YESTERDAY'S appearance by Sir Christopher Meyer at the Chilcot Inquiry on the Iraq war showed very clearly the advantages of personal testimony over documentary evidence. They are complementary, of course, but Sir Christopher's frank answers to some leading questions from the inquiry members brought to life the atmosphere in Washington, where he was British Ambassador, in the months between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. For instance, when answering a question on the failure of post-war planning for Iraq Sir Christopher described it as a black hole and recalled sitting next to Vice President Cheney at a dinner party when Cheney said to him, After the troops get to Baghdad all this will be history.
On two issues Meyer provided valuable insights. The first concerned the Bush-Blair meeting in April 2002 at which it has been widely assumed that Blair first committed Britain to military support for an Iraq invasion. He said that the two men spent much of the time alone together and that on the following day he heard Blair use the phrase regime change for the first time. The second illuminated the failure of the UN weapons inspectors to complete their mission to find Iraq's weapons of mass destruction; it came about, said Meyer, because US military planning required that the invasion should take place before the inspectors could finish their task which was doomed to fail from the start. And of course, there were no such weapons.