April 25, 2004


All The President’s Men: Bob Woodward’s explosive account of the run-up to invasion of Iraq reveals how President George Bush’s administration conspired to pursue military action … and how Tony Blair declined every chance to opt out (Ian Bell, 25 April 2004, Sunday Herald)

ON page 161 of Bob Woodward’s book Plan Of Attack there is an arresting passage. In August 2002, as America moved closer to a war its president had been planning long before weapons inspections had been given a chance, Colin Powell, the US secretary of state, was holding a private meeting at his Long Island home with Jack Straw, Britain’s foreign secretary. According to Woodward, the pair had “some of the same concerns” about the unfolding scheme for an assault on Iraq. Straw had come with the message that Britain could not join the adventure “unless you go to the United Nations”. This, it seems, was useful to Powell in his attempts to restrain George W Bush because the President “absolutely had to have Blair on board”.

Later, with war looming, Prime Minister and President had an astounding conversation. Bush was concerned that Blair’s government could fall because of its allegiance to America. “We don’t want that to happen under any circumstances,” he is recalled as saying. Then the reactionary who had dreamed up every pretext for war, who would wait nervously for the decision of the Westminster parliament, so much did he need British “cover”, offered Blair a way out.

“If it would help, Bush said, he would let Blair drop out of the coalition and they would find some other way for Britain to participate.” Put aside the revealing suggestion that the United States might “let” its little ally do something, and you come to the most remarkable of Woodward’s claims, at least for British readers: Bush didn’t simply offer to excuse Blair from service, he made the offer three times in succession. We could have been “peacekeepers or something”, not the country whose participation in the war was Bush’s clinching excuse for invasion.

Hard to believe that Mr. Bell could biff this story so badly when Mr. Bush was obviously offering a friend a way out precisely because we didn't need the British and were going ahead regardless of their decision. We all know, of course, that Mr. Bush is too stupid to say what he means and to insecure to do anything on his own, but you'd think Mr. Bell would at least have noticed that the identical sentiment came from one of the President's secret cabal of puppeteers:
At a Pentagon news conference Tuesday, Rumsfeld was asked how the U.S. would proceed against Iraq if Blair were forced by domestic political pressures to withdraw British troops from participating.

"That is an issue that the president will be addressing in the days ahead, one would assume," Rumsfeld said.

"What will ultimately be decided is unclear as to their role; that is to say, their role in the event a decision is made to use force," Rumsfeld added. "To the extent they're not [able to participate], there are work-arounds, and they would not be involved, at least in that phase of it."

Mr. Blair had no power over Mr. Bush except for that of friendship. This won him a chance to convince the UN to go along, but not to stop the war.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 25, 2004 9:16 AM

I've bee doing a lot of arguing with friends and colleagues, and it staggers me the state of philosophical affairs right now. I use a word that I am now hearing a lot of regarding Woodward's book. I will call today... "Rorschach Politics". EVERYBODY sees whatever they want to see, and ONLY what they want to see, and it's getting to the point where I can't argue with people because there is simply no foundation to boil the argument down to.

I read Woodward's book. I know how I went into reading it, and, surprise, I come out of it liking Mr. Bush. I can site passages where Bush:

-- Uses a word even I had to look up in the dictionary

-- References readings such as 'Theodore Rex' in his decision-making

-- Clearly demonstrates a knowledge of when he should be deciding, and more importantly, when he should NOT be deciding, such as on what is Rumsfeld's and Franks purview.

-- Clearly shows that it is in fact he who calls the shots, much to the dismay, I'm certain, of many a political cartoonist, etc.

In general, he comes out looking good. I'll leave his opponents to say otherwise.

Other fun facts:

-- I am much clearer on the reluctance to confront Saudi Arabia.

-- Much insight into why such people as Joe Biden, who said "wait all summer if necessary to get everyone on board" are categorically out to lunch. A huge factor is some EXTRAORDINARY intel assets in county, who were in extreme danger that grew every single day. It is not out of the question that hundreds of people working for the US could have been rolled up and massacred during the summer of 2003, while Senators and diplomats huff, puff, and posture.

All in all, a great read.

Posted by: Andrew X at April 25, 2004 10:31 AM

"In August 2002, as America moved closer to a war its president had been planning long before weapons inspections had been given a chance,..."

Ten years is not long enough?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at April 25, 2004 1:39 PM