Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown poses the question most often heard in the streets. “What people ask me,” he says, “is why is there not just a little more delay.”
The prime minister snaps impatiently: “The reason is that you just go back to 1441: time, time and more time.”
The number 1441 is shorthand for the United Nations resolution against Saddam Hussein that the Security Council agreed to but did not want to act upon. If Parliament ministers could say that the war was being fought because of intolerable abuses of human rights, torture and mass murder, the case would be much easier to make.
SUNDAY, MARCH 16
Morning headlines: Tony Blair faces toughest fight of his political life… Chirac confirms veto of any new U.N. resolution authorizing war…
Amid the wildflowers of a Portuguese airstrip in the Azores, Air Force One finally arrives, escorted by enough surveillance planes to invade a small country.
Talks begin quickly in a brick airport building. George Bush makes suitable, if somewhat halting, remarks about restoring the authority of the United Nations: “In post-Saddam Iraq the U.N. will definitely need to have a role and that . . . that way it can get . . . begin to get . . . its legs . . . legs of responsibility back.” The press conference commences without mishap. Saddam gets his ultimatum. Tony Blair gets his extra time for Parliament.
Prime Minister and President are separated in the lineup for the cameras. The Downing Street team did not want to risk too enthusiastic a hug of Tony Blair by George Bush. That might have cost votes.
Back in the plane for home, Tony Blair muses about his relationship with two U.S. presidents. “Bush has never been concerned about my closeness to Bill Clinton. He sees that the problem of terrorist states and terrorist weapons of mass destruction is the problem of our generation. We may have come to that conclusion from different political traditions, different ideological directions, but we both see that. We’re both working to see that others see it too.”
TUESDAY, MARCH 18