Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Chilcot Report Volume 2 Section 3.3 Development of UK Iraq Strategy and Options, April to July 2002

Section 3.3 of the Chilcot Report covers the spring-summer of 2002 after Prime Minister Tony Blair told President Bush that the United Kingdom would work with the U.S. against Saddam. England was trying to set out a plan of action that the two countries could follow including going to the United Nations and creating an overall strategy. London believed that if the U.S. was going to war with Iraq, it should take part and that meant it would have a say.

After Blair and Bush met in Texas in April 2002 the UK confirmed its support for military action against Iraq and began lobbying Washington. For example on May 8 Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told Secretary of State Colin Powell that England would stand with the U.S. On May 17 Blair’s foreign policy adviser David Manning went to Washington and told National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that they had to get weapons inspections back into Iraq to get public support for any war. Blair believed that a new U.N. resolution on Iraq was important not only for his own country but to win international support. It was also necessary to provide a legal basis for war. This was the tradeoff he was offering, England would commit forces to any war and the U.S. would agree to use the United Nations. This would turn out to be the only victory for London in its effort to influence the Americans.

While England made this pledge it was also very worried about Washington’s plans. Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon and various officials from his ministry warned the government that the U.S. was in advanced stages of its invasion plan by the summer of 2002 but had no strategy behind it. For example there was no idea of what kind of end state it wanted in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam. The UK believed it had to come up with a political plan for Iraq as a result, and convince the U.S. to back it. The British were right, the U.S. was charging into war with no real vision. It had unrealistic beliefs that everything would be great after the war because the Iraqis would welcome them as liberators, the Iraqi government would still be functioning, and that it could therefore leave quickly. At the same time, President Bush argued that the U.S. would create a democracy after Saddam, something that would obviously take a long time commitment. Those two opposing views were never reconciled and it appeared no one cared in Washington. Ironically, the British never came up with their own plan despite these misgivings leaving everything to the Americans despite the fact that London knew the U.S. was lacking in this department.

In July the Blair government was again warned about the shortcomings in Washington. On July 23 Blair met with his national security staff. Joint Intelligence Committee Chairman John Scarlett said that Bush wanted to remove Saddam based upon terrorism and WMD, and that intelligence was being fixed to justify regime change. Scarlett also noted that the National Security Council did not believe in going to the U.N. about Iraq. Attorney General Peter Lord Goldsmith warned that wanting to get rid of Saddam did not provide legal justification for war under international law. Blair argued that removing Saddam and getting rid of his WMD were linked. This conversation was later released to the public as the Downing Street memo. Blair responded by sending a letter to Bush that the two countries had to go to the United Nations to make its case against Iraq. London eventually convinced Washington of this, resulting in a new U.N. resolution on Iraq demanding weapons inspections at the end of 2002.

From the spring to summer 2002 the Blair government must have felt that it’s Iraq strategy was succeeding. It was being informed about thinking going on in Washington and the differences between the two countries. London would not budge on the United Nations. Inexplicably it was indifferent about the fact that the Bush government had no plans for the day after Saddam. Despite various warnings, Blair never made this a major issue. He seemed to be more focused upon the immediate situation of finding a legal justification for the war, rather than what the war would mean and could its aftermath be pulled off. This short sightedness would prove to haunt both the Blair and Bush administrations in the long run.


The Iraq Inquiry, “The Report of the Iraq Inquiry,” 7/6/16

Mazarr, Michael, Leap of Faith, Hubris, Negligence, and America’s Greatest Foreign Policy Tragedy, New York: Public Affairs, 2019

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