Live Blog – 30 November 2009

Monday 30 November 2009

(There was one evidence session today, scheduled for 14:00 – 17:00.)

Topic: UK policy towards Iraq 2001 – 2003

Sir David Manning, Foreign Policy Adviser to the Prime Minister, 2001-2003

This afternoon’s hearing, as it happened

This afternoon’s witness is Sir David Manning, formerly Tony Blair’s chief foreign affairs adviser. In March 2002 Manning allegedly told Condoleezza Rice that Tony Blair would not budge in his support for regime change. He also wrote an account of a meeting between Blair and George Bush in January 2003.

17.02 Suggestions were made that Saddam should give the game up, but in the end this turned out to be a mirage. It was not likely to materialise. Chairman asks for any more points but none offered. Wraps up and notes that next week’s programme is being released during the course of today.

17.00 Sir Lawrence – is there a sense that we hitched to an American wagon that we couldn’t steer? We had lesser influence because we were in Basra not Baghdad.

16.57 What was the expectation for the post-invasion Iraq? It would be free of WMD and it was thought that stability and cooperation in the Gulf would be better without Saddam. Negatives – it might appear that the West was picking on an Middle East country and a backlash may well occur.

16.53 Back to weapons process. Iraq’s declaration was unconvincing to say the least. Inspectors wanted to take scientists out of Iraq but this was obstructed. Feeling was Saddam was not going to comply so the decision went ahead. We were tied to that decision.

16.48 Lyne – were there other options? There was an option not to take part. The PM was clear in his own mind that if the UN process was exhausted he would take part. By the second week of March it became clear the UN process would not work. Told the US that a second resolution was essential, and believed the same.

16.42 Was his analysis shared by the US? Depends who you talk to. Paul Bremer would probably not agree. Dr Rice was aware of the problems, so there were divided views in Washington as how to deal with this. The decision process still arguable but probably Bremer took this decision to disband Ba’athist infrastructure, but it was a mistake.

16.36 Was it foreseeable. Not on that scale. Internal divisions ‘bubbled up’ again, but this was not envisioned. Consultative processes were underway, had the security situation been more stable then the situation may have been very different. Inadequate troop numbers contributed to problems, borders could not be sealed so access to insurgents were wide open. The US lost focus, exhaustion took place and attention was switched to other things.

16.32 The US remained in war mode, rather than adopting a peacekeeping role. Spoke to Dr Rice to sort out infrastructure deficiencies. The Coalition Provisional Authority did not help by disbanding Iraqi Army and Ba’ath party apparatus. Was UK influence in CPA sufficient to change things. Not really qualified to answer – Qn should be addressed to Jeremy Greenstock.

16.28 Turning to post-conflict. Was the internal struggle and security breakdown on the radar screen? Not foreseen and deeply troubling. There was no anticipation of how the existing Iraqi security system would break down. It was hard to persuade the US that they had to step in to control this.

16.22 Would delay have given more time for aftermath planning? Yes. Strained relationships in P5 and Europe may have been rebuilt.

16.18 Were other UN members bids for more time tactical or to delay action? Some believed more time should be given. Doesn’t know if it would have any effect. Attempt made to rally Mexico and Chile. This is when the ‘six tests’ were developed. The second resolution was ‘pulled’ in early March.

16.14 Saddam had the opportunity to resolve matters but the US believe Blix was being obstructed. Manning personally thought more time should be given for inspections.

16.10 The US was determined to confront the UN community over Iraq. Blair thought support of this was the best way.

(Andrew Mason takes over blog)

16.07 Lyne goes back to Meyer. What sort of options review was taking place in London? Manning agrees that containment (as it was) was no long viable. Hadn’t completely given up on it. Still banging on about UN. When he went to Crawford, Blair probably didn’t think Bush would still accept containment or think it was relevant.

