Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Sunday, June 17, 2007

  Tony Blair knew full well that Bush was failing to plan for Iraq occupation

Next Saturday the respected British Channel 4 will air a television documentary on the pre-war planning for Iraq that will present a "devastating account of the chaotic preparations for the war", according to a preview in today's Observer. Blair told many colleagues (including, we now learn, the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock) that all was well with the planning before the invasion.

According to many officials interviewed for the documentary, however, Blair actually was extremely worried that the US was failing to prepare for the occupation. Blair also thought there was nothing he could do to make Bush & Co. take the problem seriously.

Few observers of the Iraq fiasco any longer dispute that the Bush administration had done little planning, much less done it well; in fact the only competent planning, by the State Department, was tossed aside by the Pentagon. The lack of preparation was apparent within months of the invasion. The record of the administration's failures in the first year of the occupation speaks volumes.

The newsworthy thing, for an American audience, is that the failures were stunningly obvious in advance to our closest ally.

Tony Blair has demonstrated over and over again his magnificent capacity for self-delusion, especially as regards to his relationship with George Bush. Blair has seemed to believe whatever it was necessary for him to believe in order to maintain his fawning relationship with Bush. Therefore, that even a man such as this was painfully aware of Bush's inadequate planning implies that nobody in the upper levels of the US government can have had any excuse for not recognizing the same.

From The Observer:

Tony Blair agreed to commit British troops to battle in Iraq in the full knowledge that Washington had failed to make adequate preparations for the postwar reconstruction of the country.

In a devastating account of the chaotic preparations for the war, which comes as Blair enters his final full week in Downing Street, key No 10 aides and friends of Blair have revealed the Prime Minister repeatedly and unsuccessfully raised his concerns with the White House...

In one of the most significant interviews in the programme, Peter Mandelson says that the Prime Minister knew the preparations were inadequate but said he was powerless to do more...'I remember him saying at the time: "Look, you know, I can't do everything. That's chiefly America's responsibility, not ours."


Another interviewee is Blair's senior foreign affairs advisor, David Manning. He essentially confirms what many of us have believed since the Downing Street Memo was published two years ago, but which Blair and his circle have always denied: That Tony Blair and his advisors were continuously worried during the year before the invasion that the Bush administration was bungling the post-war planning. Manning describes a Prime Minister so fearful in March of 2002 that Bush & Co. were not doing the necessary post-war planning that he sent Manning to DC specifically to assess that problem. On Manning's return he wrote a memo that later become famous when it was leaked to reporter Michael Smith.

Though Blair and his pals denied the clear significance of this memo when it was made public, there has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that it portrays both Manning and Blair as deeply concerned about the obvious gaps in planning. As Manning remarked in the memo, Condoleezza Rice gave him the impression that Bush still hadn't figured out "what happens on the morning after" the invasion is completed. He also wrote...

I think there is a real risk that the [Bush] Administration underestimates the difficulties. They may agree that failure isn’t an option, but this does not mean that they will avoid it.


The very same fear was apparent in the war council minutes from July 23, 2002, the Downing Street Memo:

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable...There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.


The Briefing Paper for that meeting was still more explicit about the absence of even the most basic post-war planning:

A post-war occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise. As already made clear, the US military plans are virtually silent on this point. Washington could look to us to share a disproportionate share of the burden. Further work is required to define more precisely the means by which the desired endstate would be created, in particular what form of Government might replace Saddam Hussein's regime and the timescale within which it would be possible to identify a successor.


Thus the best evidence in the public domain has strongly suggested that any British and American officials who were paying attention were of course deeply concerned that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld were giving precious little attention to the monumental task of preparing to occupy Iraq. The Channel 4 documentary will demonstrate that those inferences were exactly right all along.

And as many insiders expected, after the invasion things fell apart quickly along predictable lines. The Observer:

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's envoy to the postwar administration in Baghdad, confirms that Blair was in despair. 'There were moments of throwing his hands in the air: "What can we do?" He was tearing his hair over some of the deficiencies.' The failure to prepare meant that Iraq quickly fell apart. Greenstock adds: 'I just felt it was slipping away from us really, from the beginning. There was no security force controlling the streets. There was no police force to speak of.'


