Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain’s former ambassador to Washington, mused last week that Tony Blair may have reached a secret deal with George Bush to topple Saddam Hussein a full year before the invasion took place. The deal was apparently clinched during a summit at the president’s Crawford ranch in April 2002, where the two leaders spent many hours in private talks with no advisors present. “To this day I am not entirely clear what degree of convergence was, if you like, signed in blood at the Crawford ranch”, said Meyer in evidence to the Chilcot inquiry into the war. “They weren’t there to talk about containment or strengthening sanctions”.
The existence of such a deal is hardly a revelation today. Although Blair would continue to claim publicly for months that no decision had been made, immediately after the Crawford meeting the Prime Minister made a speech in which he used the words ‘regime change’ to justify the invasion for the first time. And the headlines from that weekend suggest journalists were well-briefed on the new position: Blair to Back US War on Saddam; Blair Agrees on Need to Oust Saddam; Blair Pledges War on Iraq; and Iraq Action is Delayed but ‘Certain’. Evidently Bush had agreed the need to spend time trying to drum up some international legitimacy, while Blair committed Britain to the attack come what may.
But that wasn’t all the two leaders talked about during their tete-a-tete. They also talked about oil. As I revealed in The Last Oil Shock, on the very weekend Bush and Blair forged a pact to invade Iraq, they also secretly established a permanent diplomatic liason called the US-UK Energy Dialogue, whose aim was foster ‘energy security and diversity’. No announcement was made, and the Dialogue’s existence was only later exposed through a US Freedom of Information enquiry.
Given the well-known oiliness of the Bush administration, it would be tempting to see the move as American led, but documents reveal that it was Blair who proposed the Dialogue, to which Bush agreed. A despatch to Washington from the US embassy in London in September 2002 noted “The British strongly support this dialog with the U.S. and want to use it to leverage U.S and UK influence on energy issues in Russia, the Caspian and the Middle East…Officials report that the Prime Minister’s office request regular updates on the preparatory work”. Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt wrote to the US Commerce Secretary that the purpose of the Dialogue was “to bring together the separate strands of our energy policy and its wider foreign policy context”.
In February 2003, on the eve of the invasion, nobody outside Whitehall or the Washington beltway knew America and Britain were working so closely on oil. But while millions demonstrated around the world waving ‘No Blood for Oil’ placards, British and American officials gathered in Paris for a meeting of the Dialogue’s Middle East and Energy Security working group. The meeting noted that global oil demand was forecast to soar to 120 million barrels per day by 2030, and that to satisfy this, production in the Gulf would have to more than double to 52 mb/d. Documents show the meeting proposed a ‘targeted study to examine the capital and investment requirements of Gulf countries’. So on the eve of the invasion British and American officials were secretly discussing how to raise oil production from the region and we are invited to believe this is mere coincidence.
There was obviously a deal at Crawford. But it was signed in something far thicker than blood.