REVEALED: Ex-PM Tony Blair secretly promised George Bush he’d ‘spin’ the Iraq war to the world
The former prime minister’s pledge, which was approved by the then US president, is disclosed in a Downing Street memo leaked to the Daily Mail.
It was written by Mr Blair’s foreign policy chief Sir David Manning one day after Mr Blair’s summit with Mr Bush at the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002, a year before the conflict.
It was not until two years after the war that evidence emerged suggesting Mr Blair had ‘signed in blood’ at Crawford a deal to back Mr Bush’s plan to bomb Iraq.
Ex-PM Tony Blair (left) secretly promised George Bush (right) he’d ‘spin’ the Iraq war to the world
But evidence of Mr Blair’s role in manipulating public opinion was clear much earlier, with his press chief Alastair Campbell clashing with the BBC when it accused the Government of ‘sexing up’ the case for war.
The fight was over the notorious ’45-minute dossier’, which was spun to newspapers as suggesting Saddam Hussein could hit British targets in Cyprus with weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of an order by the Iraqi dictator.
Sir David’s memo also shows that Mr Blair made the decision to back the war – almost an entire year before it began – after Mr Bush blithely told him he did not know who would replace Saddam and wasn’t bothered about that.
The official inquiry into the Iraq War ruled that failure to plan for the post-conflict phase was one of the biggest blunders by Mr Bush and Mr Blair.
The memo was leaked as the number of people who have signed a petition calling for Sir Tony’s knighthood to be rescinded passed one million.
Sir David is credited with playing a major role in brokering the Iraq War pact between Mr Blair and Mr Bush. He makes it clear his memo – sent to then foreign secretary Jack Straw’s principal private secretary Simon McDonald and copied to Mr Blair’s No 10 chief of staff Jonathan Powell – was top secret.
It was ‘exceptionally sensitive’ and Mr Blair had ordered that it be ‘very tightly held’ with ‘no further copies’ made.
In effect, Mr Blair – whose ‘New Labour’ was notorious for its use of PR ‘spinning’ under Mr Campbell – was offering to act as a global spin doctor for Mr Bush, seen by some as less sophisticated
Anti-war protesters are seen massed in Hyde Park during a demonstration against war with Iraq in London on February 15, 2003
Sir David, who attended the talks at Crawford with Mr Blair, Mr Bush and Mr Powell, says the prime minister told the president he could help with ‘the PR aspect’ of his secret plan to bomb Iraq.
In effect, Mr Blair – whose ‘New Labour’ was notorious for its use of PR ‘spinning’ under Mr Campbell – was offering to act as a global spin doctor for Mr Bush, seen by some as less sophisticated.
He told the president PR was vital to persuade sceptical EU leaders and voters of the importance of letting UN inspectors search for Saddam’s supposed stockpile of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (WMDs).
The memo says: ‘Bush accepted we needed to manage the PR with great care. The PM said we had to be careful how we framed the UN inspectors’ ultimatum to Saddam.
‘We needed an accompanying PR strategy to manage European public opinion. Bush agreed.
‘If, as the PM expected, Saddam failed to co-operate with UN inspectors, the Europeans would find it harder to resist the logic that we must take action to deal with an evil regime.’
The former prime minister also told Mr Bush: ‘We would still face the question of why we had decided to act now, what had changed?’
Then Prime Minister Tony Blair (second from right) talks with Major General Richard Shirreff CBE (second from left) as he visits British troops in Basra, southern Iraq, in 2006
Mr Blair would say ignoring such risks could ‘force us to take more costly action later’.
In the weeks before the war Mr Blair visited all major EU nations in a bid to persuade them to back the war. But his PR campaign failed and ended in acrimony when he accused France of sabotaging his attempt to obtain UN support.
The memo also reveals Mr Bush had scant regard for what might happen after the war.
He issued a rallying cry to Mr Blair: ‘Whatever plan emerged we had to ensure victory. We could not afford to fail.’
But Sir David notes warily that Mr Bush had produced ‘a number of imponderables’.
He wrote: ‘He didn’t know who would take Saddam’s place if and when we toppled him.
‘But he didn’t much care. He was working on the assumption that anyone would be an improvement.’
Hopes that the fall of Saddam would bring peace in Iraq have not been borne out. It was plunged into bloody strife that continues to this day.
Mr Blair and Mr Bush’s hope that they would find WMDs in Iraq was dashed when Saddam allowed UN inspectors in – and they found nothing.
They decided to go ahead with the war after Downing Street produced the later discredited ‘dodgy dossier’ that claimed Saddam had WMDs.
Sir David hints that as early as the Crawford summit, Mr Blair had doubts about relying on the UN inspectors. He told Sir David ‘privately’ that Mr Bush realised it was ‘possible Saddam would allow the inspectors in’.
Mr Blair said if that occurred they would ‘have to adjust our approach accordingly’.
He also told Mr Bush to ‘ramp up’ pressure on Saddam and if he blocked UN inspectors the US and UK had the right to ‘go in and deal with him’.