16.05 Lyne refers back to Meyer’s evidence that policy had changed by March 2002. What sort of meetings did PM hold at that time in which this was thrashed out? Meetings of ministers who were inside the ring of secrecy. People who were in ad hoc group. Misleading to say that there were major shifts that Blair could articulate. Trying to find out US policy. When I met Rice I was trying to prepare for Crawford. When it became clear that US was moving its policy towards regime change he wanted to steer it through UN route but needed to signal that it might not work.

16.04 Lyne points out that none of our shopping list was met. Was there a reconsideration? Yes (but does not agree that none of conditions were met). Goes back to Blair’s determination to try the UN route. He does not challenge assertion that UN had not been exhausted.

16.03 I thought it was very important to give Blix etc every opportunity to give the process work.

16.02 During inspections, when US were sceptical, what influence were we able to have to keep the US on the UN route? Although the Americans were sceptical, they understood that people needed a 2nd resolution. We pressed very hard. Progress oscillated. I thought it was essential Sometimes they concluded that it was desirable, before concluding that it would not be possible.

16.01 Was there a point where we went through the conditions, e.g. the day after? When it became clear that we would not get a 2nd resolution there was a discussion, foreign secretary etc. Effort to stay within the international community was the paramount concern.

15.59 Freedman asks whether conditions were used as checklist. Refers to Chicago speech and five tests. Were they used? Don’t think so. Main condition was working through the UN. He thought others will be subsumed in that.

15.58 When were we told that the Dept of Defense rather than State would be in charge? I suspect it was in February (03)

15.55 Would [hope over experience] be a good description of the plans for the day after? Manning agrees. We thought the State Dept would be in control but it turned out that it was Dept of Defense. The post-war administration turned out to be a bad way of managing things. Were you concerned up to March 2003 about these deficiencies? It was something we had worked on. Insistence that there must be a role for the UN. Different currents in US administration. Some element of wishful thinking that things would turn out to be like post-war Germany or Japan.

15.50 Freedman lobs another easy question up to Manning about conditions. who bats it back. It is far, far to cosy. Talks about effort to explain. Freedman says with these conditions it is difficult to see if they are met. Manning agrees but says that Blair was pushing for ME progress. When it comes to “information”, Blair wanted the public to be as aware as possible. Freedman points out that progress on ME is dependent on others. Manning says to be candid, we were always disappointed on ME. Had to diffuse a very dangerous situation. Israel threatening to take out Arafat. The really important issue was the need for a new roadmap. Bush did concede two state solution. Hard pounding on roadmap. Triumph of hope over experience.

15.45 Did he US ask UK to be involved in new direction of policy or did UK seek to be involved in order to move the Us in a particular way? Perhaps not as clear as that. Blair wanted to bring people together internationally. An opportunity post 9/11 to bring people together. Wanted to build bridges with Muslim world. Didn’t want Afghanistan and US to be seen as attack on Muslim world.

15.43 Was UK taking a new course in 2001, after 9/11? Going to axis of evil speech, Blair’s view was that on Iraq the idea was to go through UN. On Iran similarly to go through international community.

15.41 Freedman asks him about references to regime change. Did Crawford represent a step change in UK policy? Manning says that it was a tough speech from Blair afterwards. Going back to outcome – agreed that we were wanting the UN route but would agree to regime change if it didn’t work. This was the balance he wanted to strike.

15.40 Other people have reported problems with the feed Can other people see it – on this site or the Inquiry one? They are back anyway.

15.27 They are having a break. This is farce. The panel have just sat back and listened as Manning squares the circle by claiming that regime change actually meant disarming Saddam. Blair’s commitment to regime change didn’t actually mean taking Saddam out. Oh no, we are far to cunning for that. The Inquiry panel are as credulous a group as you could ever wish not ever to see.

