Some well-placed observers believe that this meeting in Crawford, at the start of April 2002 and nearly a full year ahead of the actual invasion, marked the moment at which Tony Blair began to commit Britain to invasion. The hold that the prime minister made a binding, though private pledge.²In Not the Chilcot Report, Peter Oborne gives a succinct and passionate analysis of the evidence presented to the Chilcot Inquiry, which is now expected to report in July. His findings won't surprise anyonewho has kept their eyes open. Tony Blair and his government lied about what intelligence reports said about the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (my former colleague Carne Ross is quoted at length). Published intelligence dossiers were manipulated to support the case for war, which legally was pretty much non-existent. I slightly differ from Oborne on the flexibility of the French position immediately pre-war - my recollection of a conversation with a senior French diplomat at the time is that Chirac seemed pretty rigid. But otherwise it seems pretty sound to me.
²The former British ambassador in Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, told the Chilcot Inquiry he was 'not entirely clear what degree of convergence was... signed in blood, at the Crawford ranch' but pointed to the 'clues in the speech that Tony Blair gave the next day' in which he mentioned 'regime change', Meyer thought, for the first time in public. http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/media/40453/20091126am-final.pdf, p. 29
Oborne makes several further interesting points which I don't think I'd seen before. He asserts that the British army basically got its ass kicked in both Basra and Helmand, Afghanistan, for the sake of helping the Americans who as it turned out didn't really want to be helped; that MI5 accurately foresaw that one inevitable result of war in Iraq would be increased homegrown Islamic radicalisation; and that although Blair is probably guilty of war crimes for waging a war of aggression, the fact is that the UK's veto on the UN Security Council will ensure that he remains safe from prosecution.
He starts and finishes very gloomily. He does not expect the Chilcot report, which apparently runs to over 2 million words, to land any punches, which is why he has written his own analysis of the evidence presented to it. He sees the current UK government as fully on board with the neoconservative project (and repeating the mistakes of Iraq in Libya). Meanwhile the intelligence services have been subverted to the will of the executive, which retains and exploits the monarchical powers acquired by Britain's unwritten constitution.
What's particularly interesting is that Oborne is no leftie. He's the former chief political commentator of the Telegraph, from which post he spectacularly resigned last year, and is associate editor of the Spectator and writes a column for the Daily Mail. I'm well aware of his rabid Euroscepticism and other off-the-wall right-wing views. Yet in this book he refrains from Labour bashing - in fact he has nothing but good things to say of the Labour left-wingers who criticised the rush to war (though omits the Lib Dems who also got it right). If anything that rather strengthens the case he makes. We'll see what Chilcot has to say.