Blog Feed

Sunday, June 17, 2007 

Tony Blair knew full well that Bush was failing to plan for Iraq occupation

Next Saturday the respected British Channel 4 will air a television documentary on the pre-war planning for Iraq that will present a "devastating account of the chaotic preparations for the war", according to a preview in today's Observer. Blair told many colleagues (including, we now learn, the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock) that all was well with the planning before the invasion.

According to many officials interviewed for the documentary, however, Blair actually was extremely worried that the US was failing to prepare for the occupation. Blair also thought there was nothing he could do to make Bush & Co. take the problem seriously.

Few observers of the Iraq fiasco any longer dispute that the Bush administration had done little planning, much less done it well; in fact the only competent planning, by the State Department, was tossed aside by the Pentagon. The lack of preparation was apparent within months of the invasion. The record of the administration's failures in the first year of the occupation speaks volumes.

The newsworthy thing, for an American audience, is that the failures were stunningly obvious in advance to our closest ally.

Tony Blair has demonstrated over and over again his magnificent capacity for self-delusion, especially as regards to his relationship with George Bush. Blair has seemed to believe whatever it was necessary for him to believe in order to maintain his fawning relationship with Bush. Therefore, that even a man such as this was painfully aware of Bush's inadequate planning implies that nobody in the upper levels of the US government can have had any excuse for not recognizing the same.

From The Observer:

Tony Blair agreed to commit British troops to battle in Iraq in the full knowledge that Washington had failed to make adequate preparations for the postwar reconstruction of the country.

In a devastating account of the chaotic preparations for the war, which comes as Blair enters his final full week in Downing Street, key No 10 aides and friends of Blair have revealed the Prime Minister repeatedly and unsuccessfully raised his concerns with the White House...

In one of the most significant interviews in the programme, Peter Mandelson says that the Prime Minister knew the preparations were inadequate but said he was powerless to do more...'I remember him saying at the time: "Look, you know, I can't do everything. That's chiefly America's responsibility, not ours."


Another interviewee is Blair's senior foreign affairs advisor, David Manning. He essentially confirms what many of us have believed since the Downing Street Memo was published two years ago, but which Blair and his circle have always denied: That Tony Blair and his advisors were continuously worried during the year before the invasion that the Bush administration was bungling the post-war planning. Manning describes a Prime Minister so fearful in March of 2002 that Bush & Co. were not doing the necessary post-war planning that he sent Manning to DC specifically to assess that problem. On Manning's return he wrote a memo that later become famous when it was leaked to reporter Michael Smith.

Though Blair and his pals denied the clear significance of this memo when it was made public, there has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that it portrays both Manning and Blair as deeply concerned about the obvious gaps in planning. As Manning remarked in the memo, Condoleezza Rice gave him the impression that Bush still hadn't figured out "what happens on the morning after" the invasion is completed. He also wrote...

I think there is a real risk that the [Bush] Administration underestimates the difficulties. They may agree that failure isn’t an option, but this does not mean that they will avoid it.


The very same fear was apparent in the war council minutes from July 23, 2002, the Downing Street Memo:

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable...There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.


The Briefing Paper for that meeting was still more explicit about the absence of even the most basic post-war planning:

A post-war occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise. As already made clear, the US military plans are virtually silent on this point. Washington could look to us to share a disproportionate share of the burden. Further work is required to define more precisely the means by which the desired endstate would be created, in particular what form of Government might replace Saddam Hussein's regime and the timescale within which it would be possible to identify a successor.


Thus the best evidence in the public domain has strongly suggested that any British and American officials who were paying attention were of course deeply concerned that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld were giving precious little attention to the monumental task of preparing to occupy Iraq. The Channel 4 documentary will demonstrate that those inferences were exactly right all along.

And as many insiders expected, after the invasion things fell apart quickly along predictable lines. The Observer:

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's envoy to the postwar administration in Baghdad, confirms that Blair was in despair. 'There were moments of throwing his hands in the air: "What can we do?" He was tearing his hair over some of the deficiencies.' The failure to prepare meant that Iraq quickly fell apart. Greenstock adds: 'I just felt it was slipping away from us really, from the beginning. There was no security force controlling the streets. There was no police force to speak of.'


