, the inspectors would not have had to scrabble if Saddam had complied."

I think you're misreading that part. Meyer said it was the military plans to go to war by March 03 that were making the U.S. and the U.K. scramble to find a smoking gun of Iraq's WMD, not the U.N.'s timetable. He referred a couple other times to the immense pressure that they were facing because of the war plans in other parts of his testimony.

The U.N. inspectors were not trying to prove Saddam guilty. They did a pretty good job noting what they found, and commenting on what Iraq was cooperating on and what they weren't. However they were not in control of the situation. The U.S. was. How the U.K. sold the U.S. on the U.N. route and the inspections in the first place back in 2002 which I quoted was that they assumed that Iraq would not comply and that would provide the justification and public support for war. Meyer's comments are the same. They needed to find a smoking gun somehow in the inspectios because the goal was to go to war. That was re-iterated in Meyer's earlier comments when he said Bush just wanted to take Saddam out, but realized he couldn't do that without taking other steps, such as going to the U.N. and having inspectors return.

Joel Wing said...

Again, Meyer is talking about the U.S. and the U.K. needing to find a smoking gun amongst the inspections to provide a rational for the war which was set for March 03. Again, you're either misreading Meyer's statements or trying to twist them to fit your argument. He explicitly says that it is the Americans and British that need the smoking gun, not the inspectors.

bb said...

You are saying that Christopher Meyer, the then Ambassador from the Court of St James to the United States of America, did NOT UNDERSTAND the requirements of UN Resolution 1441 and its deadline?

Don't think so. Pommy diplomats have been wheeling and dealing for CENTURIES in foreign policy before the US of A was ever even thought of.

Meyer is clearly referring to the period after the UN deadline expired when Hans Blix was desperately trying to get Saddam to comply and the clock was ticking to the military invasion that was inevitable if Blix could not make a last minute report that Saddam had finally complied and "proved his innocence."

Again. Tony Blair never made a secret of his desire for regime change. Neither did Bush - as had President Clinton and the US Congress in the late 1990s. None of that is news.

Nor was it ever a secret, after 9/11, that Bush and Blair were prepared to take military action to get regime change - IF IT WAS NECESSARY. That's why they always publicly refused to rule out the military option (just as Obama has done with Iran) and that's why they authorised the military build up and plans for invasion.
The operative phrase being "if it was necessary". There were, at the time, options other than invasion, namely an internal coup against Saddam, or Saddam accepting exile proposals put to him by Saudi Arabia and Libya. These did not eventuate.

btw, would not get too carried away by this British inquiry. As I understand it the terms of reference are to do with process - ie how decisions were arrived at and how they might be bettered in future. The inquiry will be looking at this in the context of the previous 17 UN Resolutions and the history of the imposition of the No-Fly zones and Saddam's attempts to thwart them.

If you look at the inquiry's website you will see that these last two are the first items posted there. Contrary to what seems widespread belief, Bush and Blair's decision to remove the regime by military action if necessary, did not arise overnight but from a sequence of events dating from the 1991 Gulf War and the ceasefire negotiated at the time between the US and Saddam which Saddam very quickly broke.

Joel Wing said...

Again BB, Meyer explicitly says that the U.S. and U.K. were looking for a smoking gun in the inspections to prove Saddam was guilty because the U.S.'s clock for invasion was ticking, not the U.N.'s. Heck, Blix repeatedly said that he needed more time to do his work, but it was the U.S. that was telling him his time was up, again why? Because the date had been set for the invasion to happen in March 03.

Again, here is Meyer's quote. He's talking about the military timetable, not the U.N.'s:

"But because you could not synchronise the programmes, somehow or other, programme, preparation of war, inspections, you had to short-circuit the inspection process by finding the notorious smoking gun. And suddenly, because of that, the unforgiving nature of the military timetable, we found ourselves scrabbling for the smoking gun,"

Joel Wing said...

UK army chief told 'when not if' over Iraq invasion
BBC, 12/8/09

Sir Brian, who led UK forces on the ground in Iraq, said the possibility of military action was first raised with him in May 2002.

He recalled how Gen Franks had told him that "in terms of Iraq, it is not if but when" and that he had learned any offensive could happen in early 2003.

bb said...

