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."
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.
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.
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.
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.'
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.
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.'
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'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.
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."
The planning we did was perfectly fine, you see.
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