George Bush would not have invaded Iraq – and taken Britain into a disastrous war – had he known that intelligence on weapons of mass destruction was simply wrong, Karl Rove, the former president's top political consigliere, explosively suggests in a book that is to be published next week.
But Mr Rove, probably the most controversial of all the figures in the inner political circle of the former president, and who nowadays serves up his conservative ruminations to Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, insists that his erstwhile boss believed the intelligence. Claims that he deliberately misled the American people were untrue and the failure by the White House to counter them was "one of the biggest mistakes of the Bush years".
The memoir, Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight, offers both revealing and frivolous anecdotes from the inner workings of the Bush administration, ranging from Rove losing a sock at Buckingham Palace to his brush with prosecution after the leaking of the identity of ex-CIA agent Valerie Plame.
It is his stunningly frank admission that the Iraq war was fought under entirely false pretences, however, that will bring wide attention to the book, copies of which have been seen by some US outlets including The New York Times and The Washington Post.
It also threatens to peel new paint from the edifice erected by Tony Blair to defend his hewing so closely to Mr Bush as the invasion unfolded. Mr Blair told a BBC interviewer last year that he probably would have moved ahead with removing Saddam Hussein from power even had he known that the narrative about weapons of mass destruction was fictional by finding different ways to justify it.
Not everyone will accept the notion that the White House was as out-of-the-loop about the facts on WMD as the book says. But Mr Rove says that, without the WMD storyline, Mr Bush would surely have backed away from military action even if he, the writer, still believes it would have been justified.
"Would the Iraq war have occurred without WMD? I doubt it," Mr Rove contends in the book. "The Bush administration itself would probably have sought other ways to constrain Saddam."
The Rove book is for the most part a staunch defence of the eight years that Mr Bush spent in office. His assertions regarding Iraq and WMD are bound to be seen by some of his liberal critics as a self-serving rewriting of history.
"Rove can argue that, in the run-up to the war, Bush and the others believed what they were saying about Iraq's WMDs," David Corn, the journalist and author, writes in Mother Jones. "But Bush and his crowd demonstrated a profound disinterest in sorting out the truth. They made no effort to distinguish between known facts and convenient suppositions. They exaggerated. They trumped up unconfirmed pieces of information. They presented rosy assumptions. They overlooked or discounted data that didn't advance the cause."
As for the clamour, kindled by Democrats on Capitol Hill, that his one-time boss had lied about WMD to ensure an open path to war, Mr Rove blames himself for not moving fast or aggressively enough to contradict it. "Did Bush lie us into war? Absolutely not." But the half-hearted response to those who said otherwise became, he writes, "a poison-tipped dagger aimed at the heart of the Bush presidency".Reuse content