Thursday, June 13, 2019

Chilcot Report Section 3.4 Development of UK Iraq Strategy and Options, Late July to 14 September 2002

Section 3.4 of the Chilcot Report focuses upon Prime Minister Tony Blair’s only victory in the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. That was when he convinced President Bush to go to the United Nations to get resolutions against Iraq that would help build a popular and legal case for war. Even then, there were questions whether this path would be successful.

At the end of the summer of 2002 the Blair government was receiving more reports that the United States was marching towards war with Iraq. On July 23 for instance, Prime Minister Blair was told by the Defense Ministry that the U.S. military was deep into its invasion planning, but that there was hardly anything on the postwar period. On August 12, Defense said that Bush had authorized his armed forces to prepare for action against Iraq. Three days later, the deputy head of the British embassy in Washington wrote that the White House was talking about when war would start, not if it would happen. Early on Downing Street had been informed that the Americans were intent upon war to remove Saddam Hussein. Blair’s response was that he would stand with Washington, and that would give him influence over strategy. One of his main goals was to convince Bush to go to the United Nations which would give not only a legal basis for war, but help convince British public opinion and the world the necessity for such action.

By August 2002, Blair had won over Bush to go the U.N. route. On August 29, the two leaders talked about weapons inspectors in Iraq. Blair believed that Saddam would never follow through with a new round of investigations and that would give the justification for war. On August 30, Blair decided that London’s number one priority was to get a new U.N. resolution that would give Iraq an ultimatum: accept a new inspection regime or face the consequences. In September, Blair talked to the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Anan, and the head weapons inspector Hans Blix about his plans and they agreed. The prime minister than went to the United States, and he and the president agreed on two resolutions in the U.N., one would be for inspections, and the other for if Saddam didn’t follow through. That led to Bush’s speech to the General Assembly on September 12 where he laid out the threat Iraq posed to the world, and that the United Nations had to act. This was Blair’s only victory in his almost decade long involvement in the Iraq war. It was a big success because there were major voices within the White House such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who had no faith in the international body or the need to build up a legal case against Saddam. They thought the U.S. could accuse Iraq of ties to terrorism and possessing weapons of mass destruction and then invade. Winning over Bush then, was a big change in America’s stance.

There were immediate questions of whether the U.N. route would work. On September 3, Sir Jeremy Greenstock the UK representative to the U.N. warned that the body did not believe in using force against Iraq. The next day, the Foreign Office sent a memo agreeing with Greenstock that it would be very hard getting any U.N. resolution passed that set an ultimatum on Iraq. Other members of the Security Council confirmed that. On September 6, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin told Bush he was open to new inspections, but he opposed military action. Three days later a New York Times interview with France’s President Jacques Chirac was published where he said he did not support regime change in Iraq. Finally, on September 12, France’s Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said that Paris was behind a new U.N. resolution but it would be up to the Security Council to decide on whether Iraq complied or not. Blair and Bush believed that Iraq would not come clean about its weapons programs, and that inspections would therefore provide the excuse to invade. France and Russia let it be known that they would not back that, and therefore another U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq would never get passed. Blair seemed to ignore this news and believed that he and the president could win the day and win over other countries. That never happened so the prime minister’s one and only victory on the Iraq war proved to be pyrrhic. Blair spent a huge amount of political capital in Washington and then in New York, and would fail to get international sanction for war as he hoped for.

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