A memo from March 2002 seems to show that Tony Blair, then prime minister of the United Kingdom, supported military action in Iraq a year before parliament voted on going to war.
The document, included in full below, was written by Colin Powell, then the US secretary of state, to his president, George W. Bush. Powell wrote, “Blair will be with us should military operations be necessary.” At the time, Blair was publicly saying that he was not yet convinced about going to war and was looking for a diplomatic solution.
Powell adds that Blair was convinced that “the threat is real,” that he “may suggest ideas on how to make a credible public case on current Iraqi threats to international peace,” and that he would “present to you the strategic, tactical and public affairs lines that he believes will strengthen global support for our common cause.”
A spokeswoman from Tony Blair’s office said in an email to Quartz that the memo did not contradict what Blair has said in public. “This story is nothing new. The memo is consistent with what Mr. Blair was saying publicly at the time and with Mr. Blair’s evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry,” she said, referring to Britain’s public inquiry into the Iraq war.
The Powell document was first reported by the Mail of Sunday after it was included among Hilary Clinton’s emails released by the US State Department. Another briefing, prepared for Powell by the US Embassy in London and dated April 2, 2002, reports:
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 or that Iraq’s WMD status has changed for the worse … 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.
Both memos were written ahead of the Crawford summit at Bush’s Texas ranch from April 5 to 7, 2002, when Bush and Blair met privately. Christopher Meyer, Britain’s ambassador to the US from 1997 to 2003, told the Chilcot inquiry that the plan for military action could have been signed “in blood” during those meetings.
“The two men were alone in the ranch, so I’m not entirely clear to this day what degree of convergence was signed in blood, if you like, at the Crawford ranch,” Meyer said in 2009.
When Blair appeared at the Chilcot inquiry in 2010, he strongly denied that such a deal was made. And when in Crawford in 2002, he told the public that he was not focused on war. “This is a matter for considering all the options. We’re not proposing military action at this point in time,” he said at the time.
Representatives for Bush and Powell didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment.
Here are both full briefings detailing Blair’s thoughts on the Iraq war: