Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General at the time, told the inquiry in 2010 he believed a second UN resolution would be necessary to justify military intervention in Iraq until about a month before the war began in March 2003. The inquiry’s report outlines how his thinking evolved towards a green light.
Just a few days after the resolution’s adoption in 2002, Goldsmith told Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s chief of staff, that he was “not optimistic” about the legality of military action without a second resolution. The next month, Blair’s office asked Goldsmith for a draft of his advice for the prime minister before presenting it to the full Cabinet.
Goldsmith provided it on January 14, writing that Resolution 1441 included “no express authorization” for the use of military force. He also acknowledged the theory that the Security Council could authorize it through means other than a formal resolution, such a statement by the Council’s rotating presidency. Goldsmith also expressed skepticism about the idea that an “unreasonable veto” by one of the Council’s five permanent members could be ignored.
“Despite Lord Goldsmith’s draft advice, Mr. Blair continued to say in public that he would not rule out military action if a further resolution in response to an Iraqi breach was vetoed,” the inquiry said.
While Goldsmith authored the draft so it could eventually be presented to the Cabinet, Blair did not inform other ministers at a January 16 Cabinet meeting on Iraq that he had received legal advice on its legality.
“As the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith was the Government’s Legal Adviser not just the Legal Adviser to Mr. Blair,” the inquiry noted. And although a similar legal dispute was unfolding within the Foreign Office, the inquiry said there was “no evidence that [Foreign Secretary Jack] Straw was aware of Lord Goldsmith’s draft advice before Cabinet on 16 January, although he was aware of Lord Goldsmith’s position.”
One day before Blair was set to meet with Bush on January 31, Goldsmith again sent a letter to Blair reminding him of his stance on whether a second resolution would be required.
“I recognise that arguments can be made to support the view that paragraph 12 of [Resolution 1441] merely requires a Council discussion rather than a further decision,” Goldsmith wrote. “But having considered the arguments on both sides, my view remains that a further decision is required.”
On his copy of the letter, Blair underlined that quote and scribbled in the margin, “I just don’t understand this.”
“That was the third time Lord Goldsmith had felt it necessary to put his advice to Mr. Blair in writing without having been asked to do so; and on this occasion he had been explicitly informed that it was not needed,” the inquiry pointed out.
But Goldsmith’s stance then began to soften over the coming weeks. In early February, he traveled to Washington and discussed the case with the Bush administration’s legal experts. When he returned, he said in a February 12 draft memo he was “prepared to accept that a reasonable case can be made” about Resolution 1441’s authorization. His formal opinion, issued on March 7, made a largely similar point: a second resolution would be preferable, but relying on Resolution 1441 could suffice.