Section 3.1 of the Chilcot Report covers the British dealing with the aftermath of 9/11 and the Bush administration’s decision to go to war with Iraq. The Blair government naively believed that it could maintain its policy since the 1990s of containing Saddam via sanctions and demanding that U.N. weapons inspectors return. The Prime Minister’s decision to stand by President Bush however meant that he eventually agreed to use force against Iraq if everything else failed. That was England’s first step towards war.
PM Tony Blair was still hanging onto the hope of maintaining his containment policy against Iraq after 9/11, but he finally changed his mind. The prime minister was more concerned about terrorists getting WMD after the attack. In March 2002 for instance Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that Iraq was a threat that needed to be dealt with. The UK’s response however was to continue to push for smart sanctions, which it had been doing before September, and for a new inspection regime. Blair then added that if that didn’t work he would consider war. This was a consistent failure at Downing Street. Since the end of the 1990s London had realized that outside of the United States, no one else really supported continued containment of Iraq. 9/11 happened and the UK immediately heard that there were powerful elements in Washington pushing for war with Iraq. Blair’s response was to stay the course even though now he was even losing the United States’ backing for his strategy. By the start of 2002 he was finally considering taking military action, again all because of the Bush administration.
Blair took his ideas to the U.S. and ended up aligning with President Bush even more. In March 2002 Blair told Vice President Dick Cheney that he would support any U.S. effort to remove Saddam, but that required a good strategy to build up a case against Iraq. Blair argued that could be accomplished with inspections and new U.N. resolutions. Then in April Blair and Bush met in Crawford, Texas. Blair again pushed returning inspectors to Iraq, but if that failed he was willing to use force against Iraq. The two then discussed regime change and what that might mean in a post-Saddam Iraq. The problem was Blair’s advisers had been telling him for months that elements in the White House were thinking of regime change, and that now included the president. They even told him that if the U.S. backed inspectors they would set such high standards that Iraq would never be able to comply, and then Washington would use that to justify war. They also believed that Saddam would use a return to the United Nations to draw out talks to delay any serious action. Blair’s response was that he could get the U.S. to follow his policy. Again, the prime minister seemed to be in denial about what was happening. Rather than moderating America, Blair ended up following Bush’s lead. Many of the premier’s advisers believed that the Crawford meeting was where Blair fully aligned with Bush and his war agenda, although the PM would deny that.
France was also worried about America’s move towards war. Paris wasn’t opposed to taking military action against Saddam per se, but wanted to set conditions. It was worried that the war might lead to more terrorism. In February 2002 French and British officials met on the topic. The French said that they were sure that the U.S. would go to war by the end of the year and were afraid that an invasion would lead to chaos in Iraq, create a vacuum, divide Iraqi society and create instability in the Middle East. France thought U.N. inspectors might be a way to defuse the situation if they could disarm Iraq. At the same time they didn’t have faith that Washington cared about new inspections and would use force no matter what. The British responded that they were going to formulate a policy with the Americans, and would address these issues. In the end, France was more realistic about the Bush administration’s stance and the possible consequences than England was.
This period marked when England finally gave up on containment and would go with the United States and war. London still believed that it could use its old policies to shape the Bush administration. Therefore it still pushed the United Nations and inspections, but now they believed that was a way to justify regime change. The difference was London really believed in the U.N., and the U.S. did not. That would lead the UK into a junior partnership with America instead of a true partner because Blair backed Bush no matter what.
The Iraq Inquiry, “The Report of the Iraq Inquiry,” 7/6/16
PREVIOUS CHILCOT REPORTS
Chilcot Report Section 3.1 Development of UK Strategy and Options On Iraq, 9/11 to Early January 2002