The documentary's presenter, Andrew Rawnsley, also has a commentary about what he learned from interviewing so many British and American officials:

As General Charles Guthrie, former head of the armed forces, puts it: 'Everybody knew that the coalition were going to win the initial battle. But then what?'

Blair himself had repeatedly asked that question during the build-up to the war and with mounting anxiety. A significant witness is Sir David Manning who was his most senior adviser on foreign affairs in No 10 and then became, as he still is, British ambassador in Washington. According to Manning, who speaks on camera for the first time for this series, Blair was extremely exercised that the Americans did not have a clue what they would do after the removal of Saddam. Twelve months before the invasion, he sent Manning to Washington to press his concerns on the White House. On Manning's important account: 'The difficulties the Prime Minister had in mind were, "How do you do it, what would be the reaction if you did it, what would happen on the morning after?"' Blair was deeply concerned that the American plans had not been 'thoroughly rehearsed and thoroughly thought through'.

This tells us that it was very early on that Blair was preparing to send British forces into Iraq. Whatever he was saying in public at this time, he was working on the basis that there would be a war a full year before the invasion. It also tells us that he was prescient enough to identify the danger that the Americans would make a catastrophic mess of the aftermath. And it highlights his own failure to translate that anxiety into effective action to ensure that there was a plan for post-Saddam Iraq.


Again, that's pretty much what we argued two years ago on the basis of the Downing Street Memo. But it's good to have people who were involved acknowledge the truth, finally.

This episode from before the invasion is revealing in a number of ways.

Having committed himself to war, Blair did not like to hear prophecies that echoed his own secret fears. Very shortly before the war, in early 2003, there was an Anglo-French summit. Over lunch, Jacques Chirac warned the Prime Minister that he knew what to expect because the French President had been a young soldier in Algeria. Sir Stephen Wall, a former ambassador and one of Blair's senior advisers, was privy to this conversation. He recalls Chirac telling Blair that there would be a civil war in Iraq. 'We came out and Tony Blair rolled his eyes and said, "Poor old Jacques, he doesn't get it, does he?"' Wall remarks: 'We now know Jacques "got it" rather better than we did.'


One of my first reactions to reading the just-published Downing Street Memo was that it clarified much about the European governments' attitudes toward the American/British warmongering in 2002-2003:

This leaked minute confirms that many world leaders knew well in advance what the Bush administration kept secret from the American public until spring of 2003, that the US intended to invade Iraq. This of course makes even more understandable the consistent opposition and mistrust the Bush administration encountered in the buildup to war, especially in Europe; many leaders in Europe were in a position to know that the war already had the green light, and therefore the posturing before the UN by the Bush administration must have been deeply galling for them.


Blair, the smart-aleck assistant to George Bush, never seems to have wised up to the fact that Bush & Co.'s "plans" for Iraq were all about posturing and nothing more. Rawnsley adds that Blair was stunned when the reality of the Iraq fiasco began to hit him in the face:

Blair's despair became so profound that, according to Mandelson, he was ready 'to walk away from it all'. In the spring of 2004, he came extremely close to resigning as Prime Minister.

Blair invested a huge amount of his faith in his capacity to influence the President. He discovered too late that Bush was only nominally the Commander-in-Chief of the Iraq enterprise. A stark picture emerges of Bush making promises and giving assurances to Blair which were not delivered because Iraq was being run by Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, neither of whom was very interested in listening to their junior British ally.


But is there any conceivable alternate world in which things might have turned out for the better, if only Blair had gotten the influence he so craved? The foolishness of the Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld triumvirate is so great that one is always in danger of underestimating Blair's nearly infinite capacity to learn nothing from experience. Here is Blair's perspective from only seven months ago:

Tony Blair conceded last night that western intervention in Iraq had been a disaster. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, the Arabic TV station, the prime minister agreed with the veteran broadcaster Sir David Frost when he suggested that intervention had "so far been pretty much of a disaster".

Mr Blair said: "It has, but you see, what I say to people is, 'why is it difficult in Iraq?' It's not difficult because of some accident in planning,
it's difficult because there's a deliberate strategy - al-Qaida with Sunni insurgents on one hand, Iranian-backed elements with Shia militias on the other - to create a situation in which the will of the majority for peace is displaced by the will of the minority for war."


