Tony Blair and his closest advisers have used their evidence to the Iraq inquiry to smear those criticising the decision to taken Britain to war, according to one of the former Prime Minister’s most senior diplomats.
In an interview with The Independent, Sir Christopher Meyer, the former ambassador in Washington, said he regarded it as a “badge of honour” that he had faced criticism during the inquiry from Mr Blair, his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, and his director of communications, Alastair Campbell. He added that turning on opposition was the “modus operandi” of the Blair administration.
All three attacked Sir Christopher during their hearings after he had suggested Mr Blair may have committed troops to an invasion without gaining anything for Britain in return. Sir Christopher said that Mr Blair and President Bush had been alone for long stretches during an April 2002 meeting in Crawford, Texas, and that policy appeared to change after it.
“I said that to this day, I do not know what degree of convergence was, so to say, signed in blood at the Crawford ranch,” he said. “Powell, Campbell and Blair all made an argument as if I had asserted that I knew what had happened and I had been there.”
He said that the tactic was a hallmark of how No 10 operated under Mr Blair. “You turn on dissent, you distort the argument, you claim the other person has said something they never said, and then you seek to discredit it. It’s not only me that has had some of this. It is their modus operandi. Smear and smokescreen.”
Sir Christopher also criticised Mr Blair’s evidence for linking Saddam Hussein with al-Qaeda and for apparently urging world leaders to take a hard stance against Iran. “Blair’s strategic approach to his evidence seemed to be a kind of double or quits,” he said. “In other words, it was to say no regrets, I’d do it again, and by the way if I was Prime Minister I’d do Iran also. It’s nonsense about Iran. The strategic beneficiary of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq has been Iran. It has enhanced the position of Iran in the region, there is no doubt about it at all.”
He added: “The fact that Blair has entrenched the idea that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were cut from the same cloth was extraordinary,” he said. “We’ve always known that Saddam Hussein had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11 and didn’t like al-Qaeda.”
Sir Christopher, whose BBC series on diplomacy, Getting Our Way, begins on Monday, said that it was now “utterly clear” that Mr Blair had “sub-contracted” the decision to take Britain to war to the White House by telling President Bush that Britain would “be there” if military action was necessary. “It was, in effect, a blank cheque, although at the time it did not seem like it,” he said. He added that Mr Blair botched the chance to push for a delay to the invasion, which could have been used to resolve problems with post-war planning and helped to unite the UN over the invasion.
“I think there were moments at Crawford for example or the Camp David meeting in September 2002 that if Blair had said he could not do this unless we have a clear, detailed plan for what happens after Saddam is toppled, it would have given them real pause. That is where he could have made a real difference,” he said. “It could have made a lot of difference between a French rejection and a French abstention [for military action], or even a French approval.”