Joel, were you selectively quoting from that BBC story? Or did you not read it all? After the headline grabber intro you quoted, the story went on thus: (my emphasis).

"Although Gen Franks said he hoped the UK would contribute troops to any military operation, Sir Brian (Air Chief Marshal Burridge)said this was NEVER ASSUMED. "All participation in planning was WITHOUT COMMITTMENT," he said. "It was ABSOLUTELY CLEAR that the UK HAD A VIEW about the process that NEEDED TO BE GONE THROUGH."

As planning intensified, Sir Brian told the inquiry about the scenarios envisaged in the event of an invasion, ranging from the "immediate collapse" of Saddam Hussein's regime or its gradual disintegration to the possibility of a prolonged siege of Baghdad similar to "Stalingrad". However, he HAD BEEN PREPARED TO STAND THE TROOPS DOWN down at any stage if orders came from London and had not been convinced "UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE" that the invasion would GO AHEAD".
Since the diplomats like Chris Meyers gave their evidence there has been a procession of senior military commanders and senior civil servants in Defense, Foreign Affairs and PM's Department.

So far, without any exception I can detect, they have all testified that from the very beginning (ie the infamous Crawford meeting) UK policy, as directed by Tony Blair, was NO UK committment to join the invasion unless and until there was (a) a multi-lateral force (b) a UN resolution (eventually 1441)(c)a House of Commons Resolution

This portion of the transcript illustrates the point. (Again my emphasis):

My final question for a moment. We
have heard from Lord Boyce,(Chief of the Brit Defence Staff) confirmed by Desmond Bowen, (Director General, Operational Policy, Ministry of Defence)
that the United States, Central Command WAS WAITING TO GET the results of our Parliamentary vote and that our actual participation WAS NOT CONFIRMED UNTIL THE LAST MOMENT, and he would have been quite READY TO STAND YOU DOWN.

"I would be interested first, was that your understanding, and secondly, given what we have just
heard, how would you explain this then to the Americans and what would have been the effect on their ability to move forward as quickly as they did?

BURRIDGE: "First of all, that
was ABSOLUTELY THE CASE. I was in NO WAY CONVINCED way we would do this UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE. If we were not able to participate, they would have had to reorientate
the air campaign to give more integration into their manoeuvre from the air. Their advance would have beens lower and they would have as they did, bypass Baghdad, but one wonders when ...they would have got back to Basra.
But they HAD A PLAN, known as the Generated Start, in any event which saw the Marine Expeditionary Force coming up from the south and punching north and then being reinforced on a single axis by 5 Corps. So they did have a plan to fall back on, but it would have been difficult.

SIR MARTIN GILBERT: Was there discussion between you and
the Americans about the possibility that Britain might
not, at the last moment, be able to participate?

BURRIDGE: YES, I made it
absolutely clear that the way things will be in the UK
is this and there will be a House of Commons vote, the
OUTCOME of that will DEPEND ON whether the Prime Minister agrees that we should participate.
In other words, not only did the US know the UK could not commit until condtion (3) had been fulfilled. Conditions (1 - multi lateral force) and (2) UN Resolution 1441 and Saddam not complying with it having already been fulfilled. The US actually HAD A PLAN for it.

You know, at first thought the BBC was being biased - but it seems you cherry picked the story?

For the real source of info, may I recommend:

Joel Wing said...


talk about getting things twisted. The qoute I last posted was about the AMERICANS who afterall were in charge of the war and Gen Franks said for the US the question wasn't if the US was going to war but when.

you're response is about the British!

Just like the previous quotes which were about the US military timetable you responded about the United Nations over and over.

bb said...

Got misled by all your references to Tony Blair.

Joel, you seem to regularly link to David Manning. So if it is American war policy you are talking about, then the following relevant extracts of David Mannings direct evidence to the Iraq Inquiry may be of interest to you.

On the Crawford meeting in April. First Manning says Iraq was a "very minor" part because it was dominated by other issues, India/Pakistan and Israel/Palestinians.

Bush and Blair have their (infamous) private dinner, and the next morning Bush begins meeting by giving a brief of account of what they discussed re Iraq.

"He (the President) told us that there was no war plan for Iraq, but he had set up a small cell in Central Command in Florida
and he had asked Central Command to do some planning and
to think through the various options. When they had
done that, he would examine these options. " So, Bush has made no war decision then, apparently? Quite the opposite.

