The British Prime Minister looks sick these days and no wonder. Just when he thought Iraq was safely on the backburner leaving him free to opine about the more mundane in the run-up to Thursday’s election, all hell has broken loose due to a series of leaks.
Termed “a liar’ by Conservative leader Michael Howard, leader of the Liberal Democrats now accuses him of misleading the British people. The public has shown its outrage, too, by booing the great white lap dog during a BBC interview with many refusing to shake hands with “a killer” on the campaign trail. Such blatant disrespect shown to a leader has caused wide-eyed amazement among American journalists covering the British ballot.
The invasion’s legality may not be such a big deal for Americans since Bush got his administration and the US military virtually off the hook by opting out of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, and bribing and bamboozling smaller countries to sign up to bilateral agreements–whereby Americans would not be prosecuted for war crimes. Further, Congress was persuaded to give the President special powers.
The British government and its troops, on the other hand, are not in such a charmed position. Indeed, on the very day of the election a coalition of anti-war groups–which include Military Families against the War, Stop the War coalition and CND–will lodge a case against Blair at the ICC charging him with war crimes.
Naturally, the man who led those troops into Iraq, then Chief of Defense Staff Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, is worried. Furthermore, due to the unraveling of the case for the war’s legality, he is an angry man, telling the Observer that if he were to go down then Blair and Britain’s Attorney General Lord Goldsmith will be dragged down with him.
The current furor has been triggered by the following leaks, which go a long way to proving the Prime Minister’s aim was regime change in Iraq ñ illegal under international law and the UN constitution. They further show that there was a conspiracy between Blair and his closest aides to massage public opinion by exaggerating intelligence on WMD and worse, leaving cabinet members and parliament out of the true picture.
A memo to Sir David Manning, the Prime Minister’s foreign policy advisor, published last year, from Sir Christopher Meyer, then British ambassador to Washington, talks of a meeting he had with Paul Wolfowitz. It read: “We backed regime change but the plan had to be clever and failure was not an option.”
A highly classified Minute of a Meeting, published in the Sunday Times, and dated July 23, 2002, quotes Blair thus: “If the political context were right, people would support regime change.”
Foreign Minister Jack Straw is quoted in the same minute as confirming Bush had decided on the military option, adding, “but the case is thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea, or Iran.”
Straw concluded by saying: “We should work up an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.”
And that’s exactly what they did. From then on, the policy became one of Saddam can do no right. As much as Saddam said ‘yes’ to all their demands, he was the new and terrifying bogeyman.
So as to help its British allies with a cover for regime change, the Bush administration reluctantly went the United Nations route, which proved to be Colin Powell’s darkest day.
His arm severely twisted by the neo-cons, the respected general, who had his own doubts about the validity of going to war, got up in front of the Security Council to disseminate a mess of transparent lies.
Powell portrayed Iraq’s purchase of aluminum tubes and magnets as proof it was engaged in a nuclear weapons program. He spoke in detail of mobile chemical laboratories and, using forged documentation, accused Iraq of attempting to purchase yellow cake from Niger.
He warned of massive stockpiles of VX gas and other deadly chemicals ready to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world. He described a terrorist camp in northern Iraq but when reporters sought it out all they found was a couple of old men and a few rotting tomatoes. It was all nonsense and, since, Powell has admitted that wasn’t his finest hour.
For its part, Britain produced two discredited documents between September 2002 and February 2003, on Iraq’s supposed WMD capability. One claimed Iraq could attack his neighbors with nuclear weapons within 45 minutes of the order being given to do so, and the other was in part lifted, warts and all, from a 12-year-old student’s thesis published on the Internet.
Amazingly, the British parliament was hoodwinked and persuaded to vote in favor of using force in the search for Iraq’s WMD. But first they wanted to be assured of the war’s legality, which Blair did by standing before them and waving what he called a summary of the advice given to his government by the Attorney General, which unequivocally gave the green light. It was dated March 17, 2003.
As we now know that summary was prepared in response to a demand by Admiral Boyce for ‘black and white’ legal cover for his command.
Later, as doubts about the war began to creep in due to the absence of WMD or proof that Saddam was linked to terrorist groups, opposition parties, parliament, human rights groups, and the public began to demand full sight of not just a summary of Goldsmith’s legal advice, but the entire document.
This, Blair steadfastly refused to do until just nine days before the May 5 election, most of the document was leaked by Channel Four before grabbing newspaper headlines. Faced with a fait accompli, Blair could do little other than to shrug his shoulders and publish what he termed “a damp squib”.
