· Julian Borger, diplomatic editor
· guardian.co.uk, Thursday 26 November 2009 20.25 GMT
Tony Blair's government decided up to a year before the Iraq invasion that it was "a complete waste of time" to resist the US drive to oust Saddam Hussein, opting instead to offer advice on how it should be done, the former British ambassador to Washington said today.
Sir Christopher Meyer, testifying to the Chilcot inquiry into Britain's role in the war, made it clear that once the Bush administration decided to take military action, the Blair government never considered opting out or opposing it.
He said that the timing of the invasion was dictated by the "unforgiving nature" of the military build-up rather than the outcome of diplomacy or UN weapons inspections, which had not been given sufficient time. British officials were left "scrabbling for the smoking gun" – evidence for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction – as preparations continued.
Meyer, ambassador to Washington from 1997 to 2003, described a critical moment in March 2002, as Blair was preparing a visit to George Bush's
New instructions were brought to the embassy by the prime minister's foreign affairs adviser, Sir David Manning.
The message from Downing Street was that the 11 September attacks and the subsequent US determination to oust Saddam were established facts, "and it was a complete waste of time … if we were going to work with the Americans, to come to them and bang away about regime change and say: 'We can't support it'."
He rejected the suggestion that British policy changed to stay in line with
He conceded that the conditions Blair put on supporting regime change – action on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and going through the UN on
Meyer said there was a "sea change" in
At the meeting, he said Bush and Blair spent "a large chunk of time" together with no advisers present. "To this day I'm not entirely clear what degree of convergence was, if you like, signed in blood at the Crawford ranch," he said, adding that Blair provided a clue in a speech the next day in which he mentioned "regime change" in Iraq for the first time.
"What he was trying to do was to draw the lessons of 9/11 and apply them to the situation in
Meyer said no one in the Bush administration appeared interested in talking about further containment of Saddam after the 2001 al-Qaida attacks on
Before the attacks, Meyer said the Bush administration was "losing steam" on a number of fronts and the
In the immediate aftermath,
The inquiry was attacked today for limiting itself to the testimony of senior mandarins and not asking the views of lower-ranking civil servants who had argued there were alternatives to war.
Carne Ross, who was Britain's Iraq expert at the diplomatic mission to the UN and resigned over the decision to invade, said the committee was not being aggressive enough in questioning the decisions the Blair government took.
"It's like a fireside chat at a
Ross took issue with Meyer's contention that the policy of containment and sanctions had "run its course" by 2002. "The mid-level people who spent all their time doing Iraq – our view was that sanctions had been effective in stopping Saddam rearming, and several of us believed a lot more could have been done to stop Iraq's illegal oil sales."
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs