This publication explores the run-up to the war in Iraq and uncovers the inescapable truth that the deception involved in the preparation for war led directly to the lack of planning for post-conflict Iraq.
The War We Could Not Stop pulls together the findings of Guardian journalists in the run-up to the latest Gulf war and on the conduct of the war itself. Its account of the period preceding the conflict is predominantly the authorised Downing Street version, but there are nuggets of information that cast doubt upon that version.
The book starts with the consequences of the 1991 Gulf war and makes clear the publicly expressed determination of Bush’s neo-conservatives to overthrow Saddam Hussein long before they took office. It repeats the account set out in Bob Woodward’s book, Bush At War, that the hawks pushed for action against Iraq immediately after September 11, although there was of course no link between Iraq and al-Qaida.
Interestingly, the authors tell us that when Blair visited Bush at Camp David in September 2002:
[They] reflected on how the world had changed. Bush said that, exactly a year before, he and his foreign policy advisers had been discussing plans to tighten sanctions against Iraq. War against Saddam had not been on his agenda then, as it was now, he said. A year ago, Tony Blair told the president, he had seen himself as the one who was putting on the pressure over Iraq. In Blair’s view, intervening against Saddam was all of a piece with intervening against Milosevic in Kosovo.
This information can only have come from a source very close to Blair. It helps confirm my growing conviction that Blair committed us to war in September 2002, if not before. He then saw his role as being to help the US by building a coalition of support, just as he had done for Afghanistan.Thus the analysis on which I and many others were working, that we would try to hold Blair’s ankles and encourage him to hold on to Bush, was faulty from the start.
I have concluded that this was Blair’s big gamble and the deception flowed from here. Of course, there was evidence that Saddam had continued his experiments to develop chemical and biological weapons and had ballistic weapons beyond the permitted range – this was why the weapons inspectors’ work had been blocked and sanctions had continued for 12 years. But the spin was that there was an imminent threat from these weapons and from developing links with al-Qaida. This was designed to get us to war by the spring and to suggest that there was no time for the threat of force to be used to try to resolve the crisis without further harm to the people of Iraq.
Given this plan, the promise of a second resolution was an enormous gamble. Allowing Hans Blix, the UN chief weapons inspector, to complete his work clashed with the agreed date for war. And therefore we were deceived into believing that France had said it would veto any second resolution. The vilification of France and misrepresentation of its position was the fig leaf for the failure of the second resolution. I am afraid I believed the prime minister when he pressed this account of France’s position upon me.
Sadly, the book trots out the preposterous claim that Blair and others intended to resign if they failed to secure an adequate majority in the Commons. It is simply unbelievable that with UK troops on the ground, a war of Blair’s choosing about to begin and a Commons majority under his belt, Blair was about to lead the cabinet into a resignation if too many Labour MPs voted against the Government.
The story of how we got to war is an increasingly sorry tale as the reality of Blair’s early commitment to war and France’s position have become clear. I am afraid that, in addition, the deception on the way to war explains the lack of preparation for the post- conflict situation and the chaos and looting that are such a nightmare today for the people of Iraq.