This is the fourth of five articles adapted from "Plan of Attack," a book by Bob Woodward that is a behind-the-scenes account of how and why President Bush decided to go to war against Iraq. Simon & Schuster. © 2004.
On Sunday, March 9, 2003 -- 10 days before launching war with Iraq -- President Bush was increasingly worried about the political peril of his chief ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Bush jokes with Blair in February 2001. During talks on Iraq, Bush said he did not want to see Blair's government go down.
(Doug Mills -- AP)
"Do you think he could lose his government?" Bush asked Condoleezza Rice, his national security adviser.
"Yes," she replied.
"Would the British really do that?"
"Remember Churchill," she said, noting that he had lost his government after winning World War II. Though Blair's Labor Party had more than a 2 to 1 majority in Parliament, the defection of 150 or more Laborites would leave the opposition Conservatives with the temptation or opportunity to join the Labor defectors to bring down Blair's government in a vote of no confidence.
The president was very worried. He called Blair for one of their regular conversations. They explored the possibilities, which other countries on the U.N. Security Council they could get to support or at least acquiesce in a war. His last choice, said Bush, would be "to have your government go down. We don't want that to happen under any circumstances. I really mean that."
If it would help, Bush said, he would let Blair drop out of the coalition and they would find some other way for Britain and its 41,000 military personnel in the region around Iraq to participate.
"I said I'm with you. I mean it," Blair replied.
Bush said they could think of another role for the British forces -- "a second wave, peacekeepers or something. I would rather go alone than have your government fall."
"I understand that," Blair responded, "and that's good of you to say. I said, I'm with you."
Bush said he really meant that it would be all right for Blair to opt out. "You can bank on that."
"I know you do," Blair said, "and I appreciate that. I absolutely believe in this, too. Thank you. I appreciate that. It's good of you to say that," the prime minister repeated in his very British way. "But I'm there to the very end."
It was an extraordinary offer, confirmed by Bush in an interview in December. Had Blair accepted, the United States would have been virtually alone in launching the war -- with only a few thousand troops from countries such as Australia and Poland.
Blair Pushes U.N. Route
On the morning of Sept. 7, 2002, Blair left London on a transatlantic flight to see Bush at Camp David. The president had invited him to come for dinner and a three-hour talk on Iraq. Blair would be on the ground for about six hours -- an unusually short stay.
In Blair's conversations with Bush, it was increasingly clear to the prime minister how committed Bush was to action. But as Blair's foreign secretary, Jack Straw, had signaled to his counterpart, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in a meeting the month before, the message from the British in essence was: If you are really thinking about war and you want us to be a player, we cannot be unless you go to the United Nations. Powell also favored a U.N. resolution, and he knew this would add to the pressure on Bush, who absolutely had to have Blair on board.