Iraq Inquiry: Third day of Public Hearings with Meyer, 26th November 2009

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    3oth November, 2009

    Iraq Inquiry: 3rd day of public hearings with Meyer

    By Julie

    This post, like the previous – 1st Day and 2nd Day –  comes with my grateful thanks to Julie here

    Also see Iraq Inquiry timetable of hearings, who and when

    These are the most significant quotes from the third session of the Iraq Inquiry


    3rd day of public hearings

    26th November 2009: Morning session: Evidence by

    • Sir Christopher Meyer (former UK ambassador to the US, from 1997-2003)


    “It is a bit like, you know, people say, “Well, Tony Blair was so close to Bill Clinton, how on earth could he get close to George Bush?” Well, Robin Cook had been very close to Madeleine Albright, and he didn’t find it difficult to strike up a good working relationship with Colin Powell.”

    “Sometimes people say to me, “It was the nutters in the administration, the right wingers, the neocons, who invented regime change”. Absolutely wrong. This was inherited from a Democrat administration, as were a number of other policies as well.”

    (On the option of regime change) “That was the outer fringe, the extreme fringe, of the belligerence movement, but that, as a policy between, say, January, Inauguration Day, and 9/11, I don’t think ever got into the mainstream of the US administration debate, which continued to be focused on, as I say, narrowing and deepening sanctions and, “What can we do with Ahmed Chalabi and his people?”

    “In those few weeks after 9/11, Tony Blair’s reputation in the United States of America was sealed. It continues to this day. The man above all other Europeans who came first out of the slips and who expressed his sympathy for, support for the United States of America in its hour of need with unparalleled eloquence.”

    “I’m not sure if this is to your point, but I will say it anyway it had already become plain that there was a potential problem between Colin Powell, on the one side, and the Vice President Dick Cheney and the Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the other. This became, on Iraq policy, and indeed on Arab/Israel policy, the fault line that ran through the administration, a fault line which was never covered and which opened ever wider as the months went by.”

    “I wouldn’t say that it was as extremely poodle-ish as that. I don’t think that’s a fair comment. One of the things you have to remember is that Tony Blair was a true believer about the wickedness of Saddam Hussein and his realisation of that predates by a very long time the arrival of George Bush in the White House.”

    “This is a speech Tony Blair made in January 1998, which is, again, context, and I quote 1998, which is early, he hadn’t even been Prime Minister for a year: “We have a clear responsibility in the interests of long-term peace in the world to stop Saddam Hussein from defying the judgment of the world’s community. He must be either persuaded by diplomacy or made by force to yield up his long cherished ambition to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons; weapons which threaten not only his immediate neighbours in the Middle East, but pose a direct and fundamental challenge to world peace. All our experience of him teaches us that it is sometimes hard to succeed with him via diplomacy, but one thing is for sure: diplomacy stands no chance of success at all unless he knows that if he fails to listen to reason, we have the force to back it up.” Now, I never saw any evidence over all the years that I was in Washington that that fundamental view ever changed, and I think you can see things, hear things, said by Tony Blair, years later, that reflect that exactly.”

    What we need to do is to refresh the old Security Council Resolutions God knows how many there are, 15, 16, 17 particularly Resolutions 678 and 687. We can only do that if we can create some kind of consensus within the UN and get a Security Council Resolution that actually provides us with what we need”. Then you no longer have to worry about the legality or otherwise of regime change, because you have provided Saddam, through this Security Council Resolution with a set of things that he has to do, which, if he doesn’t do, you wrong foot him and then you can take action. Actually, that is precisely what 1441 did. Unanimously, thanks to an astonishing skill of Jeremy Greenstock in New York, and others, we got a unanimous resolution that put even Syria voted for it, for Pete’s sake, which puts all the onus on Saddam to prove his innocence.”

    “Now, the British, as you mentioned this, I think played some role in influencing George Bush down this path against the wishes of his Vice President, very vociferously expressed, Tony Blair’s pressure, Jack Straw’s pressure all played their own part and I think pressure from David Manning and myself. We did play a part. I suspect, though, that the greater part was played by a combination, in this case, of Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, who, in a very private supper with the President on 5 August, made the case for taking the international UN route,”

    (On President Bush) “In his head and he had a very strong sense of realpolitik, he realised he couldn’t just do that and he submitted to the recommendations of his national security adviser and Secretary of State with a chorus of Europeans and an Australian, of whom Tony Blair was the most significant, that he would give the UN route a throw.”

