A bombshell White House memo has revealed for the first time details of the ‘deal in blood’ forged by Tony Blair and George Bush over the Iraq War.
The sensational leak shows that Blair had given an unqualified pledge to sign up to the conflict a year before the invasion started.
It flies in the face of the Prime Minister’s public claims at the time that he was seeking a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
He told voters: ‘We’re not proposing military action’ – in direct contrast to what the secret email now reveals.
The classified document also discloses that Blair agreed to act as a glorified spin doctor for the President by presenting ‘public affairs lines’ to convince a sceptical public that Saddam had Weapons of Mass Destruction – when none existed.
In return, the President would flatter Blair’s ego and give the impression that Britain was not America’s poodle but an equal partner in the ‘special relationship’.
The damning memo, from Secretary of State Colin Powell to President George Bush, was written on March 28, 2002, a week before Bush’s famous summit with Blair at his Crawford ranch in Texas.
In it, Powell tells Bush that Blair ‘will be with us’ on military action. Powell assures the President: ‘The UK will follow our lead’.
The disclosure is certain to lead for calls for Sir John Chilcot to reopen his inquiry into the Iraq War if, as is believed, he has not seen the Powell memo.
A second explosive memo from the same cache also reveals how Bush used ‘spies’ in the Labour Party to help him to manipulate British public opinion in favour of the war.
The documents, obtained by The Mail on Sunday, are part of a batch of secret emails held on the private server of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton which U.S. courts have forced her to reveal.
Former Tory Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: ‘The memos prove in explicit terms what many of us have believed all along: Tony Blair effectively agreed to act as a frontman for American foreign policy in advance of any decision by the House of Commons or the British Cabinet.
‘He was happy to launder George Bush’s policy on Iraq and sub-contract British foreign policy to another country without having the remotest ability to have any real influence over it. And in return for what?
'For George Bush pretending Blair was a player on the world stage to impress voters in the UK when the Americans didn’t even believe it themselves’.
Davis was backed by a senior diplomat with close knowledge of Blair-Bush relations who said: ‘This memo shows beyond doubt for the first time Blair was committed to the Iraq War before he even set foot in Crawford.
'And it shows how the Americans planned to make Blair look an equal partner in the special relationship to bolster his position in the UK.’
Blair’s spokesman insisted last night that Powell’s memo was ‘consistent with what he was saying publicly at the time’.
The former Prime Minister has always hotly denied the claim that the two men signed a deal ‘in blood’ at Crawford to embark on the war, which started on March 20, 2003.
The Powell document, headed ‘Secret... Memorandum for the President’, lifts the lid on how Blair and Bush secretly plotted the war behind closed doors at Crawford.
Powell says to Bush: ‘He will present to you the strategic, tactical and public affairs lines that he believes will strengthen global support for our common cause,’ adding that Blair has the presentational skills to ‘make a credible public case on current Iraqi threats to international peace’.
Five months after the summit, Downing Street produced the notorious ‘45 minutes from doom’ dossier on Saddam Hussein’s supposed Weapons of Mass Destruction. After Saddam was toppled, the dossier’s claims were exposed as bogus.
Nowhere in the memo is a diplomatic route suggested as the preferred option.
Instead, Powell says that Blair will also advise on how to ‘handle calls’ for the ‘blessing’ of the United Nations Security Council, and to ‘demonstrate that we have thought through “the day after” ’ – in other words, made adequate provision for a post-Saddam Iraq.
Critics of the war say that the lack of post-conflict planning has contributed to the loss of more than 100,000 lives since the invasion – and a power vacuum which has contributed to the rise of Islamic State terrorism.
Significantly, Powell warns Bush that Blair has hit ‘domestic turbulence’ for being ‘too pro-U.S. in foreign and security policy, too arrogant and “presidential” ’, which Powell points out is ‘not a compliment in the British context’.
Powell also reveals that the splits in Blair’s Cabinet were deeper than was realised: he says that apart from Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, ‘Blair’s Cabinet shows signs of division, and the British public are unconvinced that military action is warranted now’.
Powell says that although Blair will ‘stick with us on the big issues’, he wants to minimise the ‘political price’ he would have to pay: ‘His voters will look for signs that Britain and America are truly equity partners in the special relationship.’
The President certainly did his best to flatter Blair’s ego during the Crawford summit, where he was the first world leader to be invited into Bush’s sanctuary for two nights.
Tony and Cherie Blair stayed in the guesthouse close to the main residence with their daughter Kathryn and Cherie’s mother, Gale Booth. Bush took the highly unusual step of inviting Blair to sit in on his daily CIA briefing, and drove the Prime Minister around in a pick-up truck.
Mystery has long surrounded what was discussed at Crawford as advisers were kept out of a key meeting between the two men.
Sir Christopher Meyer, who was present in Crawford as Britain’s Ambassador to the U.S., told Chilcot that his exclusion meant he was ‘not entirely clear to this day... what degree of convergence was, if you like, signed in blood at the Crawford ranch’.
But in public comments during his time at Crawford, Blair denied that Britain was on an unstoppable path to war.
‘This is a matter for considering all the options’, he said. ‘We’re not proposing military action at this point in time’.
During his appearance before the Chilcot inquiry in January 2010, Blair denied that he had struck a secret deal with Bush at Crawford to overthrow Saddam. Blair said the two men had agreed on the need to confront the Iraqi dictator, but insisted they did not get into ‘specifics’.
