Forget WMDs. Forget liberating the Iraqi people. Forget the technicalities of who saw what legal advice when. Forget all the pretexts and constantly-shifting goalposts in the political rhetoric about the Iraq war.
The Sunday Times today published a leaked minutes from a Downing Street meeting in July 2002 showing that Tony Blair was committed to war with Iraq to achieve “regime change”. Finding a legal pretext was merely an afterthought.
“If the political context were right, people would support regime change,” said Blair. He added that the key issues were “whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan space to work&rdsquo;.
The political strategy proved to be arguing Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) posed such a threat that military action had to be taken. However, at the July meeting Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, said the case for war was “thin” as “Saddam was not threatening his neighbours and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran”.
Straw suggested they should “work up” an ultimatum about weapons inspectors that would “help with the legal justification”. Blair is recorded as saying that “it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors”.
A separate secret briefing for the meeting said Britain and America had to “create” conditions to justify a war.
Sir Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said the leaked minute showed Blair had “agreed to an illegal regime change with the Bush administration. It set out to create the justification for going to war. It was to be war by any means.”
The minutes can be read in full here.
It’s worth noting, as Charlie Whitaker does, that ”regime change“ was specifically ruled out as a legitimate military objective in Lord Goldsmith’s advice.
Other Sunday papers have the Times’ story as well. The Indy on Sunday puts it this way:
The minute reveals the head of British intelligence reported that President Bush had firmly made up his mind to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein, adding that ”the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy“.
At the same time, a document obtained by this newspaper reveals the Foreign Office legal advice given to Mr Blair in March 2002, before he travelled to meet Mr Bush at his Texas ranch. It contains many of the reservations listed nearly a year later by the Attorney General in his confidential advice to the Prime Minister, which the Government was forced to publish last week, including the warning that the US government took a different view of international law from Britain or virtually any other country.
The advice, also put before the July meeting, was drawn up in part by Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the Foreign Office’s deputy legal adviser, who resigned on the eve of war in protest at what she called a ”crime of aggression“.
The Observer today endorses Blair for re-election, but also carries a remarkable interview with Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, the former Chief of the Defence Staff, who says: “If my soldiers went to jail and I did, some other people would go with me.”
Asked whether he meant by ‘other people’ Lord Goldsmith and Tony Blair he replied: ‘Too bloody right.’
Anger among the military brass is not good news for the Government. People with security clearance and an axe to grind are an excellent source of leaks.