On three occasions, the Prime Minister has been confronted in interviews with the fact that his Foreign Policy adviser, Sir David Manning, told the US administration in March 2002 that he “would not budge in” his “support for regime change”:
(1) On the Jonathan Dimbleby Programme on ITV1, on 13 March 2005
(2) On the pre-election programme, ASK THE LEADER on ITV1, presented by Jonathan Dimbleby, on 2 May 2005, and
(3) On Today, BBC Radio 4, 4 May 2005, when he was interviewed by John Humphries.
Extracts from each of these interviews are reproduced below.
(1) Jonathan Dimbleby Programme, ITV1, 13 March 2005
The Prime Minister’s strategy in this interview was to deny that his stated refusal to budge referred to regime change. Instead, he pretended that it referred to the enforcement of Security Council resolutions on disarmament.
JD: I think that some of those who are sceptical and believe that you were going to go along with this [military action] in any case will think back to what your man in Washington [David Manning] … told Bush in March 2002 that "you would not budge from support for regime change but you had a press, a parliament and a public" who were a bit of problem for you. And now you keep moving the goal posts to legitimise the invasion that you were determined to take in any case. That's what I suspect is in people's minds...?
TB: Yes, but actually subsequent to that, actually he didn't say that as a matter of fact, but anyway we'll leave it to one side...
JD: .. it's in the minutes..
TB: .. it's not actually if you go and look at the minute you will see it...
JD: What did he say?
TB: What he said was this: we have to be absolutely clear that the development of WMD in breach of the United Nations resolutions will no longer be tolerated. That was not really what he was saying to me incidentally, it [was] what I was...
JD: ... he was wrong if he said it? He either didn't say that you would not budge in support for regime change, he either didn't say that or he misreported you.
TB: No, it's that we would not budge in insisting that the United Nations resolutions that were outstanding, that had been outstanding for many years, were actually enforced and that was the crucial thing ...
This is a lie: Manning wrote to Blair
“I said [to Condoleeza Rice] that you would not budge in your support for regime change but you had to manage a press, a Parliament and a public opinion that was very different than anything in the States [my emphasis].”
Blair’s unwillingness to budge referred specifically to regime change. Furthermore, there is no mention whatsoever in the memo of outstanding United Nations disarmament resolutions, let alone that he would not budge from their implementation. In fact, there is no mention of disarmament in the memo at all, apart from a suggestion that a refusal by Saddam Hussein to accept unfettered inspections would be a powerful argument for military action.
(2) ASK THE LEADER, ITV1, 2 May 2005
On this programme, the Prime Minister deployed a different defence to the charge that he backed regime change in March 2002, when it was put to him by Jonathan Dimbleby, a few days before the General Election.
He always backed regime change, he said, if it wasn’t possible to get compliance with UN resolutions by any other means. If he’d made up his mind for regime change in March 2002, he asked, what was the purpose of going back to the United Nations in the autumn of 2002 and giving Saddam Hussein one more chance to disarm in resolution 1441?
This is a very plausible defence, which Jonathan Dimbleby failed to breach.
The key fact that undermines this defence is that the Prime Minister didn’t want arms inspectors back in Iraq ever again. He hoped that Saddam Hussein would keep them out. He told his meeting on 23 July 2002 that “… it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors”.
It is not obvious how a desire to see Saddam Hussein refuse entry to arms inspectors can be reconciled with wanting Iraq disarmed by peaceful means – which couldn’t be done without arms inspectors being on the ground in Iraq. But it can be reconciled with wanting a pretext to take military action against Iraq with the aim of overthrowing the regime.
The purpose of “going back to the United Nations” in the autumn of 2002 was to acquire such a pretext. The aim was to persuade the Security Council to prescribe an inspection regime that was so unpalatable to Saddam Hussein that he would refuse to allow inspectors in, and to authorise military action in this event.
This plan failed to get off the drawing board because other members of the Security Council, led by France, watered down the conditions of the US/UK draft of resolution 1441 to such an extent that it was acceptable to Iraq. UN inspectors, acting under the terms of 1441, were allowed into Iraq and were allowed to go anywhere they liked.
The ploy of “going back to the United Nations” was in danger of achieving the wrong result, namely, a declaration by UN inspectors that Iraq was disarmed in accordance with Security Council resolutions. But, the US/UK averted the danger by deciding unilaterally (a) that Iraq wasn’t complying with 1441, and (b) that the Iraqi regime should be overthrown militarily because it wasn’t complying (they said).