The documentary's presenter, Andrew Rawnsley, also has a commentary about what he learned from interviewing so many British and American officials:

As General Charles Guthrie, former head of the armed forces, puts it: 'Everybody knew that the coalition were going to win the initial battle. But then what?'

Blair himself had repeatedly asked that question during the build-up to the war and with mounting anxiety. A significant witness is Sir David Manning who was his most senior adviser on foreign affairs in No 10 and then became, as he still is, British ambassador in Washington. According to Manning, who speaks on camera for the first time for this series, Blair was extremely exercised that the Americans did not have a clue what they would do after the removal of Saddam. Twelve months before the invasion, he sent Manning to Washington to press his concerns on the White House. On Manning's important account: 'The difficulties the Prime Minister had in mind were, "How do you do it, what would be the reaction if you did it, what would happen on the morning after?"' Blair was deeply concerned that the American plans had not been 'thoroughly rehearsed and thoroughly thought through'.

This tells us that it was very early on that Blair was preparing to send British forces into Iraq. Whatever he was saying in public at this time, he was working on the basis that there would be a war a full year before the invasion. It also tells us that he was prescient enough to identify the danger that the Americans would make a catastrophic mess of the aftermath. And it highlights his own failure to translate that anxiety into effective action to ensure that there was a plan for post-Saddam Iraq.


Again, that's pretty much what we argued two years ago on the basis of the Downing Street Memo. But it's good to have people who were involved acknowledge the truth, finally.

This episode from before the invasion is revealing in a number of ways.

Having committed himself to war, Blair did not like to hear prophecies that echoed his own secret fears. Very shortly before the war, in early 2003, there was an Anglo-French summit. Over lunch, Jacques Chirac warned the Prime Minister that he knew what to expect because the French President had been a young soldier in Algeria. Sir Stephen Wall, a former ambassador and one of Blair's senior advisers, was privy to this conversation. He recalls Chirac telling Blair that there would be a civil war in Iraq. 'We came out and Tony Blair rolled his eyes and said, "Poor old Jacques, he doesn't get it, does he?"' Wall remarks: 'We now know Jacques "got it" rather better than we did.'


One of my first reactions to reading the just-published Downing Street Memo was that it clarified much about the European governments' attitudes toward the American/British warmongering in 2002-2003:

This leaked minute confirms that many world leaders knew well in advance what the Bush administration kept secret from the American public until spring of 2003, that the US intended to invade Iraq. This of course makes even more understandable the consistent opposition and mistrust the Bush administration encountered in the buildup to war, especially in Europe; many leaders in Europe were in a position to know that the war already had the green light, and therefore the posturing before the UN by the Bush administration must have been deeply galling for them.


Blair, the smart-aleck assistant to George Bush, never seems to have wised up to the fact that Bush & Co.'s "plans" for Iraq were all about posturing and nothing more. Rawnsley adds that Blair was stunned when the reality of the Iraq fiasco began to hit him in the face:

Blair's despair became so profound that, according to Mandelson, he was ready 'to walk away from it all'. In the spring of 2004, he came extremely close to resigning as Prime Minister.

Blair invested a huge amount of his faith in his capacity to influence the President. He discovered too late that Bush was only nominally the Commander-in-Chief of the Iraq enterprise. A stark picture emerges of Bush making promises and giving assurances to Blair which were not delivered because Iraq was being run by Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, neither of whom was very interested in listening to their junior British ally.


But is there any conceivable alternate world in which things might have turned out for the better, if only Blair had gotten the influence he so craved? The foolishness of the Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld triumvirate is so great that one is always in danger of underestimating Blair's nearly infinite capacity to learn nothing from experience. Here is Blair's perspective from only seven months ago:

Tony Blair conceded last night that western intervention in Iraq had been a disaster. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, the Arabic TV station, the prime minister agreed with the veteran broadcaster Sir David Frost when he suggested that intervention had "so far been pretty much of a disaster".

Mr Blair said: "It has, but you see, what I say to people is, 'why is it difficult in Iraq?' It's not difficult because of some accident in planning,
it's difficult because there's a deliberate strategy - al-Qaida with Sunni insurgents on one hand, Iranian-backed elements with Shia militias on the other - to create a situation in which the will of the majority for peace is displaced by the will of the minority for war."


Shorter Blair:

The planning we did was perfectly fine, you see.


Sure it was. The real problem was the planning you didn't do.

crossposted from Unbossed

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