Shorter Blair:

The planning we did was perfectly fine, you see.


Sure it was. The real problem was the planning you didn't do.

crossposted from Unbossed and Inconvenient News

Labels: , , , , ,


 posted by : smintheus ::  # 1:35 AM   0 comments  

Sunday, June 10, 2007 

More evidence the British military feared that invading Iraq was illegal

The Independent reveals that the head of the British Navy in 2003 sought private legal advice about whether it would be a crime under international law to take part in invading Iraq.

Admiral Sir Alan West, the First Sea Lord, approached lawyers to ask whether Navy and Royal Marines personnel might end up facing war crimes charges in relation to their duties in Iraq. The extraordinary steps taken by Sir Alan - which The Independent can reveal today - shows the high level of concern felt by service chiefs in the approach to war - concern that was not eased by the Attorney General's provision of a legal licence for the attack on Iraq.

The apprehension felt by the military commanders was highlighted at one meeting where General Sir Michael Jackson, the head of the Army, is reported to have said: "I spent a good deal of time recently in the Balkans making sure [the former Serb leader Slobodan] Milosevic was put behind bars. I have no intention of ending up in the cell next to him in The Hague."


You may recall that in the year before the invasion the British Attorney General, Lord Peter Goldsmith, had warned repeatedly that there was no legal basis under international law for invading Iraq (as at the Downing Street Memo meeting of July 23, 2002). Even if Blair shrugged these warnings off, the British military became increasingly alarmed that they might be ordered to commit a crime of war. The Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Michael Boyce, finally demanded that Goldsmith give a clear ruling on the question of legality.

The man who led the Armed Forces into Iraq expected that the Prime Minister and the Attorney General would have joined him in the dock if he had been prosecuted for war crimes, it emerged yesterday.

Lord Boyce, who as Adml Sir Michael Boyce was the Chief of the Defence Staff in 2003, apparently feared that he might be convicted by the recently-established International Criminal Court in The Hague.

"If my soldiers went to jail and I did, some other people would go with me," he told The Observer yesterday.

Pressed on whether he was referring to Tony Blair and Lord Goldsmith, Lord Boyce replied: "Too bloody right."...

Interviewed by the Sunday newspaper, Lord Boyce said: "I wanted to make sure that we had this anchor which has been signed by the Government law officer. . . It may not stop us from being charged but, by God, it would make sure other people were brought into the frame as well."


Goldsmith finally caved in to pressure from Blair and Dick Cheney, and delivered an opinion on the very eve of war that unsaid every warning he had previously given.

The reluctance with which that opinion was delivered was obvious to all, however, and military personnel were sufficiently worried that Admiral Alan West sought private legal advice. From the Guardian:

...a senior military source said: "The defence chiefs were aware of a rising degree of worry in all three services. Some of this has been passed to them through the padres. What was noticeable was the difference in attitude among the men and women compared to the Afghan war. There was genuine unease and it was the duty of the chiefs of staff, as the head of the services, to get clarification about whether they would be in breach of international law. There was also a degree of worry about the independence or otherwise of the government legal advice.

"Admiral West approached lawyers ... on whether the impending action over Iraq was justified. It was a personal decision on his part and he felt this was necessary because of his duty of care towards people serving under him...

In the event, the advice Admiral West got from the lawyers was that the invasion could just about be justified due to Saddam Hussein's flouting of United Nations resolutions, although the question of how much time Iraq should be given to comply would have to be considered carefully.


I wonder whether that private legal advice given to Admiral West had anything at all to say about what he might need to do if George Bush should order UN weapons inspectors to leave Iraq before their jobs were done?

crossposted from Unbossed

Labels: , , , ,


 posted by : smintheus ::  # 9:19 PM   0 comments  

Archives (open in new window)

June 2005 | July 2005 | August 2005 | September 2005 | November 2005 | December 2005 | February 2006 | March 2006 | April 2006 | June 2006 | October 2006 | November 2006 | December 2006 | February 2007 | May 2007 | June 2007 |

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?  Go here for full-screen view of the Blog