Creating the conditions

by Chris Ames

On Wednesday, the Inquiry questioned Tom McKane, whose work at the Cabinet Office was central to drawing up the plan for war, including the July 2002 paper “IRAQ: CONDITIONS FOR MILITARY ACTION” which, farcically, has not been published by the Inquiry.

McKane was questioned about the purpose of the paper and in particular the reference to “creating the conditions necessary to justify government military action”. McKane insisted that at this point the policy is still one of containment:

SIR RODERIC LYNE: Yes. The paper invites Ministers to agree that the UK should engage the US on a realistic
political strategy, which includes identifying the succession to Saddam Hussein and creating the conditions necessary to justify government military action, which might include an ultimatum for the return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq.
What did the paper mean by the need to create the conditions necessary to justify military action?
MR TOM McKANE: I think that — it’s always a little bit difficult to parse sentences ten years later, but I think what it was saying was, as the Prime Minister had said, we needed to exhaust the UN process, and so we needed to be able to demonstrate that that had been done, and that unless one had gone through that step it would not be possible to say that one had created the conditions necessary.
It may have covered other aspects such as preparing public opinion, but I think that the key thing in the
sentence is this question of how the UN process was going to be handled.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: And I suppose this raises the question as to whether the UN process is intended to lead towards an end which is inspections that constrain or limit Saddam’s assumed programmes for weapons of mass destruction or whether the UN process is seen as a means towards an end, the end actually intended to be military action.
Now what do you think was in Ministers’ minds at this point?
MR TOM McKANE: Well, I can only speculate as to what was in Ministers’ minds. I think I can say what was in my mind and what I felt was the collective view, and that is that we were going to use the UN process and use it in a serious way.
In the event that that resulted in our achieving our policy objectives, then they would have been achieved. In the event that it didn’t result in compliance with the UN resolutions, then it would, if it had been shown to have exhausted all the possibilities of the UN have created the conditions that are talked about in that paper where military action might be justified.
So I don’t think it — at least for me — implies a pre-determination that this would end up one way rather than another, though clearly, as the papers show, it’s a further ratcheting up of the step towards the point where the government decides that it is going to commit British troops.

Lyne’s question about the aim of the policy is the key question of course. There is nothing in the paper to support McKane’s claim that the policy was still containment and witness after witness has said that containment had long been abandoned. McKane’s answer contains a lot of obfuscation and a substitution of the concept of “pre-determination that this would end up one way rather than another” for the concept of intention. Although he does admit that the paper brings military action closer, it is difficult to believe that he can deny that a paper that is explicitly about bringing about military action is seeking to achieve peaceful compliance.

As for the suggestion that the intention was to use the UN process in a serious way, the paper suggests that:

“It is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject (because he is unwilling to accept unfettered access) and which would not be regarded as unreasonable by the international community. However, failing that (or an Iraqi attack) we would be most unlikely to achieve a legal base for military action by January 2003.”

How stupid does McKane think the panel are? It’s a recurring question.

6 comments to this article

  1. Anthony

    on January 22, 2011 at 12:53 pm -

    I don’t think your point is as strong as you make out Chris.

    Consider an equivalent planning activity in the Treasury. Treasury policy under Gordon Brown was that Sterling should be strong enough to join the Euro and that all other conditions for entry should be satisfied. According to the Ames Principle, that is proof positive that Brown was plotting to join the Euro. But in fact that wasn’t the case at all, and indeed he went to considerable lengths to prevent Sterling joining the Euro, even though he had created the conditions whereby it could join.

    Strategic planning is about choosing the best policy. In order to do that, you need to maximise the range of options that are available to you to choose from. Brown wanted the decision over the Euro to be his, not theirs. He’s like that. That’s why he wanted to be in a position to join, even though he didn’t want to join.

    I don’t deny that this operation of MacKay’s was intended to facilitate war, but from his point of view it would have been immaterial what the intention of the politicians might have been. His brief was to produce a plan to bring about the conditions whereby the option was open to them.

  2. Chris Ames

    on January 22, 2011 at 1:51 pm -

    Anthony, your analogy doesn’t really stand up because it is about a new policy vs the status quo, whereas here it was regime change vs what Blair said he was doing, for which there was no planning.

    If Gordon Brown was recorded as saying to Tony Blair privately that Britain would join the Euro if certain conditions were met but was publicly telling people that he wanted to merge the pound with the US dollar and then wrote a paper that entitled “creating the conditions to join the Euro” and then did the things set out in the paper (e.g. cutting national debt) and then Britain joined the Euro, I think I would conclude that the paper showed a plan to join the Euro, not one to merge the pound with the dollar.
    What about you?
    You say that strategic planning is about maximising the range of of available options. Where is the planning for making inspections achieve peaceful disarmament? This is the only plan they had. It is a plan for war.

  3. Bobm

    on January 22, 2011 at 2:31 pm -

    McKane came across to me as a relatively straight and decent person, but two features of his evidence struck me:
    -the extreme hesitancy with which many questions were answered;
    -his flat refusal to take the opportunity, at the end, to draw any lessons from his involvement in this affair.

    Thus, unlike Stephen Wall, [and perhaps understandably for a still-serving civil servant?] he appears to have speaking to a self-imposed script. And, for that reason, I don’t believe that he was telling the whole story.

  4. Bobm

    on January 22, 2011 at 3:42 pm -

    My apologies to Mr McKane; he did say this-

    7 MR TOM McKANE: I think that it’s possible with the —
    8 looking back on it, to say that we might have had more
    9 formal meetings of Ministers. Whether that would have
    10 changed the outcome I rather doubt actually, and I would
    11 still say that the — that those who needed to be
    12 closely engaged in the decisions and the policy making
    13 process at the time were engaged”

    To which my reaction was: “Is that it?”

  5. Phomesy

    on January 22, 2011 at 10:08 pm -

    This is really quite bizarre. It’s no secret Blair thought Containment was a busted flush. Harldy surprising. Only an idiot would have believed that Saddam, having shrugged off a decade of inspections, Sanctions, and occasional bombings would be open to “preaceful disarmement” if only it were properly planned for!

    Where is the planning for making inspections achieve peaceful disarmament? This is the only plan they had. It is a plan for war.

    You’ve answered your own question but failed to realise it. Probably because it’s so simple and obvious.

    What better plan for making inspections achieve disarmament than parking several hundred thousand combat ready troops next door?

    WWhat other plan would you suggest?