Lord Goldsmith’s full advice dated ten days before the touted unequivocal March 17 summary was a bombshell, proving that the Attorney General had serious doubts.
Regime change, he said, was definitely off the cards under international law and stressed that it was up to the UN to certify whether or not Saddam had failed to comply with Resolution 1441. And he warned of legal challenges in the courts should a follow-up resolution prove unobtainable, as, indeed, it did due to French, German and Russian opposition.
New revelations show that the previous month Jack Straw had packed Goldsmith off to Washington to meet with such Republican legal eagles as John Ashcroft, Arturo Gonzalez, William Taft IV, and legal advisors to Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice, so as to put ‘some steel in his spine’.
Despite the bringing on of the neo-con heavies, Blair was later to be told: “We had trouble with your attorney but we got there eventually”.
Yet, Goldsmith’s original legal advice dated March 7th shows that he hadn’t “got there” and still held serious reservations.
The question is: What happened to change his mind during those ten days between March 7th and March 17th. Interestingly during that period a status report was issued by then Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix articulating Iraq’s improved cooperation and indicating it was on the road to compliance.
The answer is transparent. Goldsmith was leant on to come down in favor of war without the need for a second, and more specific resolution, authorizing that war. Either that or he suffers from a personality disorder.
The fact is Blair had signed up to regime change while visiting his buddy’s Crawford ranch in the spring of 2002 come what may. If the truth had to be tailored accordingly then so be it.
A year later, in February 2003, British troops were either already in theatre or being mobilized while Bush was pushing to begin the invasion before the hot weather. So, in the end, Goldsmith threw legal considerations out of the window, along with his personal credibility, and caved in to pressure.
As it turned out Blair had used bad judgment. Like Bush, he had hoped the invading troops would be strewn with flowers rather than bombs and felt sure he would be vindicated even if WMD would never be unearthed.
By now the war should have been long over and the Iraqis enjoying unprecedented peace and prosperity under an elected ñ if US controlled–government, allowing a smattering of US troops to retire behind the high walls of permanent bases.
That turned out to be a gross miscalculation. It didn’t happen. Instead, Iraq is fighting off a potential civil war, a deadly insurgency and has become a hot bed of terrorism. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed, leaving hundreds of thousands of orphans.
Hundreds of children have been severely maimed while picking up unexploded cluster bombs; others are suffering from severe malnutrition, while babies are being born with deformities due to the use of depleted uranium tank shells. It isn’t a pretty picture and if Blair ever gets his day in court he will be bombarded with all the tragic and lurid details of his own horrendous failure, including Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo visited regularly by British intelligence agents.
But even as the truth about Blair’s duplicity is finally dawning for most Britons, ironically he will probably be the one they will vote for on Thursday as the lesser of two evils in what is generally perceived as a two-horse race.
The British public views Michael Howard ñthe man once described as having something of the night about him ñ with suspicion after his negative campaign attacking asylum seekers, immigrants and gypsies.
Using below-the-belt tactics and language to target Blair, he is seen as somewhat sleazy but, most importantly, he is more of a warmonger than the British Prime Minister. He would have gone to war on the back of regime change in the full knowledge that unseating a foreign leader is illegal.
The polls suggest a Labour win, albeit with a greatly reduced majority. Some predict a hung parliament, forcing an alliance between Labour and the Lib Dems.
Blair warns that the disaffected Labour faithful might try to give him a bloody nose by using throwaway votes or abstaining from the electoral process, allowing the Conservatives an entrÈe via “the back door”.
Win or lose, Lim-Dem leader Charles Kennedy has likened Blair’s distasteful adventure in Iraq to Sir Anthony Eden’s debacle over Suez. Kennedy predicts it will haunt his adversary as long as he lives.
Reg Keyes, whose military policeman son died while serving in Iraq, is facing off against the Prime Minister in his own constituency of Sedgefield, thought of as a safe seat. Now wouldn’t that be something!
If Blair were to be evicted from Number Ten by his constituents, that would be a surreal and welcome ending to a catalogue of deceptions, exaggerations, unadulterated spin and lies. But don’t hold your breath! Chances are his worry lines will fade, the smirk will reemerge and his only worry will be how to convince the British people to back the next preemptive war on Bush’s lengthy list.
LINDA S. HEARD is a British specialist writer on Mid-East affairs based in Cairo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org