July, end of. Manning goes to Washington because the Brits are aware an Iraq policy review has been taking place in US Admin since Crawford - that the President had told them would happen. Despite the military invasion stories running in the US media, Rice has assured the Brits that no decision has been taken.

Manning unexpectedly finds himself one on one in a 1 hour 40 min meeting with Bush, where he is asked to explain in detail the Brit position on the UN, coalition etc.

At the Inquiry, Manning puts this in the context of the US Admin not being monolithic but divided between the regime changers on one hand, the multilateralists on the other and in the center the WH and NSC. Then there is this question to Manning:

BARONESS USHA PRASHAR: Against that background, when did
you conclude that there was a significant likelihood of
large-scale military action by the USA?

SIR DAVID MANNING: Not until much later. It was quite
clear to me that, by this stage, there was a battle for
the President's attention, there were those advocating
an early resort to force, but I concluded, after my
visit to the United States and my conversation with the President, that his mind was not made up."

So, no war decision by end of July either. Instead the President is weighing up the advice he is getting from different quarters.

Sept 7, Bush/Blair meet at Camp David. Cheney is there. Also Manning and Rice. Mannings evidence: "My conclusion at this point was that the President wished to expose the Vice-President to the arguments in favour of going the
UN route." Manning goes on:"The President said on this occasion that if by any chance Saddam accepted and implemented the terms of new resolution, we would have succeeded in changing the very nature of the regime, and in a colourful phrase, which has stayed with me, he said: "We would have cratered the guy." And later:

"I think the Prime Minister left that meeting thinking that there was a real possibility that the President would opt to go back to the United Nations."

No war decision has been made then, either. In fact, Bush is agreeing that Saddam complying would constitute "regime change" in his mind, and he says this in front of Cheney.

Five days later, Sept 12.
Bush addresses the UN and says "We will work with the U.N. Security Council for the necessary resolutions." 1441 was passed a month later.

Joel, it is quite clear from this eye-witness account of the Bush/Blair meetings that there is no evidence whatsoever that Bush and Blair intended to prosecute the war even if Saddam complied with Resolution 1441. The eye witness evidence is quite to the contrary.

Joel Wing said...


Here was the problem with your argument.

The first quote by former ambassador to U.S. Christopher Meyer:

"But because you could not synchronise the programmes, somehow or other, programme, preparation of war, inspections, you had to short-circuit the inspection process by finding the notorious smoking gun. And suddenly, because of that, the unforgiving nature of the military timetable, we found ourselves scrabbling for the smoking gun,"

He's talking about the American military timeline made the inspections useless. The U.S. and U.K. had to find a smoking gun in the inspections to justify the coming war.

Your response was all about the U.N. timeline and inspectors trying to find a smoking gun. You never addressed the quote which was about the U.S. Plus the inspectors did not have a real timeline. Blix during, immediately after, and since the inspections said he needed a year to do his work.

The second quote by Air Chief Sir Brian Burridge:

"He recalled how Gen Franks had told him that "in terms of Iraq, it is not if but when" and that he had learned any offensive could happen in early 2003."

Again, it's about the Americans saying they were committed to going to war. And this conversation happened in May 2002 before the inspections even began.

You responded by talking about the British.

Neither time did you address the issue that both quotes bring up: The U.S. was committed to the war regardless of the inspections.

You also never directly responded to the two Downing Street quotes which had British diplomats trying to sell the inspections to the Americans by saying that it was a way to justify the war.

Joel Wing said...

Blix seems to be of the same mind if you read this article he wrote for the Guardian recently.

Blair sold Iraq on WMD, but only regime change adds up

Hans Blix
Guardian, Monday 14 December 2009

Before the Iraq war was launched in March 2003 the world was given the impression by the US and Britain that the goal was to eradicate weapons of mass destruction. Recent comments by Tony Blair suggest, however, that regime change was the essential aim. He would have thought it right to remove Saddam Hussein even if he had known that there were no WMD, he said, but he would obviously have had to "deploy" different arguments. Must we not conclude that the WMD arguments were "deployed" mainly as the best way of selling the war? Blair's comments do not exclude a strong – but mistaken – belief in the existence of WMD even when the invasion was launched. However, given that hundreds of inspections had found no WMD and important evidence had fallen apart, such a belief would have been based on a lack of critical thinking.