The US/UK’s settled purpose from March 2002, if not earlier, was to change the regime in Iraq. Realistically, this could only be done by military means. For domestic purposes, the UK was anxious, if at all possible, to get the Security Council to authorise military action ostensibly to enforce disarmament resolutions, but which would inevitably lead to regime change.
But this tactic failed: in March 2003, the Security Council refused to pass a “second” resolution stating that Iraq wasn’t complying with its disarmament obligations, let alone authorise military action to effect compliance. So, committed as they were to regime change, the US/UK had no option but to go ahead without authorisation from the Security Council.
JD: … A year before the invasion, just a year before the invasion, your foreign affairs advisor Sir David Manning e-mailed you from America saying that he had reassured the White House, I quote, “You would not budge in support for regime change”, more than a year before the war. That seems pretty clear that you were on for regime change.
TB: But it is absolutely clear from the statements I was making at the time publicly, never mind privately. We then decided to go back to the United Nations and give it one last chance to work the UN route.
JD: But you said you would not budge, Mr Blair, from regime change. To any normal person I suggest that means that you were absolutely on for regime change, which was their [the US] policy to get rid of Saddam Hussein.
TB: If you couldn’t enforce the UN resolutions by any other route, then you’d have to go down the route of regime change. You know there was this leak in the papers the other day –
JD: With respect, you are turning around the order of events as they were described by .. when Sir David Manning says you would not budge in your support for regime change he went on to say you had to “manage a press, a parliament and a public opinion”, which you knew was very hostile to that prospect.
TB: Yes, but this was all in the context of ensuring that you had regime change if you couldn’t get any other way of complying with UN resolutions. And actually that thing that was leaked the other day from July 2002 made it absolutely clear that, if you couldn’t get compliance with UN resolutions by any other means than regime change, it would have to be regime change, but, after those leaks, after those memos rather, we went back to the United Nations in November. Now if it had been, as you say, and, as parts of the media have suggested, I’d made up my mind for regime change, come what may, what was the purpose of going back to the United Nations?
JD: I’m just saying…I’ve got the whole memo here it says nothing about UN resolutions.
TB: Where is that memo from?
JD: It is from March 2002.
TB: Exactly. Six months .. more than six months actually, eight months before the United Nations resolutions.
JD: Precisely the point, Prime Minister.
TB: What point?
JD: You said six months before, the point that I’m putting to you on behalf of some of the people in the audience here, you would not budge in your support for regime change before it went to the United Nations.
TB: Because you’re taking that, as the leak did the other day completely out of context, because we’d made it clear that if - I’d said this publicly incidentally in April 2002 - if you couldn’t get compliance with UN resolutions by any other way than regime change, there should be regime change. There was no point in going back to the United Nations in November 2002 unless it was clear that, if he complied with the UN resolutions, then of course you couldn’t have had the conflict.
JD: Four days after Sir David Manning’s e-mail to you saying you would not budge in your support for regime change, he said that to Condi Rice after a long meeting, four days after that, Christopher Meyer, your man in Washington, British ambassador, also e-mailed number 10 saying he had also told the Pentagon “we backed regime change” and he added in his memo that the “plan” had to be very “clever”. What did that mean?
TB: What it means is that if you go back and try to get international support - as was made clear incidentally all the way through the year - if you go back and try to get international support for regime change, without having exhausted the UN route, you weren’t going to get support for it. That is precisely why we went back to the United Nations in November, I mean all of this stuff that you are putting to me has been in the public domain for ages. We went back to the United Nations in November. We got a resolution that said Saddam Hussein now had to let the inspectors back into Iraq; he has to comply immediately fully and unconditionally with them. He didn’t do so and that is the reason why we went to war.
[It is important to remember that it didn’t need a Security Council resolution in November 2002 to get the inspectors back in. On 16 September 2002, Iraq gave permission for the inspectors to return to Iraq, but the US/UK prevented them going back in.
Remember also that the impartial authorities chosen by TB and GB to be the judges of whether Saddam Hussein had complied with resolution 1441 were TB and GB, so surprise, surprise, they got the answer they wanted. They then chose themselves to decide what should be done in the light of the non-compliance perceived by themselves, and chose to take military action, overriding the view of the Security Council, which had laid down the obligations in the first place. DM]
JD: The point, Tony Blair, that I’m putting to you, proposing to you, is that it is open I would have thought to a reasonable interpretation that you had already committed yourself to a regime change by saying to the White House in March that you would not budge from regime change and then in order to deliver regime change because you had to manage the press and the public opinion to quote…
TB: Let’s just take your conspiracy theory for a moment and ask what is the point…
JD: It’s not a conspiracy theory … it’s lining up the evidence to make sense.
