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'I will be with you, whatever': Conversations between Blair and Bush on the Iraq War

Memos the British Prime Minister sent to the US President before and during the war show the close relationship between them.

Bush and Blair Visits County Durham US President George Bush alongside Prime Minister Tony Blair at the Dun Cow pub, during a visit to Blair's constituency of Sedgefield in County Durham. Source: Owen Humphreys/PA

DETAILS OF MEMOS and conversations between former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and then US President George W Bush about the Iraq War show the close relationship between the two world leaders, in the most trying years of their political careers.

The details of the letters, meetings and phone conversations between 2001 and 2007 were released as part of the Chilcot Report, which outlines the findings of an extensive inquiry into the war.

“It would be excellent to get rid of Saddam…”

In a memo sent by Blair to Bush two months after 9/11, the British Prime Minister discussed future options for Iraq and telling the US President “it would be excellent to get rid of Saddam”.

But there needed to be a clever strategy for doing this.

Click here to read the memo in full

Source: PA

“I will be with you, whatever…”

On 28 July 2002, Blair wrote to Bush with an assurance that he would be “with him whatever”.

He said getting rid of Saddam Hussein was “the right thing to do” and described his regime as “probably, with the possible exception of North Korea, the most brutal and inhumane in the world“.

Click here to read the memo in full

He told Bush that the Germans, French, Italians and Spanish were unlikely to support any action without specific UN authority.

At the moment, oddly, our best ally might be Russia!

In the six-page note, marked Secret Personal, Blair said they needed an ultimatum to be put in front of Hussein in order to justify going to war.

Though the note was seen by a number of Blair’s officials, neither Foreign Secretary Jack Straw nor Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon were shown the memo in advance. The Chilcot Report said the document represented an extensive statement of the government’s position on invasion eight months before the war began and that both secretaries-of-state should have seen it.

Source: Stefan Rousseau/PA

In a section of the note entitled ‘The Evidence’, Blair said:

Again, I have been told the US thinks this is unnecessary. But we still need to make the case. If we recapitulate all the WMD evidence; add his attempts to secure nuclear capability; and, as seems possible, add on Al Qaida link, it will be hugely persuasive here. Plus, of course, the abhorrent nature of the regime.

During a phone conversation between the two leaders in December 2002, Blair told Bush that the Iraqi declaration on weapons was “patently false”.

“We now need proof that demonstrates that.”

Blair said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the inspectors would find this proof.

He and President Bush discussed the need to put the burden of truth on Saddam Hussein, how much time he should be allowed and the need to avoid a loss of momentum. Blair said that military preparations should continue. He did not think that Saddam Hussein would co-operate.

“Our ambition is big…”

In March 2003, the invasion of Iraq by US and UK troops began.

In a note to Bush on 26 March that year, Blair described the time as a “moment when you can define international politics for the next generation: the true post-cold war world order.”

Source: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Our ambition is big: to construct a global agenda around which we can unite the world; rather than dividing it into rival centres of power. Your insight, which no-one has articulated better or more clearly is that post 9/11 our security is best guaranteed not just through traditional military and intelligence means, but by our values. More freedom in the world means more security. Countries that are free and democratic are countries unlikely to threaten us.
The terrorists and rogue states, however different in origin, come together in hatred of our values because those values represent the opposite of dictatorial states and extremist Islamic terrorists who want to Talibanise the world. They don’t hate the US by accident. They hate it for what it stands for.
So our fundamental goal is to spread our values of freedom, democracy, tolerance and the rule of law, but we need a broad based agenda capable of unifying the world, to get it. That’s why, though Iraq’s WMD is the immediate justification for action, ridding Iraq of Saddam is the real prize.

Blair said there was an issue now with a “ludicrous and distorted view” of the US clouding the attraction of the fundamental goal.

Click here to view the note in full 

“The task is absolutely awesome…”

Just three months later, Blair told Bush about his own visit to Iraq, where he met Paul Bremer, the top US civil administrator in Iraq, who the prime minister described as “very impressive”.

“But the task is absolutely awesome and I’m not at all sure we’re geared for it. This is worse than re-building a country from scratch,” he said.

We start from a really backward position. In time, it can be sorted. But time counts against us…

“My sense is: we’re going to get there, but not quickly enough. And if it falls apart, everything falls apart in the region.”

Around two weeks later, he said he was “deeply concerned” about weapons of mass destruction.

Source: PA

He suggested to Bush that the truth was probably that Hussein “was developing long range ballistic missile capability in breach of UN resolutions; he probably had no or no [sic]large stockpiles of tactical CW or BW weapons; but he retained the capability and expertise to recommence production as soon as he could, again in breach of UN resolutions”.

Such an explanation would mean that some of the intelligence upon which we acted was wrong; but that nonetheless the threat was there, as was the breach of UN resolutions. It would also explain why the picture was so confused and why, whilst the exact basis of action was not as we thought, the action was still justified.

“They are the victim”

In a note in September outlining steps that needed to be taken to address a number of ongoing issues, Blair told Bush the aftermath and rebuilding of Iraq was proving, as the US president had predicted, the most difficult phase.

He referenced Hussein’s “small group of sympathisers, plus assorted terrorists”.

“We are trying to rebuild Iraq’s prospects. They are trying to destroy them. The security problem is not about ordinary Iraqis. They are the victim. That said, it is our responsibility to sort it out.”

Click to read the note in full

“Can I be sure it is essential? No”

Fast-forward to two years later and President Bush had been re-elected, something Blair told him in a note in January would give them “a real chance to make some fundamental changes in the Middle East that ultimately are the only route to safety for our own citizens”.

Click to read the note in full

We can’t afford funding to be an issue here. I’ve just authorised an extra $78 million from our MOD for the Iraqi forces in the south. Can I be sure it is essential? No. But I’ll take the risk rather than find out six months later it was.

“Iraq pulls us down”

A year later, Blair was significantly less optimistic about their success. He told Bush in April 2006 that the political position they both found themselves in was “rather similar”.

Bluntly, Iraq pulls us down. The sheer weight of propaganda against us crushes the perfectly reasonable case we can make; demoralises our supporters and confuses the public.

Blair said this had led to a determination on the part of their opponents that they are failing and should fail, though he believed their case was “inherently strong”.

Source: J Scott Applewhite/AP

“And both of us want a strong finish in our time in office. Funnily enough, I think there is an opportunity here for us to seize and here’s how I think it can be done.”

Click to read the note in full

“I will help in any way I can”

As the end of his time in office drew closer in 2007, Blair sought to assure the US President that, as always, he still had his support and that it would not falter.

“People start to think this is a fight we can’t win; when in reality it is a fight we have to win.”

That is a battle, as you always rightly say, between freedom and extremism, democracy and terror. But we have to get back onto the front foot politically. I am absolutely confident it can be done. Even after I go, which will be soon now, I will help in any way I can.

Read more on the Chilcot Report:

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