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
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsSchool leaver's pic YouTube video features staging of a playground gun massacre
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Robyn Lawley
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain