It took 7 years and £10 million to do but the Chilcot Inquiry produced the Smoking Gun.
This is the memo Blair sent to Bush on 28th July 2002. Its first words – “I will be with you, whatever” – are now famous. They provide the final nail in the coffin of Blair’s reputation.
The memo deserves to be set out in full:
“I will be with you, whatever. But this is the moment to assess bluntly the difficulties. The planning on this and the strategy are the toughest test yet. This is not Kosovo. This is not Afghanistan. It is not even the Gulf War.
The military part of this is hazardous but I will concentrate mainly on the political context for success.
Getting rid of Saddam is the right thing to do. He is a potential threat. He could be contained. But containment, as we found with Al Qaeda, is always risky. His departure would free up the region. And his regime is probably, with the possible exception of North Korea, the most brutal and inhumane in the world.
The first question is: in removing him, do you want/need a coalition? The US could do it alone, with UK support. The danger is, as ever with these things, unintended consequences. Suppose it got militarily tricky. Suppose Iraq suffered unexpected civilian casualties. Suppose the Arab street finally erupted, e.g. in ( ). Suppose Saddam felt sufficiently politically strong, if militarily weak in conventional terms, to let off WMD. Suppose that, without any coalition, the Iraqis feel ambivalent about invaded and real Iraqis, not Saddam’s special guard, decide to offer resistance. Suppose, at least, that any difficulties, without any coalition, are magnified and seized upon by a hostile international opinion. If we win quickly, everyone will be our friend. If we don’t and they haven’t been bound in beforehand, recriminations will start fast.
None of these things might happen. But they might, singly or in combination”.
Despite what Blair is now saying it is impossible or at the least extremely difficult to read the memo without seeing in it clear confirmation of a cast-iron commitment on Blair’s part to join Bush in a war against Iraq.
The memo is however much more than just this. It is proof – or at the very least extremely strong evidence – that the intention throughout was simply regime change ie. the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and his regime, which however brutal and tyrannical they might have been were at the time the memo was written the legal, internationally recognised government of Iraq.
Saddam Hussein’s presumed possession of WMD does not appear in the memo as the reason for the war. On the contrary after reading the memo it is difficult to avoid the impression that the whole campaign about WMD was what it surely was: an exercise in smoke and mirrors, a device to mobilise international opinion behind the war so as to insure Bush and Blair against negative consequences. That is what the memo appears to say, and it is difficult to read the memo in any other way.
Blair says the Chilcot Inquiry has confirmed he acted in good faith. This memo all but proves the contrary. When Blair was saying – as he did at the time repeatedly – that the issue was purely Saddam Hussein’s disarmament and not regime change he was not telling the truth.
We now therefore have concrete evidence of what everyone always suspected: that Bush and Blair conspired together to launch a war against a country whose purpose was to overthrow its government.
The memo incidentally also confirms that there was no immediate threat from Iraq at the time the war was planned. The memo expressly says the threat from Iraq at the time was only a “potential” one. That removes the defence that the war was launched preemptively to prevent an act of aggression by Iraq. It is established law that for that defence to apply the threat has to be an immediate one, not a potential one. The memo shows that there was no immediate threat to the US or Britain from Saddam Hussein or Iraq when the war was launched and that Blair – and Bush – did not think that there was.
There is another key point which came out of the Chilcot Inquiry Report, though it is a very technical one.
Blair obtained from Britain’s Attorney General legal advice that the war would be legal if Iraq was in very serious breach of previous UN Security Council Resolutions.
That advice – as the Attorney General admitted at the time – was contentious, with most lawyers (including the legal team at the Foreign Office) disagreeing with it. The key point however is that for Blair to rely on the advice Iraq had to be in very serious breach of previous UN Security Council Resolutions. Blair said it was, and made the legal case for war on that basis. However both then and now he has failed to explain how Iraq was in such serious breach of the previous UN Security Council Resolutions as to justify the war. After 7 years of exhaustive investigation Chilcot could not get a clear answer to that question. Given what the 28th July 2002 memo appears to say – that Bush and Blair planned the war to carry out regime change – it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the reason Chilcot could not get an answer is because there is none. Simply put, it looks like Blair said Iraq was in very serious breach of the previous UN Security Council Resolutions not because he really believed it but because doing so got him out of a legal hole and gave him a legal argument for a war he had already decided to wage for completely different reasons.
Since the war there has been much talk of bringing Blair to trial for war crimes. Up to now that has been impossible because the sort of evidence a court needs in order to find someone guilty on such a charge simply wasn’t there. Blair was always in a position to argue that he made a genuine mistake and acted at all times in good faith, however unconvincing that might be to most people
The evidence is there now. We have a document – the 28th July 2002 memo – which on the face of it confirms Blair plotted with Bush to launch a war to carry out regime change in another country, and and that the reason he gave for launching the war – to disarm Saddam Hussein’s WMD – was simply a device to win international support for a war which was planned for a completely different purpose. We also have prima facie evidence that Blair intentionally manipulated and/or misrepresented the legal advice he was given in order to give the impression that the war was legal.
Aggression – the supreme international crime – is poorly defined in law. It is clear that merely launching an armed attack on another country is not enough. However invading a country without proper cause and without authorisation from the UN Security Council simply in order to overthrow its government does appear to fit the definition of aggression. If it does not do so then it is hard to see what aggression is. As it happens we know that the lawyers at the Foreign Office were advising at the time that the war Bush and Blair were planning against Iraq was aggression.
The political and procedural obstacles in bringing Blair to trial for the crime of aggression are immense. The International Criminal Court says it has no jurisdiction and the resistance from the British political class to doing such a thing in Britain would be huge. The basis for bringing such a case however is there and the possibility can no longer be completely excluded. Already there are lawyers discussing how to do it, with suggestions that if Blair cannot be tried for the crime of aggression – which would probably require approval by parliament or at least by the government, and the setting up of a special court – he can be prosecuted in the normal way before the ordinary British courts on the same facts for lesser but still very serious offences such as misconduct of his public office. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but the basis for it – and the demand for it – is there.