Top diplomat attacks Blair's Iraq decision

Tony Blair's backing for the US-led invasion of Iraq was attacked by one of his most senior diplomats today, who said that Margaret Thatcher would have been better at handling the decision.



Sir Christopher Meyer, the former British ambassador to the United States, said that the former Tory leader would have insisted on a more coherent strategy and would not have allowed such a failure in post-war planning to take place. He added that Britain gained nothing in return from its closeness to the White House under Mr Blair, who should have been firmer in his dealings with President Bush.

On the third day of Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry into the Iraq war, Sir Christopher revealed that it was “taken for granted” in the US that Britain would join the US in its military action against Saddam Hussein. He said he warned Mr Blair about a need for more clarity on post-war planning, as senior aides to President Bush were simply assuming it would be “alright on the night”.

He suggested that Mr Blair may have made a secret pact with President Bush to back military action during his visit to his Texas ranch in the Spring of 2002. “They weren’t there to talk about containment or sharpening sanctions,” he said. Mr Blair followed up the trip by making speech discussing regime change in Iraq.

Insisting he was not making a “party political point”, Sir Christopher said he had asked himself “what would Margaret Thatcher have done” in handling Britain’s relationship with the US. “I think she would have insisted on a clear, coherent diplomatic strategy and I think she would have demanded the greatest clarity about what the heck will happen if and when we remove Saddam Hussein,” he said.

The inquiry also heard that the US administration was already looking towards Iraq on the day of the 9/11 terror attacks on New York. During a telephone call on that day, US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, said officials were looking into Saddam Hussein’s involvement.



Troops would be ‘greeted with cheers’



Big hitters within President Bush’s top team remained completely unconcerned about planning for what to do after the fall of Saddam, Sir Christopher said. He recalled that at one Washington dinner, Dick Cheney, the vice president, reassured him that US and British troops would be “greeted with cheers and flowers” as they reached Baghdad.

“What just disappeared from the calculations was the understanding that after Saddam was toppled, we were going to have to maintain law and order, and guarantee the continuation of the central services,” he said.

He suggested that Mr Blair may have agreed to back military action during a secretive meeting with President Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. “There was a large chunk of that time when no adviser was there,” he said. “To this day I am not entirely clear what degree of convergence was, if you like, signed in blood at the Crawford ranch.”

In his speech following the meeting, Mr Blair attempted to “draw lessons” from 9/11 and the handling of Iraq, which Sir Christopher said “led— I think not inadvertently but deliberately — to a conflation of the threat posed by Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.” He added: “To the best of my knowledge … this was the first time that Tony Blair had said in public regime change.

“When I heard that speech, I thought that this represents a tightening of the UK/US alliance and a degree of convergence on the danger Saddam Hussein presented.”



Determination to invade



By the end of 2002, the US had become determined to use military action, Sir Christopher stated, meaning that plans for an invasion began to “wag the political and diplomatic strategy”. The military timetable, which planned an invasion for March, meant that weapons inspectors, led by Hans Blix, were under huge pressure to prove that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. However, they were unable to find any in the time available.

“It was impossible to see how Blix could bring the inspection process to a conclusion, for better or worse, by March,” Sir Christopher said. “Because you cannot synchronise the [military and diplomatic] programmes, you had to short-circuit the process by finding the notorious ‘smoking gun’. We have got to try to prove that [Saddam] is guilty and we - the British and Americans - have never recovered from that because, of course, there was no smoking gun.”

Senior figures had indicated to him that military action could have been put off until the end of 2003, giving the inspectors more time. But in the end, the US pushed ahead with a March invasion. “If we had planned for military action in the cool autumnal season of 2003 rather than the cool spring season of 2003, a lot of things might have been able to have been unwound,” he said.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory