Executive Summary of the Iraq Inquiry


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The UK's relationship with the US


The UK's relationship with the US was a determining factor in the Government's decisions over Iraq.

It was the US Administration which decided in late 2001 to make dealing with the problem of Saddam Hussein's regime the second priority, after the ousting of the Taliban in Afghanistan, in the "Global War on Terror". In that period, the US Administration turned against a strategy of continued containment of Iraq, which it was pursuing before the 9/11 attacks.

This was not, initially, the view of the UK Government. Its stated view at that time was that containment had been broadly effective, and that it could be adapted in order to remain sustainable. Containment continued to be the declared policy of the UK throughout the first half of 2002.

The declared objectives of the UK and the US towards Iraq up to the time of the invasion differed. The US was explicitly seeking to achieve a change of regime; the UK to achieve the disarmament of Iraq, as required by UN Security Council resolutions.

Most crucially, the US Administration committed itself to a timetable for military action which did not align with, and eventually overrode, the timetable and processes for inspections in Iraq which had been set by the UN Security Council. The UK wanted UNMOVIC and the IAEA to have time to complete their work, and wanted the support of the Security Council, and of the international community more widely, before any further steps were taken. This option was foreclosed by the US decision.

On these and other important points, including the planning for the post-conflict period and the functioning of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the UK Government decided that it was right or necessary to defer to its close ally and senior partner, the US.

It did so essentially for two reasons:

  • Concern that vital areas of co-operation between the UK and the US could be damaged if the UK did not give the US its full support over Iraq.

  • The belief that the best way to influence US policy towards the direction preferred by the UK was to commit full and unqualified support, and seek to persuade from the inside.

The UK Government was right to think very carefully about both of those points.

First, the close strategic alliance with the US has been a cornerstone of the UK's foreign and security policy under successive governments since the Second World War. Mr Blair rightly attached great importance to preserving and strengthening it.

After the attacks on the US on 11 September 2001, that relationship was reinforced when Mr Blair declared that the UK would stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the US to defeat and eradicate international terrorism.173 The action that followed in Afghanistan to bring about the fall of the Taliban served to strengthen and deepen the sense of shared endeavour.

Notes (hide):

173: The National Archives, 11 September 2001, September 11 attacks: Prime Minister's statement.

When the US Administration turned its attention to regime change in Iraq as part of the second phase of the "Global War on Terror", Mr Blair's immediate response was to seek to offer a partnership and to work with it to build international support for the position that Iraq was a threat which had to be dealt with.

In Mr Blair's view, the decision to stand alongside the US was in the UK's long-term national interests. In his speech of 18 March 2003, he argued that the handling of Iraq would:

"... determine the way in which Britain and the world confront the central security threat of the 21st century, the development of the United Nations, the relationship between Europe and the United States, the relations within the European Union and the way in which the United States engages with the rest of the world. So it could hardly be more important. It will determine the pattern of international politics for the next generation."

In his memoir in 2010, Mr Blair wrote:

"I knew in the final analysis I would be with the US, because it was right morally and strategically. But we should make a last ditch attempt for a peaceful solution. First to make the moral case for removing Saddam ... Second, to try one more time to reunite the international community behind a clear base for action in the event of a continuing breach."174

Notes (hide):

174: Blair T. A Journey. Hutchinson, 2010.

Concern about the consequences, were the UK not to give full support to the US, featured prominently in policy calculations across Whitehall. Mr Hoon, for example, sought advice from Sir Kevin Tebbit, MOD Permanent Under Secretary, on the implications for the alliance of the UK's approach to Iraq.175

Although there has historically been a very close relationship between the British and American peoples and a close identity of values between our democracies, it is an alliance founded not on emotion, but on a hard-headed appreciation of mutual benefit. The benefits do not by any means flow only in one direction.

In his memoir, Mr Blair wrote:

"... I agreed with the basic US analysis of Saddam as a threat; I thought he was a monster; and to break the US partnership in such circumstances, when America's key allies were all rallying round, would in my view, then (and now) have done major long-term damage to that relationship."

The Government was right to weigh the possible consequences for the wider alliance with the US very carefully, as previous Governments have done. A policy of direct opposition to the US would have done serious short-term damage to the relationship, but it is questionable whether it would have broken the partnership.

Over the past seven decades, the UK and US have adopted differing, and sometimes conflicting, positions on major issues, for example Suez, the Vietnam War, the Falklands, Grenada, Bosnia, the Arab/Israel dispute and, at times, Northern Ireland. Those differences did not fundamentally call into question the practice of close co-operation, to mutual advantage, on the overall relationship, including defence and intelligence.

The opposition of Germany and France to US policy in 2002 to 2003 does not appear to have had a lasting impact on the relationships of those countries with the US, despite the bitterness at the time.

However, a decision not to oppose does not have to be translated into unqualified support. Throughout the post-Second World War period (and, notably, during the wartime alliance), the UK's relationship with the US and the commonality of interests therein have proved strong enough to bear the weight of different approaches to international problems and not infrequent disagreements.

Had the UK stood by its differing position on Iraq – which was not an opposed position, but one in which the UK had identified conditions seen as vital by the UK Government – the Inquiry does not consider that this would have led to a fundamental or lasting change in the UK's relationship with the US.

This is a matter of judgement, and one on which Mr Blair, bearing the responsibility of leadership, took a different view.

The second reason for committing unqualified support was, by standing alongside and taking part in the planning, the UK would be able to influence US policy.

Mr Blair's stalwart support for the US after 9/11 had a significant impact in that country. Mr Blair developed a close working relationship with President Bush. He used this to compare notes and inject his views on the major issues of the day, and it is clear from the records of the discussions that President Bush encouraged that dialogue and listened to Mr Blair's opinions.

Mr Blair expressed his views in frequent telephone calls and in meetings with the President. There was also a very active channel between his Foreign Affairs Adviser and the President's National Security Advisor. Mr Blair also sent detailed written Notes to the President.

Mr Jonathan Powell, Mr Blair's Chief of Staff, told the Inquiry:

"... the Prime Minister had a habit of writing notes, both internally and to President Clinton and to President Bush, on all sorts of subjects, because he found it better to put something in writing rather than to simply talk about it orally and get it much more concretely ... in focused terms."176

Notes (hide):

176: Public hearing, 18 January 2010, page 38.

Mr Blair drew on information and briefing received from Whitehall departments, but evidently drafted many or most of his Notes to the President himself, showing the drafts to his close advisers in No.10 but not (ahead of despatch) to the relevant Cabinet Ministers.

How best to exercise influence with the President of the United States is a matter for the tactical judgement of the Prime Minister, and will vary between Prime Ministers and Presidents. In relation to Iraq, Mr Blair's judgement, as he and others have explained, was that objectives the UK identified for a successful strategy should not be expressed as conditions for its support.

Mr Powell told the Inquiry that Mr Blair was offering the US a "partnership to try to get to a wide coalition" and "setting out a framework" and to try to persuade the US to move in a particular direction.177

Notes (hide):

177: Public hearing, 18 January 2010, pages 77-78.

Mr Blair undoubtedly influenced the President's decision to go to the UN Security Council in the autumn of 2002. On other critical decisions set out in the Report, he did not succeed in changing the approach determined in Washington.

This issue is addressed in the Lessons section of this Executive Summary, under the heading "The decision to go to war".


Next Section: Decision-making

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Notes:

173: The National Archives, 11 September 2001, September 11 attacks: Prime Minister's statement.

174: Blair T. A Journey. Hutchinson, 2010.

175: Minute Tebbit to Secretary of State [MOD], 14 January 2003, 'Iraq: What If?'.

176: Public hearing, 18 January 2010, page 38.

177: Public hearing, 18 January 2010, pages 77-78.