A trip down memory lane, from an April 4, 2003 Grauniad* article:
Tony Blair has frequently played a pivotal role in the infighting in the US administration over Iraq, according to the recently retired British ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer.
Hawks in the Bush administration, mainly the deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, pushed for an attack on Iraq rather than Afghanistan in the aftermath of September 11.
Sir Christopher, in an interview with the US public broadcasting system last night, said that the prime minister, arriving in Washington the week after an inconclusive discussion between George Bush and his key advisers at Camp David, swung in behind the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, who saw Afghanistan as the prime target.
In the documentary Blair's War, Sir Christopher, who returned to Britain last month, said that when Mr Blair met Mr Bush in the weeks after September 11, he urged him to deal first with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network and its protector - Afghanistan's Taliban government - before tackling Iraq.
"Tony Blair's view was, 'Whatever you're going to do about Iraq, you should concentrate on the job at hand'. And the job at hand was get al-Qaida, give the Taliban an ultimatum," the former British ambassador said.
Sir Christopher added that Mr Bush took Mr Blair aside and promised he would keep Iraq "for another day".
I remember my jaw dropping when I read this a year ago. But the U.S. press never picked it up, and I forgot about it until I saw Clarke's interview.
Did anyone actually see that documentary? I haven't, but assuming this is an accurate characterization--a few observations:
1. The retired British ambassador, and the retired terrorism advisor under four U.S. presidents, seem to be telling the same story, or at least quite consistent stories. One of them may tell the story under oath next week. If they're not credible enough sources to at least take these charges seriously--who, exactly, would be?
2. A lot of people on the left gave up on Blair and Powell as moderating influences long ago--but if this is accurate, we have a lot of reason to be grateful to them. Fighting terrorism is fraught with uncertainty, but deep in the pit of my stomach I know that if we had attacked Iraq while bin Laden and the Taliban did as they pleased in Afghanistan--there would have been another attack on New York by now. And probably London too.
3. I wonder which side Cheney was on in this debate? And Rice?
4. One of the weirdest things about that Guardian article is the reference to Blair "arriving in Washington the week after an inconclusive discussion between George Bush and his key advisers at Camp David". I remember being surprised that so much time passed between 9/11 and the first bombs falling on Afghanistan--was this really because we spent a full week deciding whether to bomb Afghanistan or Iraq? I find that bizarre beyond words, but it does seem possible.
5. Whether it was Blair or not, whether it was a close call or not--Bush did make the right decision that September. I suppose that should reassure me. But it doesn't seem to have weakened the hawks in the administration at all, based on what's happened since. It's more like there was a grudging agreement that "we'll give Tony and Colin this one, but then a next year it's OUR turn and they have to support us." And in the end, Iraq got more resources than Afghanistan ever did, by almost any measure.
UPDATE I'm doing some Lexis searches of news stories the weeks after 9/11. Briefly--it is very clear that the hawks in the Bush administration immediately wanted to go after Iraq. But it's not clear that they wanted to go after Iraq instead of Afghanistan, rather than in addition to Afghanistan. The Guardian article strongly implies the former, but Meyer's quotations could just as easily support the latter.
More on this...I don't know exactly when. But soon.
*bow before my English in-jokes. Also, go Arsenal!