How could the issue of – non-existent – WMD mislead the world for more than 10 years? At the end of the Gulf war in 1991 the UN security council ordered Iraq to declare all WMD and destroy them under international supervision. However, Iraq chose to destroy much material without any inspection, giving rise to suspicions that weapons had been squirrelled away. These were nurtured by the frequent Iraqi refusals throughout the 90s to let UN inspectors enter sites and by evasive and erroneous responses to inspectors' inquiries.

What other reason could there have been than to prevent inspectors getting evidence of existing weapons? It is possible that Saddam wanted to create the – false – impression that he still had WMD. What seems more likely to me, however, was a sense of hurt pride, a wish to defy and the knowledge that some of the inspectors worked directly for western intelligence – perhaps even passed information about suitable military targets.

Joel Wing said...

Only in September 2002, when the US had already moved troops to Kuwait, did Iraq say it was to accept the inspection that the UN demanded. By that time a new US national security strategy declared that it could take armed (pre-emptive or preventive) action without UN authorisation; many in the Bush administration saw UN involvement as a potential impediment.

Many are convinced that the American and UK military plans moved on autopilot, and the inspections were a charade. I am sure that many in the Bush team felt that way. It seems likely that British and American leaders expected that UN inspections would again be obstructed or that Iraqi violation of the draconian new resolution 1441 would persuade the security council to authorise military action to remove the regime. For my part, I tended to think of the war preparations rather as a train moving slowly to the front and helping to make Iraq co-operative. If something removed or reduced the weapons issue, the train, I thought, might stop.

For the UK to join the US on an unpredictable UN line was a gamble – and in the end it failed. Inspections did not turn up any "smoking guns" and gradually undermined some of the evidence that had been invoked. Iraq became more co-operative and showed no defiance that could prompt the authorising of armed force. Thus, while the train of war moved on, the UN path pointed less and less to an authorisation of war.

What could the UK have done to avoid this development? It could have made a condition of its participation in the enterprise that the movement of the military train be synchronised with the movement on the UN path. With inspections just starting in the autumn of 2002 the military train should have moved very slowly. We have heard that Karl Rove had said that the autumn of 2003 was the latest time for invasion. Why so fast then in 2002? As the then German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, said: what was the sense of demanding UN inspections for two and a half years and then let them work only for a few months? Of course, if regime change – and not WMD – was the main aim, the steady speed becomes logical.

Joel Wing said...

The responsibility for launching the war must be judged against the knowledge that the allies had when they actually started it. The UK should have recognised that no smoking gun had been found at any time, and that in the months before the invasion evidence of WMD was beginning to unravel. As we have heard recently: out of 19 Iraqi sites suspected by the UK – and suggested to the UN monitoring, verification and inspection commission for inspection (Unmovic) – 10 were actually inspected, and while "interesting", none turned up any WMD. This warning that sources were not reliable seems to have been ignored. Intelligence organisations seem to have been 100% convinced of the existence of WMD but to have had 0% knowledge where they were. Worse still: the uranium contract between Iraq and Niger that George Bush had given prominence in his 2002 state of the union message was found by the International Atomic Energy Agency to be a forgery.

The absence of convincing evidence of WMD did not stop the train to war. It arrived at the front before the weather got too hot and the soldiers got impatient waiting for action. The factual reports of the IAEA and Unmovic did, however, have the result that a majority on the security council wanted more inspections and were unconvinced about the existence of WMD.

At the end the UK tried desperately to get some kind of authorisation from the security council as a legal basis for armed action – but failed. Confirming the fears of Dick Cheney, President Bush's vice-president, the UN and inspections became an impediment – not to armed action, but to legitimacy.

Unlike the US, the UK and perhaps other members of the alliance were not ready to claim a right to preventive war against Iraq regardless of security council authorisation. In these circumstances they developed and advanced the argument that the war was authorised by the council under a series of earlier resolutions. As Condoleezza Rice put it, the alliance action "upheld the authority of the council". It was irrelevant to this argument that China, France, Germany and Russia explicitly opposed the action and that a majority on the council declined to give the requested green light for the armed action. If hypocrisy is the compliment that virtue pays to vice then strained legal arguments are the compliments that violators of UN rules pay to the UN charter.

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