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Philippe Sands: when Bush and Blair set off to war

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New evidence about George Bush and Tony Blair’s drive to go to war against Iraq without a second United Nations (UN) security council resolution or any evidence of weapons of mass destruction was revealed last week.
Issue 1987
Philippe Sands
Philippe Sands

New evidence about George Bush and Tony Blair’s drive to go to war against Iraq without a second United Nations (UN) security council resolution or any evidence of weapons of mass destruction was revealed last week.

An updated version of international lawyer Philippe Sands’ book, Lawless World, details of a memo of a meeting between the two leaders in the run-up to war on Iraq.

It shows that George Bush had decided to go to war without a second UN resolution and Tony Blair was “solidly” behind him.

Philippe Sands told a press briefing last week, “A very important meeting took place between Bush and Blair on 31 January 2003 – a two hour meeting referred to in Bob Woodward’s book Plan of Attack by George Bush as the ‘famous second resolution meeting’.

“It is abundantly clear from the material I’ve seen, which was prepared by one of the very small number of people who attended that meeting, that two significant factors stand out.

“Firstly, president Bush had explicitly decided to go to war without a second resolution and he made that view clear to the prime minister.

No evidence

“The prime minister’s response was that he was ‘solidly’ with the president. That indicated that in terms of his own personal decision making the prime minister had decided to go to war with or without a second resolution.

“The second element is that the material that I have referred to is that these two gentlemen were not in possession of hard evidence of weapons of mass destruction, which would give them any degree of confidence that they would get a second resolution and hence the discussions on what some would refer to as ‘dirty tricks’.

“The prime minister wanted a second resolution for political reasons – an ‘insurance policy’ he describes it. The view was that if anything went wrong with the military campaign or Saddam increased the stakes by burning the oil wells, killing children, or fomenting internal divisions within Iraq, a second resolution would provide international cover, including with the Arabs.

“The president tells him: ‘We’re going to go without one and the starting date is pencilled in for 10 March. The diplomatic strategy has to be worked around the military planning but I’ll help you get that. We’ll threaten and twist arms.

“‘And we are thinking of taking US spy planes with fighter cover, painting them in UN colours and sending them over Iraq. If Saddam fires on them he’ll be in material breach.’

“If you have hard evidence of weapons of mass destruction you do not have to engage in this.”

Sands continued, “An early decision was taken by the prime minister. He had not by that point had legal advice. The attorney general had been told by the prime minister not to give advice at that time, presumably to give the prime minister a reasonably free hand in his decision making.

“The prime minister is 100 percent behind the US president and looking for ways to deal with difficult domestic issues.

“President Bush didn’t think there was going to be an insurgency. He tells Blair, he ‘thought it unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups’.

“One would have expected the prime minister to say, ‘Hang on a second I’m getting different advice.’ But there is nothing in the memo that indicates that the prime minister said, ‘I think you might be wrong.’

“The two of them had concocted a strategy as far back as March/April 2002. It was to go down the UN route.

“They then concocted a plan to do that but that went belly-up because they had no evidence and from their perspective [UN inspectors] Blix and El Baradei didn’t deliver the smoking gun and Iraq was cooperating.”

Sands new revelations reveal that the push for a second resolution was at best an attempt to get an “insurance policy” and at worst a facade.


Philippe Sands said, “From a political perspective of two leaders’ personal decision to commit troops to war everything that followed was a sham.

“The prime minister still had the problem of delivering troops as a domestic political issue – this was before the marches and the debates in parliament.

“He couldn’t deliver troops without overcoming significant domestic obstacles. But I think he had made up his mind and any language which suggested he was dependent on a second resolution had gone. His decision was to proceed.

“George Bush had decided much earlier he could live without a second resolution. He has been straighter than the prime minister. His view on international law is that it’s all nonsense. It wasn’t a domestic issue for him. Bush had the freedom to go politically, Tony Blair was subject to enormous political constraints.

“Bush genuinely wanted to help Blair if he could get the second resolution. If Tony Blair had a quiescent media and population, no parliament to get through, the situation would have been very different.

“People ask why is this important? We face other serious challenges, such as Iran which is on the cusp of going off to the UN security council.

“What this material tends to indicate is that we cannot have a high level of confidence in the US president and the British prime minister’s ability to take hugely important decisions in an informed and sensible way.”

Lawless World by Philippe Sands QC (£8.99) is available from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop. Phone 020 7637 1848 or go to


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