15.24 Did we hold to our conditions? Now going back to previous claims about only way we could have gone in was via UN.

15.19 Prashar asks if he was satisfied that Blair was being given best advice about military challenges etc. Reminds that until xmas 2002, MoD thought they were going to deploy a large landforce into Northern Iraq. Point was to stabilise interface between Kurds and Sunni heartland. Turkey would not let us go in that way. Late change in plan to invade from the south. As an armchair general, I had my own misgivings about this campaign. Worried about wmd threat, based on intel. Also worried about plan for Baghdad. I was wrong on every count. It was all fine. I think here Manning is throwing a bone to the headline writers, showing a small bit of doubt to cover up the fact that he has just spun a line.

15.18 Says he was not just doing it because Bush told him to do it. Goes back to 1999 Chicago speech.

15.16 Prashar asks why UK participated militarily on scale we did. Manning says that Blair concluded when “diplomatic track collapsed” that he had promised that he would go in if it came to it. If it was right, if was worth doing properly.

15.13 They are still banging on about co-ordination. Here is the conclusion from the March 2002 Options paper:

“In sum, despite the considerable difficulties, the use of overriding force in a ground campaign is the only option that we can be confident will remove Saddam and bring Iraq back into the international community.”

But regime change, apparently was not about war!

15.12 Did those who needed to know share in the decision taking. I didn’t see any problem.

15.10 Now talking about ministerial structure. Meetings of a clique of ministers.

15.10 Chilcot asks how you dovetail a diplomatic effort over months with military planning. Manning says that there was a central co-ordination. Had a restricted group that met weekly. Sometimes I chaired it, sometimes my deputy (McKane). Not just about Iraq. Looking at intelligence. Widened with second group from Overseas and Defence Secretariat with less access to secret info. Beyond that I tried to ensure that the conversations I or Blair had with US and other countries were meticulously recorded and distributed around so that there was transparency. Spoke to Straw and Hoon to make sure they knew what was going on. So there’s a huge document trail that we haven’t seen.

15.04 Prashar if not wanting to give a signal affected the military planning. Accepts that it probably did.

15.03 Prashar asks about conditions being essential. Says yes, UN was seen as essential.

15.01 Did we attach conditions? Blair was always insistent that if there was going to be military action, the UN, ME etc was important, not to mention the morning after. But this was not a condition as such.

15.00 Are you saying that our contribution was not necessary. It wasn’t essential but was politically important. There were many other countries.

14.58 How important was it for the UK to be part of the military action? Says this was an important signal, once you have agreed coalition route. Militarily less significant but became more so, once US force was smaller than expected. But US could have done this without us.

14.57 This questioning is becoming a farce. The Inquiry has all the documents that contradict what Manning is saying but they are not challenging him. Now he says that there was a further discussion of military action in September 2002. Blair agrees on an entirely contingent basis that he would be willing to consider “package 2” of the options. Acceptance later that if it came to military action we would move to package 3.

14.52 Prashar asks at what point did the UK decide in principle to participate in military action. Manning says he is not entirely expert. I saw material sent to Blair regarding options and his options. The first time he asked for military actions was in June 2002. We were aware that the US was looking it. In July 2002 a letter was sent to PM from Hoon’s office, identifying three options for military action. I think he is going through the technicalities in order to stress that it’s all very technnical and he doesn’t know much about it.

14.50 Going back to Crawford, did Bush and Blair have a shared view that they would be together, whatever happened. Need to ask PM, but he wanted SH disarmed but did want to stick with US. I really cannot believe how ingenuous this questioning is. They are allowing Manning to redefine regime change.

14.48 Chilcot asks were there different expectations within US (and UK?) about whether this could be achieved without military intervention? US had different views. UK did not think it was bound to fail.

14.46 Now Chilcot asks if UN route is seen to lead inevitably to regime change. Yes, but it depends what you mean by regime change. If SH accepts UN resolutions etc, it will amount to regime change. This is clearly going to be the government’s strategy, that regime change was not actually regime change.