    “If you add up all the people who went to Iraq, it actually comes up to quite a respectable number. I think it was 30 or 40 nations were there.”

    “I was in favour of moving Saddam Hussein, let me can I declare an interest here, Chairman? I thought just so you can understand where I’m coming from on this that you didn’t even need 9/11; you didn’t even need weapons of mass destruction as a clear and present danger. There was a very strong argument, there was a very strong view in Parliament for confronting Saddam Hussein, (a) because he had not lived up to the commitments in Resolution 687, which was the one which  enshrined the ceasefire of the 1991 war. He had chucked out the inspectors effectively, UNSCOM, at the end of 1998, and we knew, and we still do know, because you have got this from the Iraq Survey Group, that he had the means and the will to concoct weapons of mass destruction at a later date, even if he didn’t have them at the time. I think, putting all this together, there is a British interest in confronting him through the UN, and we should have done it in 1999, and we couldn’t do it because, apart from anything else, the French and the Russians wouldn’t allow the Security Council to do it. So that’s where I was coming from.”

    “I am not somebody who believes that an operational decision was taken in April 2002 or September of 2002. And then I began to hear in October of 2002, suitably at the Trafalgar Night dinner in the embassy, when masses of American military turn up I began to hear that January doesn’t work because we are not ready and we’ve got this problem with the Turks. So the thing started to go back February and in the end it turned out to be March.”

    “This argument about were there or weren’t there weapons of mass destruction will go backwards and forwards, I suspect, until the end of time, but American and British troops wouldn’t have been equipped with antichemical weapons defences if there hadn’t been a very strong fear, however ill-founded, that Saddam could respond with these weapons.”

    “I just think I would like to go back to something which I asked if I could say, which is to remind people that on the matter of Iraq, on the whole question of unilateralism versus multilateralism, which is the sort of philosophical discussion one has about the British/American relationship sometimes or the Americans’ role in the world, there is more of a continuum here with previous administrations before George W than maybe the Democratic Party and the Republican Party would be willing to admit. There was a lot of continuity with some of the stuff that Clinton did. Clinton and Bush, very, very different, but I just think that it would be wrong to see the Bush administration simply as an unusual and atypical aberration that suddenly appeared on the scene. It is not like that.”


    Important exchanges:

    SIR RODERIC: “In his State of the Union address in January 2002, the Axis of Evil speech I mean, you say in your book, effectively containment was dead, the President’s belief was that Iraq was too dangerous to be left to containment and he had decided at this point that, “The officially mandated policy of regime change” I’m quoting from your book “should be actively pursued”. Now, at this stage, what was the British Government’s policy?”

    MEYER: “The British Government’s policy was one of profound legal objection to a regime change and a belief that it wasn’t realistic to seek to overthrow Saddam Hussein.”

    LYNE:” So at what point between October 2001 and Crawford in April 2002 did your instructions change from you should be advocating containment to the British Government supported regime change?”

    MEYER: “I got a chunky set of instructions in March of 2002.”

    LYNE: “Instructions from?”

    MEYER: “From … very good question. I got the instructions David Manning”

    LYNE: “That’s Number 10 Downing Street?”

    MEYER: “Number 10 Downing Street. By that time, the Prime Minister’s foreign policy adviser, because he had taken over from John Sawers in the previous year. In fact, he was in Washington the very night before 9/11 to meet Condoleezza Rice and others to break himself in as the Prime Minister’s foreign policy adviser. So David Manning came over in March of 2002 with a set of instructions to prepare the way for the Prime Minister’s visit at Crawford, which would take place on what was it, April 6, 7 and 8 of that year? One of the main things that he was seeking to do and this was new, and I, if you like, borrowed his instructions to do my side of things was to say to the Americans, “Look, if you want to do regime change, and if this is going to require military action, you guys are powerful enough to do it all on your own. You can do it on your own, you have got the power to do it, but if you are going to do this and you want your friends and partners to join you, far better than that you should do it inside an alliance, preferably taking the UN route”. That, I think, was the single most important message which was delivered to the US administration at that time.”


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