2. Iraq and the UN Security Council: Bush and Blair

Posted on Sunday 31 January 2010

It need not be reiterated that George W. Bush came into office determined to unseat Sadam Hussein, backed by VP Dick Cheney – the former secretary of defense under George H.W. Bush [when we had backed off from entering Baghdad in the 1991 Gulf War]. We need not document how they used 9/11 and some "sexed-up" intelligence to justify their invasion in 2003. But the voyage around the UN Security Council has become clearer since the recent revelations of the Chilcot Inquiry and deserves comment.

Tony Blair and President Clinton had already used the "revival argument" in Operation Desert Fox – that previous UN Resolutions [UNSCR 678 and UNSCR 687] had already authorized the use of force and no more UN action was required to justify war. Indeed, Cheney had early on argued that Bush needed no further action by Congress to declare War with Iraq. And we know from the recent testimony of Johnathan Powell, Blair’s Chief of staff, that Dick Cheney visited Number 10 on March 1, 2002 drumming up support for war:
MR JONATHAN POWELL: The first facetoface encounter we had on this was with VicePresident Dick Cheney, who came to Number 10 on 1 March 2002. He was on his way for a Middle East tour and he wanted to discuss Iraq with us before he discussed it with Middle East leaders. The Prime Minister warned him of the law of unintended consequences. If you are going to deal with something like Iraq, you have to think ahead about what might happen and that you do not expect.
BARONESS USHA PRASHAR: What was Dick Cheney’s view at the time? What was he proposing?
MR JONATHAN POWELL: Dick Cheney was proposing to go and consult the Middle East leaders on what should be done in Iraq, to see what their tolerance would be for action. He said at the end of the meeting.
BARONESS USHA PRASHAR: But the action was about regime change?
MR JONATHAN POWELL: The action was about yes, about replacing Saddam, and, at the end of the meeting, he said that a coalition would be nice, but not essential.
In March 2002, we’d heard little of Iraq, other than in the Axis of Evil speech in January. The British were apparently alarmed by Cheney’s visit and Blair scheduled a meeting with Bush [in Crawford Texas] for the following month. In a strongly worded letter, the UK Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, warned Blair that Parliament wouldn’t go along with "regime change" – and was skeptical about the outcome of going to war at all. Who knows what happened in the April 2002 private meeting between Blair and Bush? Sir Christopher Meyer, Ambassador to the US testified [The Trial of Tony Blair ]:
…the most eye-grabbing has been the claim made by Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain’s ambassador to Washington, that Mr. Blair had signed "in blood" a deal with George W. Bush to overthrow Saddam as early as April 2002, when the two leaders met for a summit at the Bush family ranch in Crawford, Texas…
Blair said he agreed to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the US, but convinced Bush to go the "UN Route." Yet the winds of war continued to blow unabated here. On June 1, 2002, Bush introduced the concepts of Preemption and Unilateral Action in his West Point graduation speech – the Bush Doctrine. By July 25, 2002, the leaked Downing Street Memo reported:
C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.
In August, the White House Information Group [W.H.I.G.] began to outline the campaign for war with Iraq. Then on September 8th, 2002, they opened their media blitz in preparation for Bush’s speech to the UN on September 12, 2002:
We can harbor no illusions. Saddam Hussein attacked Iran in 1980, and Kuwait in 1990. He has fired ballistic missiles at Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Israel. His regime once ordered the killing of every person between the ages of 15 and 70 in certain Kurdish villages in Northern Iraq. He has gassed many Iranians and 40 Iraqi villages… My nation will work with the U.N. Security Council on a new resolution to meet our common challenge. If Iraq’s regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately and decisively to hold Iraq to account. The purposes of the United States should not be doubted. The Security Council resolutions will be enforced — the just demands of peace and security will be met — or action will be unavoidable. And a regime that has lost its legitimacy will also lose its power.
By November 8, 2002, the UN passed UNSCR 1441 unanimously – the "last chance" for Saddam Hussein. The US Congress had already authorized our use force in Iraq:


The Congress of the United States supports the efforts by the President to–
  • strictly enforce through the United Nations Security Council all relevant Security Council resolutions applicable to Iraq and encourages him in those efforts; and
  • obtain prompt and decisive action by the Security Council to ensure that Iraq abandons its strategy of delay, evasion and noncompliance and promptly and strictly complies with all relevant Security Council resolutions.
AUTHORIZATION FOR USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES – The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to–
  • defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and
  • enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.

Watching the Tony Blair testimony, I could never tell when he moved from skeptical about invading Iraq to a position of advocacy. Back when he spoke to Cheney in March, I thought he was cautioning against unintended consequences and headed to Texas to carry that message [and that England felt it was a UN decision]. By November, he was still determined to go the "UN Route," but seemed otherwise committed to the invasion, as did his colleagues. I wondered as I watched him if he hadn’t been personally committed to war all along – maybe since Operation Desert Fox with Clinton. Certainly, in his testimony, he consistently argued the case for war. He was much more articulate than Bush, but it came down to the same thing – Saddam was a bad man. And after UN 1441, the worry in the UK was about "legality" rather than whether the invasion was a good idea. I had the sense that Tony Blair was one of those people who, in the process of being a mediator, lost sight of his own vision. Up until the end, he was fighting for a "Second Resolution" with "clear tests." I don’t think he was "drug to war." It was more like he was "lead to war" without really knowing it. I’m not mad at Tony Blair. I’m more disappointed.

Listening to him talk about Bush was interesting. The George Bush he dealt with sounds a bit like a reasonable man – not a heavyweight, but a reasonable guy. I’m going to have to think about that for a very long time…

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