On 18th October, the Mail on Sunday published a leaked memo, first sent in preparation for the infamous meeting held between George W. Bush and Tony Blair at the former president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas in April 2002. The document, sent to Bush by the then US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, consists of only nine pages, but nonetheless makes an interesting read, and is of special interest for those opponents of the Iraq war who would like to see Blair stand trial for war crimes. As such, the fact that the correspondence has been leaked could be viewed as a victory of sorts, particularly when considered alongside the well-known attempts by the Blair administration to blockade the Chilcot inquiry, and the reluctance of US officials to divulge documents such as these. That said, I still remain sceptical that any victory has occurred.
The Crawford meeting itself recently resurfaced in the political dialogue when Jeremy Corbyn raised the issue on Newsnight, posing the question, “What happened in Crawford… in 2002 in [Blair’s] private meetings with George Bush?” Now, at least we know exactly where the two leaders stood, politically speaking, in the days before the meeting. The memo, which has been said to contain information very damaging to Blair’s cause, shows that the Bush/Blair alliance was set for war with Saddam Hussein’s regime before democratic proceedings had concluded, and regardless of any UN backing.
Whilst not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I must confess that I initially, out of cynicism or naïvety, thought the memo could have been leaked to alleviate the pressure being applied in the UK to see a conclusion to the Chilcot inquiry. If so, opponents of the Iraq war should not be so quick to celebrate. The file might help the Chilcot report to reach a satisfactory conclusion, but we should not stop our attempts to get to the bottom of what went on behind closed doors to gain support for military intervention in Middle Eastern affairs. Certainly, we should not be rushing the Chilcot inquiry; our aim should be to discover the truth of what happened, and if that involves waiting for more leaked and declassified US documents, then that’s what we need to do, in order that we know exactly who to pressure.
The memo directly contradicts Blair’s publically held view that diplomatic solutions to the problem of Saddam Hussain were still possible. To quote the file: “Blair continues to stand by you and the US as we move forward on the war on terror and on Iraq.” In light of this, Blair’s recent pseudo-apology for having acted upon false intelligence about the nature of Saddam Hussain’s arsenal seems redundant. He said, “I apologise for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong… I also apologise for some of the mistakes in planning, and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen when [we] removed the regime”. The intelligence was never questioned, although he used it extensively and almost exclusively when attempting to secure public backing.
The motive, therefore, appears to have been elsewhere -which is, of course, the primary accusation that Blair faces. The memo also stated: “[Blair] is convinced on two points: the threat is real; and the success against Saddam will yield more regional success”. Since we may well conclude with hindsight that the threat was not, in fact, real, and furthermore that it was supported by the UN, we must look more seriously at the second point, which, as it is articulated in the above excerpt, is rather vague, and comes across as profoundly sinister. We know that the measure of success against Saddam Hussain was to be measured in death tolls; it follows that the “regional success” must be measured similarly. If this was the end goal, then the Iraq war can be said to have accomplished much. Iraq itself collapsed, and the Isis, a group made of up landowners and labourers alike, some remnants of Hussain’s military and members of Al Qaeda, emerged. As Syria destabilised, this group grew to somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 in its number of active soldiers, who have since killed tens of thousands of people. US airstrikes, meanwhile, have reportedly killed 450 civilians, 100 of them children.
As Blair himself said, “Of course you can’t say those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015”.