14.42 Now Chilcot is reflecting back that the policy was disarmament. What were the options? Manning says that containment was not working. US wanted to confront rather than contain threats. Containment would unravel. This is astonishing. Whatever Meyer said on Thursday, whatever the documents say, Manning is claiming that it was not about regime change and no-one is challenging him. No waffling about need to maintain credibility of UN.

14.41 Final question: did we have a policy worked out or were we just reacting. Not fair to say no reaction. Our policy was not regime change. Was disarmament.

14.40 Prashar asks did we at any stage believe that threat of military action was essential? Manning says strategy would be enhanced. Threat of military action was implicit.

14.39 Now Prashar asks when he concluded that there was a significant likelihood of military action by US? Not until much later. Went back to tell Blair that UN route was not a lost cause. Provisionally (end July 02) an agreement was reached for Blair to go and see Bush after holidays. Says this is a key moment. Rice says can disregard noise in US about military action. No decisions had been taken. Blair went to Camp David. We thought it would be a discussion between Bush and Blair. Surprised to seen Cheney there. Concluded that Bush wanted to expose Cheney to arguments re UN route. Over a couple of hours, Blair laid out the case. Blair suggested might need two resolutions. First to set conditions that SH would have to meet re disarmament. Claims that Blair only wanted to disarm Saddam. Resolution would include require for disarmament or face military action. Bush accepted that if SH disarmed, regime change would have been effected, no need for war. Bush: we would have crated the guy. Aware of argument within administration. Not aware what Bush would say until UN speech 12 September. Then Rice said Bush was given wrong text. Ad libbed reference to resolutions.

14.32 Still waffling about different view in US. No-one has challenged him on his claim that no decisions had been made as far as August 2002! Absolutely inept! Surely someone will point to what the contemporaneous documents say.

14.28 Prashar finally interrupts with reference to what Ricketts said about US dislike for UN inspectors. Were you aware of differences. Yes, but depending on who you talk to. No government is monolithic. Roughly three groups. 1) regime changers who just wanted rid of SH mainly neo-cons. Saw UN as impediment.

14.27 Later had talks with Rice and told her that the only way we could take part in policy dealing with Iraq was if we went to UN. Still no-one has asked about March 2002 commitment to regime change. Had taken note from Blair to Bush on Iraq. Made clear that UK could only take part if via UN, Middle East, “explain why Iraq was an issue. Next morning had half an hour with Rice and Bush in Oval Office. Had read Blair’s note and been briefed by Rice. Said it was impossible for UK to take part without UN.

14.30 In weeks after Crawford it is clear that policy review is taking place. By July it is clear that the Americans may have come to a decision about this. Visit to Rice end of July. Predominantly about Iraq. Arrived in time to have meeting with R Armitage (Deputy Sec of State) said did not know where US was up to but if there was going to be a choice for regime change there were a number of questions to answer. Why now? What if Iraq used wmd? What would follow. Role of UN. What about ME piece process.

14.23 Now has been waffling for over five minutes. No-one has asked him about “would not budge” in support for regime change. Back to Middle East.

14.22 Moving onto Crawford, to set the scene. Bush had invited Blair to ranch for talks informal setting. Blair in main house, myself and J Powell in guest house. Iraq a minor part of this debate. First evening Blair and Bush dined alone. Next morning formal meeting with three a side. Began with Bush giving brief account of previous evening’s discussion. Said they had discussed Iraq over dinner. Said they had discussed Iraq. No war plan but set up a small cell at CENTCOM to look at options. Blair said he thought it was important to go via UN and present this as opportunity for SH to co-operate. Blair told Manning later that he had pressed Bush to seek multilateral approach, concluded that Bush did want to construct coalition.

14.16 I said to Rice that if they were going to construct a coalition, there were a number of issues they needed to think through. Role of inspectors, convince public. If inspections failed and it came to regime change, we would need a convincing plan for post-war Iraq. Middle East. I suggested that we were nowhere near having answers to these questions.