‘The one thing I was not doing was dissembling in that position,’ he told Chilcot.
‘The position was not a covert position, it was an open position. This isn’t about a lie or a conspiracy or a deceit or a deception. It’s a decision. What I was saying... was “We are going to be with you in confronting and dealing with this threat.” ’
Pressed on what he thought Mr Bush took from their meeting, he said the President had realised Britain would support military action if the diplomatic route had been exhausted.
In his memoirs, Blair again said it was ‘a myth’ he had signed a promise ‘in blood’ to go to war, insisting: ‘I made no such commitment’.
Critics who claimed that Mr Blair acted as the ‘poodle’ of the US will point to a reference in Mr Powell’s memo to the fact Mr Blair ‘readily committed to deploy 1,700 commandos’ to Afghanistan ‘even though his experts warn that British forces are overstretched’.
The decision made the previous October in the wake of the September 11 attacks led to widespread concern that the UK was entering an open-ended commitment to a bloody conflict in Afghanistan – a concern many critics now say was well-founded.
Mr Powell’s memo goes on to say that a recent move by the U.S. to protect its steel industry with tariffs, which had damaged UK exports, was a ‘bitter blow’ for Blair, but he was prepared to ‘insulate our broader relationship from this and other trade disputes’.
The memo was included in a batch of 30,000 emails which were received by Mrs Clinton on her private server when she was US Secretary of State between 2009 and 2013.
Another document included in the email batch is a confidential briefing for Powell prepared by the U.S. Embassy in London, shortly before the Crawford summit.
The memo, dated ‘April 02’, includes a detailed assessment of the effect on Blair’s domestic position if he backs US military action.
The document says: ‘A sizeable number of his [Blair’s] MPs remain at present opposed to military action against Iraq... some would favor shifting from a policy of containment of Iraq if they had recent (and publicly usable) proof that Iraq is developing WMD/missiles... most seem to want some sort of UN endorsement for military action.
‘Blair’s challenge now is to judge the timing and evolution of America’s Iraq policy and to bring his party and the British people on board.
'There have been a few speculative pieces in the more feverish press about Labor [sic] unease re Iraq policy… which have gone on to identify the beginnings of a challenge to Blair’s leadership of the party.
'Former Cabinet member Peter Mandelson, still an insider, called it all "froth". Nonetheless, this is the first time since the 1997 election that such a story is even being printed’.
The paper draws on information given to it by Labour ‘spies’, whose identities have been hidden.
It states: ‘[name redacted] told us the intention of those feeding the story is not to bring down Blair but to influence him on the Iraq issue’.
‘Some MPs would endorse action if they had proof that Iraq has continued to develop WMD since UN inspectors left.
‘More would follow if convinced that Iraq has succeeded in developing significant WMD capability and the missiles to deliver it.
'Many more would follow if they see compelling evidence that Iraq intends and plans to use such weapons. A clear majority would support military action if Saddam is implicated in the 9/11 attacks or other egregious acts of terrorism’.
‘Blair has proved an excellent judge of political timing, and he will need to be especially careful about when to launch a ramped-up campaign to build support for action against Iraq.
'He will want neither to be too far in front or behind US policy... if he waits too long, then the keystone of any coalition we wish to build may not be firmly in place. No doubt these are the calculations that Blair hopes to firm up when he meets the President’.
A spokesperson for Tony Blair said: ‘This is consistent with what Blair was saying publicly at the time and with Blair’s evidence given to the Chilcot Inquiry’.
Neither Mrs Clinton nor Mr Powell replied to requests for comment.
Stunning memo proves Blair signed up for Iraq even before Americans - comment by former shadow home secretary David Davis
This is one of the most astonishing documents I have ever read.
It proves in explicit terms what many of us have believed all along: Tony Blair effectively agreed to act as a front man for American foreign policy in advance of any decision by the House of Commons or the British Cabinet.
He was happy to launder George Bush’s policy on Iraq and sub-contract British foreign policy to another country without having the remotest ability to have any real influence over it.
And in return for what? For George Bush pretending Blair was a player on the world stage to impress voters in the UK when the Americans didn’t even believe it themselves.
Blair was content to cynically use Britain’s international reputation for honest dealing in diplomacy, built up over many years, as a shield against worldwide opprobrium for Bush’s ill-considered policy.
Judging from this memorandum, Blair signed up for the Iraq War even before the Americans themselves did. It beggars belief.
Blair was telling MPs and voters back home that he was still pursuing a diplomatic solution while Colin Powell was telling President Bush: ‘Don’t worry, George, Tony is signed up for the war come what may – he’ll handle the PR for you, just make him look big in return.’
It should never be forgotten that a minimum of 120,000 people died as a direct result of the Iraq War.
What is truly shocking is the casualness of it all, such as the reference in the memo to ‘the day after’ – meaning the day after Saddam would be toppled.
The offhand tone gives the game away: it is patently obvious nobody thought about ‘the day after’ when Bush and Blair met in Crawford.
And they gave it no more thought right through to the moment ‘the day after’ came about a year later when Saddam’s statue fell to the ground.
We saw the catastrophic so-called ‘de-Baathification’ of Iraq, with the country’s entire civil and military structure dismantled, leading to years of bloodshed and chaos. It has infected surrounding countries to this day and created the vacuum into which Islamic State has stepped.
This may well be the Iraq ‘smoking gun’ we have all been looking for.
By Glen Owen and William Lowther
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.