'I will be with you, whatever' - highlights of Tony Blair's July 2002 memo to George W Bush

Posted On: 
6th July 2016

Read the key extracts from Tony Blair's memo to George W Bush about options for invading Iraq.

PLEDGING SUPPORT

I will be with you, whatever. But this is the moment to assess bluntly the difficulties. The planning on this and the strategy are the toughest yet. This is not Kosovo. This is not Afghanistan. It is not even the Gulf War.

Tony Blair's response to the Chilcot Report

Chilcot delivers damning verdict on Tony Blair's decision to invade Iraq

Sir John Chilcot's full statement on the Iraq Inquiry

The military part of this Is hazardous but I will concentrate mainly on the political context for success.

Getting rid of Saddam is the right thing to do. He is a potential threat. He could be contained. But containment, as we found with Al Qaida, is always risky. His departure would free up the region. And his regime is probably, with the possible exception of North Korea, the most brutal and inhumane in the world.

The first question is  in removing him, do you want/need a coalition? The US could do it alone, with UK support.

POTENTIAL CONSEQUENCES

The danger is, as ever with these things, unintended consequences. Suppose it got militarily tricky. Suppose Iraq suffered unexpected civilian casualties. Suppose the Arab street finally erupted, eg in REDACTED.

Suppose Saddam felt sufficiently politically strong, if militarily weak in conventional terms, to let off WMD. Suppose that, without any coalition, the Iraqis feel ambivalent about being invaded and real Iraqis, not Saddam’s special guard, decide to offer resistance. Suppose, at least, that any difficulties, without a coalition, are magnified and seized upon by a hostile international opinion.

If we win quickly, everyone will be our friend. If we don’t and they haven’t been bound in beforehand, recriminations will start fast.

None of these things might happen. But they might, singly or in combination.

And there is on other point. We will need to commit to Iraq for the long term. Bedding down a new regime will take time. So, without support, the possibility of unintended consequences will persist through and beyond the military phase.

So, I’m keen on a coalition, not necessarily military but politically.

BUILDING A COALITION

In my opinion, neither the Germans or the French, and most probably not the Italians or Spanish either, would support us without specific UN authority. Again, they express this by saying ‘yes’ and the adding the rider. But the rider is real. Stoiber might be different from Schroeder, but again I doubt it. In fact, if we launched it in exactly the same state as we are now, there is a chance the French would actively oppose us and start to create real waves inside the EU...

And – and here is my real point – public opinion is public opinion. And opinion in the US is quite simply on a different planet from opinion here, in Europe or in the Arab world.

In Britain, right now I couldn’t be sure of support from Parliament, Party, public or even some of the Cabinet. And this is Britain. In Europe generally, people just don’t have the same sense of urgency post 9/11 as people in the US; they suspect – and are told by populist politicians – that it’s all to do with 43 settling the score with the enemy of 41; and various other extraneous issues like steel etc have soured the atmosphere a little.

At the moment, oddly , our best ally might be Russia!

‘A Strategy for Achieving a Coalition’

  1. The UN

We don’t want to be mucked around by Saddam over this, and the danger is he drags us into negotiation. But we need, as with Afghanistan and the ultimatum to the Taleban, to encapsulate our casus belli in some defining way. This is certainly the simplest. We could, in October as the build-up starts, state that he must let the inspectors back in unconditionally and do so now, ie set a 7-day deadline. It might be backed by a UNSCR or not, depending on what support there was (and I’m not sure anyone, at present, would veto it if Russia was on board). There would be no negotiation. There would be no new talks with Annan. It would be: take it or leave it.

I know there will be reluctance on this. But it would neutralise opposition around the UN issue. If he di say yes, we continue the build-up and we send teams over and the moment he obstructs, we say: he’s back to his games. That’s it. In any event, he probably would screw it up and not meet the deadline, and if he came forward after the deadline, we would just refuse to deal.

  1. The evidence

Again, I been told the US thinks this unnecessary. Btu we still need to make the case. If we recapitulate all the WMD evidence; add his attempts to secure nuclear capability and, as seems possible, add on Al Qaida link, it will be hugely persuasive over here. Plus, of course, the abhorrent nature of the regime. It could be done simultaneously with the deadline.

POST-CONFLICT PLAN

Suppose we were able to say as follows. Regime change is vital and, in the first instance, it must be one that protects Iraq’s territorial integrity and provides stability; and hence might involve another key military figure. But it should lead in time to a democratic Iraq governed by the people. This would be very powerful. I need advice on whether it’s feasible. But just swapping one dictator for another seems inconsistent with our values.

AFGHANISTAN

We need this to be going right, not wrong. It is our one act of regime change so far, so it had better be a good advertisement. My hunch is it needs renewed focus and effort.

MILITARY PLAN

Finally, obviously, we must have a workable military plan. I don’t know the details yet, so this is at first blush. The two options are running start and generated start.

The first has the advantage of surprise, the second of overwhelming force. My military tell me the risks of heavy losses on the running start make it very risky. Apparently it involves around 15-20,000 troops striking inside Iraq, with heavy air support.

On timing, we could start building up after the break. A strike date could be Jan/Feb next year. But the crucial issue not when, but how.