TB: But the sense is this. As was being made clear publicly, never mind privately that, if you couldn’t get compliance with international obligations by any other route than regime change, regime change it would be. But the reason we went back to the United Nations in November was precisely to say he had to have one last chance .. did he take it and the answer is: no he didn’t.
[Again, remember that it was TB and GB, not the Security Council, who decided that Iraq was not complying, and decided that Iraq should be invaded militarily because of the non-compliance they perceived. DM]
JD: So when you said I won’t budge from regime change in March before your meeting in Crawford with the President, when you said .. effectively I reassured the president I won’t budge that didn’t mean I won’t budge what it meant was .. we may have to use regime change.
TB: What you’re doing as ever is taking these things out of the context of which they are, when the discussion, as I’ve openly said, was of course about regime change. All of it was in the context of if we exhausted the UN route and he’d failed to comply.
[Remember that it was TB and GB who decided that the UN route was exhausted in March 2003, just before the Iraqi weather made military action difficult – which may have influenced their decision that the UN route was exhausted in March 2003. DM]
(3) Today, BBC Radio 4, 4 May 2005
When interviewed by John Humphries on Today, the Prime Minister deployed the same defence as he had done two days earlier with Jonathan Dimbleby: he always backed regime change, he said, but only if disarmament could not be effected by other means.
JH: … half the country believes this scenario: that you talked to George Bush at Easter 2002, you agreed then, effectively agreed, to go to war, you came back to this country and every subsequent action you took was designed to win our support for a decision that you had already taken, but were not prepared to admit you had taken. You misled us, surely?
TB: That is what people say, and it’s simply not right, because if I’d had the ability to get a second United Nations resolution which I tried very hard to do. We went back to the UN in the first place in order to try and resolve this peacefully. What I was determined to do –
JH: That isn’t the point though, with respect. The question of United Nations resolutions is not what I’m asking about. It’s that you decided with George Bush at his ranch in the spring of 2002 that you were going to war, come what way effectively – the decision had already been taken. And that is supported by all sorts of things that we have learned since then, memos from people like Sir David Manning, who talked about meetings and who briefed you and said: “I said you would not budge in your support for regime change”. So, by March of 2002, it was perfectly clear, according to your own Foreign Policy adviser, Sir David Manning, that you had agreed with George Bush on regime change.
TB: But that’s simply not right. What I’d agreed –
JH: That was what was said in the memo.
TB: What happens with these things is that they’re just lifted out of context. I can tell you exactly what I said to President Bush.
JH: I can tell you what he said, what Sir David Manning said in the memo: “I said you would not budge in your support for regime change”. So, how would your own Foreign Policy adviser believe that you supported regime change, unless you had made it clear that you did?
TB: I did support regime change, provided that it was impossible to get what we wanted through the United Nations route.
JH: But you told us that you were not going to go to war to support regime change, in order to change the regime, very specifically. You were very clear about it.
TB: What I said was this, and I actually said it publicly, and this is why these so-called shock horror leaks aren’t shock horror at all. In April 2002, I actually said at the press conference I did that I would support regime change if it was the only way to bring back Iraq into compliance with UN resolutions, but the reason why I raised the UN resolutions is that going down the UN route and giving Saddam a final chance to comply is completely inconsistent with the notion that we decided to go to war in any event, because had Saddam complied fully, unconditionally, immediately with the UN resolution that was passed in November 2002, after all these meetings took place, then of course there wouldn’t have been a conflict.
So, the issue in the end is how did we, because this all arises, I think we discussed this before, this all arises for me out of my belief, and I may be wrong in this incidentally, but I happen to believe it genuinely, and sincerely. I believe that after September 2001, after the attack on America, that it was vital that we took a completely different attitude to the whole notion of proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, because of my fear that if terrorism managed to get its hands on these types of weapons, then terrorists that had killed three thousand people would kill three hundred thousand people. And so, the reason why we then discussed the issue of Iraq, as a live issue if you like, for the first time after September 2001, was because that had changed the paradigm within which I thought, we thought these things through. So, my thought then was, look, Iraq is the place to start on WMD. It’s not that you don’t have Iran and North Korea and Libya and the network of AQ Khan and others, who were a big WMD problem. But the place to start was Iraq, because of the history of UN resolutions. That’s to say, I may be wrong in this, but I thought you had to send such a clear signal across the world that regimes from then on would know that they had to comply with international obligations, and terrorists would have a reduced chance of getting their hands on such weapons.
