It was the outgoing Bill Clinton who urged Tony Blair, for strategic reasons, to forge a close relationship with the administration of the new president. “Hug them close,” he said.
As it was, as the documents released by the Chilcot report underscore, Mr Blair would ally himself with George W Bush, in an inextricable bond that saw the British Prime Minister commit troops to a war that was deeply unpopular both in his nation and within his party. Both men were devout Christians, both apparently believed they were pursuing a mission.
“I will be with you, whatever. But this is the moment to assess bluntly the difficulties,” Mr Blair wrote in a newly declassified message to the US leader, a full eight months before the US and UK invasion. “The planning and the strategy are the toughest yet. This is not Kosovo. This is not Afghanistan. It is not even the Gulf War.”
The message, dated July 28 2002, was one of more than 29 that Mr Blair wrote to the Republican president ahead of the invasion. In the messages, Mr Blair offers constant reassurance and support, despite him clearly raising the issue of unconvincing evidence.
Some of the messages are typed, others are handwritten. Some are close to fawning. One note, handwritten on 10 Downing Street notepaper, declared: “Dear George, It was a brilliant speech.”
The documents suggest the Prime Minister determined that Britain should be a full partner in the invasion, despite the dangers and despite the opposition of many European allies. Mr Blair also did so knowing that the US did not need British support from a military perspective, as the then US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made clear.
In his correspondence, he also suggested that the countries try and oblige the UN to set a deadline to accept inspectors. (It was widely reported at the time that the Iraq forced out UN inspectors, but this was not the case.)
“We don’t want to be mucked around by Saddam over this and the danger is that he drags us into negotiation,” he said in one dispatch. “We could, in October, as the build-up starts, state that he must let the inspectors back in unconditionally and do so now, i.e. set a 7-day deadline.
“It might backed by a UNSCR or not, depending on what support there was (and I’m not sure anyone, at present, would veto it if Russia was on board.) There would be no negotiation. There would be no new talks with Annnan. It would be: take it or leave it.”
Mr Blair was clearly aware of the need to make a case to the British public, if not people in the US, of the purported threat that Saddam represented.
In one section of a message with a sub-headline “The Evidence”, Mr Blair wrote: “Again, I have been told the US thinks this is unnecessary, but we need to make the case. If we recapitulate all the WMD evidence, add his attempts to secure nuclear capability, and as seems possible, add on Al Qaida link, it will be hugely persuasive over here.”
Mr Blair appeared to know that Mr Bush had long ago made up his mind to go to war – as is known from other testimony, there were many in his administration who are determined to link the attacks of 9/11 to Saddam despite there being no evidence - and that he is determined to go along with it.
At one point he talked of the need to build support in the Arab world, saying “most will fall into line”, but adding that “we need a dedicated effort to woo the Arab world”.
“We would support in any way we can,” he wrote. “On timing, we could start building up after the break. A strike date could be Jan/Feb next year. But the crucial issue is not when, but how.”
One area that Mr Blair apparently did not spend much time writing about, what was what happen after Saddam was ousted.
Indeed, in one message, he dedicated just six lines to the topic.
“Suppose we were able to say as follows. Regime change is vital and in the first instance must be one that protects Iraq’s territorial integrity ad provides stability and hence might involve other key military figure.
“But it should lead in time to a democratic Iraq governed by the people. This would be very powerful. I need advice on whether it’s feasible. But just swapping one dictator for another seems inconsistent with our values.”
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