by Chris Ames
Although, as I have said before, ill-informed commentators have said that nothing new came out of Tony Blair’s return to the Inquiry last month, he did inadvertently admit that from as early as March 2002 his policy was to seek regime change.
One of the tricky things with Blair’s statements is that when he is denying that he was surreptitiously seeking regime change, he uses one set of arguments, while when he is justifying regime change he says something different. In the first case he tries to conceal the duplicity of his approach by describing his policy of regime change as dealing with Saddam’s wmd.
But in his session last month, he did, as I observed here, admit that the March 2002 Options Paper, provided a binary choice between containment and regime change and that he “came down” in favour of the latter.
When challenged about his failure to show the Options Paper to the Cabinet, which had a major discussion about Iraq on 7 March 2002, he said this:
Well, the options paper really said two things. It said you can either go for containment. We can’t guarantee that that’s successful. He will probably continue to develop his programmes and be a threat, but nonetheless that is one option. The other option is regime change.
Putting aside for a moment, the fact that the Options Paper talked about “toughening containment”, which was effectively the policy that Blair publicly espoused, in this quote Blair gives a pretty accurate account of the paper and firmly identifies regime change as part of a binary choice.
Later in the same session, Blair returned to the subject of the Options Paper:
That options paper actually gives quite a good summary. I don’t suppose there is any problem in reading it. It says: “Tougher containment” — this is the sort of summary, if you like “would not reintegrate Iraq into the international community as it offers little prospect of removing Saddam. He will continue with his WMD programmes, destabilising the Arab and Islamic world and impoverishing its people, but there is to greater threat now that he will use WMD than there’s been in recent years so continuing containment is an option.”
So that was the two sides of the argument, and then which side you came down on really depended on whether you thought post-September 11th we had to be change makers or whether we could still be managers. Up to September 11th we had been managing this issue. After September 11th we decided we had to confront and change…
Blair could not have made it much clearer: he rejected containment, even a tougher version, in favour of “the other option” of regime change. To return to the way the Options Paper defined toughened containment – the policy Blair rejected – it said this:
P5 and Security Council unity would facilitate a specific demand that Iraq re-admit the UN inspectors. Our aim would be to tell Saddam to admit inspectors or face the risk of military action.
the return of UN weapons inspectors would allow greater scrutiny of Iraqi programmes and of Iraqi forces in general. If they found significant evidence of WMD, were expelled or, in face of an ultimatum, not re-admitted in the first place, then this could provide legal justification for large-scale military action
This is pretty well how Blair described his policy at the time and – for the most part – how he describes his policy today. And yet he clearly told the Inquiry last month that he rejected this policy. His approach of having his cake and eating it by simultaneously denying and justifying a policy of regime change has well and truly backfired.
And here is what Tom McKane, whose Cabinet Office section produced the Options Paper and was responsible for co-ordinating the paper, told the Inquiry last month:
MR TOM McKANE: Well, I would repeat what I have just said, that formally from my position in the Cabinet Office there wasn’t a change. The policy of containment wasn’t abandoned until the point when the government decided that it would make — that it would prepare for military intervention and —
SIR RODERIC LYNE: When did the government take that decision?
MR TOM McKANE: I think that too is a difficult question to answer in a precise way, because there was certainly right through to the point where I left the Cabinet Office — there were still a number of points that would have had to have been resolved before any decision would have been taken to —
SIR RODERIC LYNE: You left the Cabinet Office in?
MR TOM McKANE: The beginning of September 2002.
Different witnesses have given different accounts of whether or not the government was still pursuing a policy of containment in the run-up to the war but nearly all have fiercely denied that the policy was one of regime change. Last month Blair undercut them all.