April 21, 2004

ALLIES (via mc):

Blair Steady in Support: 'I'm There to the Very End,' Prime Minister Told Bush (Bob Woodward, April 21, 2004, Washington Post)

On March 12, three days after he had declined Bush's offer for Britain to not use its troops in combat, Blair called Bush for an update on where things stood in the Security Council.

"If we don't have the votes," Bush said, "pull it down. We're through." He had had it with the resolutions.

"Would you try one more time?" Blair asked, referring to the key votes of Mexican President Vicente Fox and Chilean President Ricardo Lagos.

"Of course," Bush said. "I'd be glad to do that."

Bush called Fox. "Vicente, I'm insisting there be a vote tomorrow in the U.N. Can we count on your vote?"

"Exactly what's the language like in the resolution?" Fox asked.

"Vicente, we've debated this issue long enough. The security of the United States is on the line. I want your vote."

Fox said he would get back to Bush. Later, during dinner, Rice called Bush to say she had received a phone call saying that Luis Ernesto Derbez, Mexico's foreign minister, was now in charge of the Mexican policy because Fox had to go into the hospital for back surgery.

"Interesting," Bush said. He called Lagos -- a distinguished leader in Bush's view, so he was polite. No threats.

"Can we count on your vote?" Bush asked the 65-year-old Socialist leader.

"Are you sure it's time to bring up the vote?"

"It's time to bring up the vote, Ricardo. We've had this debate too long."

"But we're making progress," Lagos replied.

"That's only because we've got a couple of hundred thousand troops. If those troops weren't there, there'd be even less progress diplomatically. And Saddam Hussein could care less. Any progress you think is being made is illusionary." Bush then stated his predicament clearly. "And I'm not going to leave our troops there. They're either going to go in, and remove him, or they're coming home, Ricardo."

This was a sobering thought. For both practical and political reasons, bringing the troops home without solving the Hussein problem was unthinkable for Bush. It was similar to the position his father had found himself in during January 1991 with 500,000 military men and women in the Middle East. "We have to have a war," President George H.W. Bush had told his advisers several weeks before launching the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Once again a President Bush, this time with more than 200,000 troops in the Middle East, had put himself into the position where he had to have a war.

Bush asked Lagos, "Ricardo, what's your vote?"

No, the Chilean president replied.

"Thank you very much," Bush said.

Bush called Blair and described his talks with Fox and Lagos. "You have to consider these two conversations," Bush said. "This is not positive news. It's over."

The next day Bush told his advisers he wanted to have a summit with Blair to show solidarity. In part it was to fill the void. War was certain, but the diplomatic circus hadn't ended. What could he do? He did not want to just sit around. But Blair's people were concerned about the prime minister leaving the country for even eight hours because of the Margaret Thatcher precedent: In 1990, she went abroad to a conference and was ousted as party leader when she returned. Blair didn't want Bush to give a speech or issue an ultimatum. He, Blair, had to pick the right moment to call for a parliamentary vote. It was Thursday, and any speech from Bush had to wait until at least Monday.

Whatever would serve the British, Bush decided. And on Friday there was another concession to Blair -- an announcement in the Rose Garden of a "road map" for peace in the Middle East that Blair thought should not be delayed until after the Iraq issue was resolved.

The White House proposed a meeting on Bermuda. But that was too far for Blair and too close to the United States. Another White House proposal was for Bush to go to London. Blair's aides balked -- the American president in London at that time would have been a provocation for massive protests. They finally settled on the Azores, a group of Portuguese islands in the North Atlantic closer to London than to Washington.

The summit's purpose, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said, was "to review this diplomacy as it's brought to its conclusion." It began on Sunday, March 16, and included Bush, Blair, Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar and Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barraso -- all supporters of a war.

In a closed-door session, Bush told the others that he was going to give a speech giving an ultimatum to Hussein to get out of Iraq with his sons within 48 hours. "That's what I'm going to do, okay?" Bush said. He wasn't consulting. He was informing. "So everybody knows," he added. [...]

The diplomatic planning was over. "You know," Bush said, "we're going to, we have to keep planning for a future postwar Iraq, and we all agree on the five basic principles. Territorial integrity has to remain. We need immediate, we need to be ready with humanitarian aid to get it in there immediately to head off any food or displaced-persons crisis."

The United Nations would continue its oil-for-food program, Bush said. "We have to build an international consensus for Iraq, a new Iraq, at peace with its neighbors, and we'll go back to the U.N. for another resolution after the war. The U.N. can help with many issues but should not run the country."

He made it clear that the coalition would be in charge.

When the meeting broke up, Rice saw chief White House speechwriter Michael Gerson, who had come with Bush on the 4,600-mile round trip to the Azores so they could work on the ultimatum speech. "Do you have a copy of the speech?" Rice asked, and she handed it to Blair.

Gerson was a little bug-eyed. It was about as closely held a document as there might be. At the same time, Gerson realized that it could have a tremendous impact not only on American politics but also on the course of British politics because of the impending vote of confidence in Parliament. Gerson noticed that Campbell, Blair's communications and strategy adviser, was reading the copy and jotting notes.

The British wanted the speech to be more conditional, with the phrase or concept "if war comes" liberally sprinkled throughout. Though it implied war, it should not be a war speech. A kernel of hope for a peaceful solution had to remain.

Blair had to get home to tend to the politics of war and rebellion in his party. White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. noted that Blair had been filled with both resolve and angst. It wasn't confident resolve. Rice thought it was very much touch-and-go about Blair's future. As she stood watching the British depart, she said, "Gee, I hope this isn't the last time we see them."

On Air Force One, Bush and Rice agreed it was now just a matter of managing the politics of the United Nations and not pulling the plug before Blair had his vote in Parliament. Karen Hughes and Dan Bartlett, the former and current communications directors, joined them, and they went over the speech draft line by line. The British suggestions were acceptable, and Gerson went back on one of the plane's computers and carefully put in the changes. [...]

Finally, at 5:15 p.m. -- 10:15 p.m. London time -- Parliament voted. Blair won by 396 to 217. Though he had lost a full third of his own party's vote, the Tories -- and Britain -- had voted for war.

In November 1942, FDR launched the pointless but deadly invasion of North Africa in order to appease the monstrous Joseph Stalin. In Fall 2002, George W. Bush allowed Colin Powell to use the WMD issue to try and get a UN resolution backing the Iraq War in order to aid our friend Tony Blair with his own domestic political situation. The latter was at least a worthwhile sideshow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 21, 2004 10:43 AM
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