JH: But there are out there, and we return to the subject over and over again as you know, because more information keeps coming out in the form of leaked documents, memos and e-mails, whatever it happens to be. Sir Christopher Meyer, who was your ambassador, Britain’s ambassador, to America, he told Sir David Manning in March of 2002 about a meeting that Paul Wolfowitz had had, that he had with Paul Wolfowitz. “I opened by sticking very closely to the script that you used with Condi Rice”. That’s what he said to you [to Manning, in fact, not to TB]. “We backed regime change”. So again you see all the evidence is that you had made this decision to get rid of Saddam Hussein. And it wasn’t unless this or that or the other happened, it was the decision that you had taken with George Bush. You had promised George Bush you go to war with him back in February or March of 2002.
TB: That’s simply wrong, because all these –
JH: Well, how do you explain –
TB: Because they’re taken out of context, and the context in which all the discussions were taking place –
JH: How can you take a sentence like that out of context? “I opened by sticking very closely to the script you used with Condi Rice. We backed regime change”. That’s a verbatim quote.
TB: But the script that we used throughout was the same script, John, which was, and it was announced publicly, never mind privately, was that if we could not secure compliance with international obligations by any other way than regime change then it would be regime change. But I can assure throughout the entirety of all those meetings the same thing was being said. And, indeed, I had the occasion when this leak came out to go back over some of the other documents describing positions and meetings that took place. It was made absolutely clear that we had to exhaust the UN route.
JH: That isn’t what you told .. You see, you had a meeting in July 2002, just a few months after that, a meeting with Bush. “When the Prime Minister – this is the minute of the meeting – when the Prime Minister discussed Iraq with President Bush at Crawford he said that the UK would support military action to bring about regime change.” You didn’t tell us that, you didn’t tell the people of this country that that was your decision.
[To be precise, JH’s quote is from the Foreign Office briefing paper for the July meeting, not the minute of the meeting itself.]
TB: Look, as I keep saying to you, that was not the case. We would support regime change if –
JH: So the minute was wrong?
TB: Well, the minute is just taken out of context, because there were all sorts –
JH: Everything appears to have been taken out of context.
TB: These particular things are because people want to make a case, which as I say is completely inconsistent with going down the UN route, that I agreed with President Bush at the meeting back in March or April 2002 that we would go to war in any event. That is simply not true. The reason we went back to the United Nations in November 2002 was precisely because we made it clear that there had to be an exhausting of the UN route, because you couldn’t make the case for regime change unless it was very, very clear that was the only way to secure compliance with international law.
JH: You told Jeremy Paxman we had 250,000 UK and US troops there in March 2003. I had a decision to make as to whether to leave Saddam there or remove him. I decided to remove him. The reason we had all those troops there was that they had been sent there knowing the war was going to be inevitable. And you didn’t have to decide yourself to remove him, did you? The United States could have done it without us, couldn’t it?
TB: Well, there are two points there. The first thing is: when we went back to the United Nations in November 2002. Remember, the history of this that Saddam was in breach of UN resolutions, and had refused to let the weapons inspectors back into Iraq. But that’s true, the only reason he actually let them back into Iraq was because we had the troops down there. Now, the troops were there in case he didn’t comply. He was supposed to comply fully, immediately and unconditionally and didn’t do so. Now, in respect of the second point, I don’t know whether it’s the case that the Americans would have done this on their own or not.
JH: The greatest military power the world has ever seen against a tin pot dictator. They could have done it … I decided to remove him. That has such a hubristic ring to it.
TB: It’s not hubristic, it’s simply trying to explain a decision. Now, it’s true we could have withdrawn. We could have backed away as a country. I didn’t think that was right. I thought that would have been a wrong decision, a cowardly decision.
JH: But we were in that position, because of a decision you’d already taken.
TB: That simply isn’t the case, otherwise there would be no purpose in having gone down the UN route. I made it clear, I think I’ve said this before, but I’ve done so many interviews running over this ground so many times. I think I’ve said this before. But back in November 2002, when we had the UN resolution, I made it absolutely clear that if Saddam complies with UN resolution 1441 there’s nothing can be done, even though the regime is an abhorrent regime and it would be in one sense it would be a good thing to get rid of it in any event, given the death and destruction he caused to his own people and to the region. But he didn’t. The reason I explained the decision in this way, I’m sorry I don’t mean to, to, to, I didn’t mean it to be explained in a hubristic way, I’m simply trying to explain to people that when you then go to March 2003, and it was impossible to get a fresh resolution with an ultimatum, in order to enforce compliance, then I had the decision, I mean either we backed away or we removed him.
[There was another alternative, which was to continue inspection indefinitely. But it was impossible to bring about regime change by inspection. DM]