PLAN OF ATTACK: The Special Relationship
Blair Steady in Support
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
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.
"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."