British official: We underestimated Cheney

/ Source: The Associated Press

London underestimated U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's influence in the Iraq war, Britain's defense secretary during much of the war told a London newspaper Wednesday, adding another voice to the growing view that the U.S.-led coalition failed to plan properly for the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's ouster.

But Geoff Hoon, who was defense secretary in Prime Minister Tony Blair's government from 1999 until 2005, said intelligence officials had believed Saddam was amassing weapons of mass destruction and that the allies did not lie about why they went to war.

In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, Hoon said "we didn't plan for the right sort of aftermath."

"Maybe we were too optimistic about the idea of the streets being lined with cheering people. Although I have reconciled it in my own mind, we perhaps didn't do enough to see it through the Sunni perspective. Perhaps we should have done more to understand their position," Hoon was quoted as saying.

Hoon said the British side had not comprehended Cheney's influence.

Even when Blair and President Bush agreed on some matter, "sometimes ... the decision actually came out of a completely different place."

'We missed Cheney'
"And you think: What did we miss? I think we missed Cheney," Hoon was quoted as saying.

He did not cite any examples of decisions apparently reversed by Cheney.

Hoon, who is now minister for Europe in the Foreign Office, said Britain had opposed the wholesale dismissal of Iraq's army and police forces.

"We certainly argued against," Hoon was quoted as saying. "I recall having discussions with (U.S. Defense Secretary) Donald Rumsfeld, but I recognized that it was one of those judgment calls. I would have called it the other way. His argument was that the Iraqi army was so heavily politicized that we couldn't be sure that we would not retain within it large elements of Saddam's people."

Asked about Hoon's comments in Parliament, Blair said he made similar points about banning the Baath party and disbanding the Iraqi army.

However, Blair again rejected that poor planning was the cause of the violence in Iraq.

"The reason why things are so challenging and difficult in Iraq is that we have al-Qaida on the one hand, which is an outside terrorist organization, committing appalling acts of carnage in Iraq, and Iranian-backed Shiite extremists," Blair said.

Intel experts were 'absolutely sure'
Hoon defended the decision to go to war on the basis of intelligence that believed Iraq was building up an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction — intelligence he now accepts was wrong.

"I've been present at a number of meetings where the intelligence community was fixed, and looked in the eye and asked are you absolutely sure about this? And the answer came back 'Yes, absolutely sure,'" Hoon was quoted as saying.

Hoon said he felt no need to apologize.

"You can say 'it did not turn out as we expected' and 'we made some bad calls,' but at the end of the day I defy anyone to go through what we went through and come to a different conclusion," he was quoted as saying.