14.09 Manning has now spent three minutes talking about 9/11. Now he is talking about the anthrax scare. As far as I am aware the first time Bush mentioned Iraq to Blair after 9/11 was on 14 September 11 in a telephone call when he said there might be a link between bin Laden and SH. Blair said that there would have to be very strong evidence to justify evidence about Iraq. Followed up with letter in October. Concerned that UK and US should stay focussed on Afghanistan. He did tell Manning that he was concerned about wmd. Were aware, via embassy, that a debate was going about Iraq. Was open letter from Senators warning administration that it needed to keep on top of Iraq’s wmd. The next event significant for me was 22 January 2002 when I went to Washington with Dearlove. Went in knowledge that Iraq had been subject of considerable debate. Said to Rice that if there was a review of Iraq within administration, it would have to include inspectors. Phone call from Rice 14 Feb said there was a review but there was no decision yet. In March I went to Washington on a reconnaissance visit prior to Crawford the following month. Went to talk to Rice about agenda and to reflect preoccupations. I did say to Rice that if the US was thinking about reviewing its policy and it wanted coalition support and participation of its allies, it needed to address allies concerns.

14.06 Prashar asks when US attitudes turned towards regime change. Manning says there was no one time but a number of key moments. First there was 9/11, which caused the US to redefine the threats to it.

14.02 Manning starts by putting Iraq in the context of September 11 but also of other issues in the foreign policy area, such as India/Pakistan, which might have gone nuclear, Israel/Palestine. Then there was Russia. Iraq was not necessarily top priority. Is Manning hoping to waffle his way through the afternoon?

Archived Comments

By John Bone

Submitted on 2009/11/30 at 3:33pm

Also apparently unasked is: when is the UN route not the UN route?

By Tony Simpson

Submitted on 2009/11/30 at 4:16pm

“I said that you would not budge in your support for regime change … ” David Manning, 14 March 2002, in his advice to the Prime Minister prior to Crawford, reporting his conversation with Condi Rice.

By John Bone

Submitted on 2009/11/30 at 5:09pm

16.53. According to the Guardian blog, Manning said that it was the US who wanted scientists taken out of Iraq to be interviewed. This makes more sense: I don’t remember the inspectors making much of this demand.

By andrewsimon

Submitted on 2009/11/30 at 5:26pm

John –

You may well be right – I’d taken over the blog by then and I’ve got to say that it’s very hard to follow this and write coherently at the same time – besides which Chris can type about four times faster than me! I do recall this aspect featured in Blix’s statements to the Security Council. Apparently someone (?) would not allow the Iraqi scientists to record their statements – no doubt they believed that the US would fabricate the evidence they required and then claim that the Iraqis had said it themselves.

By Lee Roberts

Submitted on 2009/11/30 at 8:11pm

A terrible afternoon: sheer farce. You could almost see the strings attached to Manning’s mouth, and at times the panel seemed to have crossed over. I dont think even Monty Python could have made this amusing. Talk about watching paint dry !!

By Lee Roberts

Submitted on 2009/11/30 at 8:21pm

The huge missed opportunity was the failure to challenge Manning’s repeated assertion that containment wasnot working. He presents no credible evidence that containment wasnt working. In fact, based on what we know, containment was working pretty well. This is one of the most specious aspects of the Blair defense, and the panel seem happy just to accept Manning’s throughly unconvincing assertions. So memo note: really push the enquiry on what containment meant and the evidence that it wsasnt working. When it suited Rice and Powell (of course, both vintage liars), containment was working fine. If really developed, this line of enquiry could lead us to one of Blair’s many achilles heel. But honestly, after today, Chilcot and the panel should be fired. I am sure that both Bush and Blair are delighted with the way things went today.

By Lee Roberts

Submitted on 2009/11/30 at 8:24pm

I meant to say “both Brown and Blair”

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