Today’s Mail on Sunday features the ‘revelation’ of a memo from Colin Powell to George W. Bush prior to Bush’s April 2002 meeting with Tony Blair in Crawford, Texas.
The Mail presents the memo as evidence that Blair agreed to go to war in Iraq nearly a year before the actual invasion. This is significant because Blair continued to maintain ‘no decision has been taken’ on military action until well into early 2003.
There are two problems with this. Firstly, there is nothing revelatory about it. A memo from Blair to Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell sent at about the same time and released by the Chilcot Inquiry says essentially the same thing. It has been kicking around for several years. Secondly, Blair has previously essentially confirmed that his statement that ‘no decision has been taken’ related only to the specific decision to use force. Nothing in this memo alters that. Blair decided in early 2002 to support the US in confronting Saddam Hussein. He planned to begin with non-military tools, but knew any such confrontation would likely escalate to war. The issue is not that he lied about when he decided to use force, in other words, but that he failed to explain the implications of decisions he had in fact made. He should still be held accountable for that failure. But this memo doesn’t prove anything we didn’t already know. More on this in my recent conference paper about Blair’s legitimisation efforts.
One further point on this story. It turns out the documents published by the Mail on Sunday may not have been ‘leaked’ after all. At least one was declassified by the US State Department in response to a Freedom of Information request in April 2014. See here.