The discussion between Bush and Blair that was reported in the so-called « Al Jazeera bombing memo » was preceeded by a similar discussion between Kuweiti Prime Minister Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers, and followed by a second such discussion with Richard Armitage, then US Deputy Secretary of State.
On 22 November 2005, the Daily Mirror published a front-page article on a previously undisclosed memo where a 16 April 2004 conversation between George W. Bush and Tony Blair was transcribed. The USA and their allies were then embroiled in the First Battle of Fallujah and suffered from negative coverage, in particular from Al Jazeera. Bush made remarks on a possible bombing of Al Jazeera offices in Qatar, and Blair talked him out of the idea. The affair became notorious as the Al Jazeera bombing memo, embarrassing British authorities. The official narrative goes that the conversation did indeed take place, but on a light-hearted humorous tone: it was never seriously considered to actually carry out such an operation.
Examination of diplomatic cables from Cablegate indicate that on 14 April 2004, two days before the Bush-Blair conversation, another conversation took place between Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah (then Prime Minister, he since became Emir of Kuwait) and then-US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers: Sabah warned Myers that « biased » reporting from Al Jazeera were about to cause lasting problems for the USA and their allies in Iraq, and ask in English, jokingly, whether « launching a missile at the television station would help ».[04KUWAIT1402].
On 19 April, three days after the Bush-Blair conversation, Sabah met with Richard Armitage, then US Deputy Secretary of State. Sabah insists to Armitage that something needs to be done about Al Jazeera, and laughingly mentions that he remembers asking General Myers whether « he had a spare missile that could go off course » [04KUWAIT1380].
On 20 and 21, Armitage furthers his visit of the Persian Gulf with a visit to the United Arab Emirates, meeting Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Bin Zayed also insists on the nefarious influence of Al Jazeera, accusing it of being a propaganda arm for Al Qaida. The cable notably quotes the prince as saying [04ABUDHABI1344]:
[Prince] MbZ admitted that his 16-year old son was influenced by the misinformation on Al Jazeera. He said that his son is intelligent — a « straight A student » — but recently had voiced some anti-Western opinions, which MbZ believed were a result of watching too much Al Jazeera. « If [Al Jazeera] can affect the grandson of a moderate leader like Shaykh Zayed this way, imagine what it can do to the uneducated or the lower classes. »
Only the report on the discussion with General Myers is classified Secret, the two other being only Confidential. We can assume that serious discussions on an act of such magnitude as bombing a TV station in an allied country would have motivated a Top Secret classification. On the other hand, it is remarkable that the very same joke was found two days later, in the same terms, in the conversation between Blair and Bush. The most curious of all is that the Secret report that mentions the Myers conversation of 14 April is itself dated as late as 29 April.
Chronology of events:
- 14 April 2004: Sabah – Myers conversation
- 16 April 2004: Bush – Blair conversation
- 19 April 2004: Sabah – Armitage conversation
- 27 April 2004: report on Sabah – Armitage (Confidential)
- 29 April 2004: report on Sabah – Myers (Secret)
- 22 November 2005: the memo on Bush – Blair hits the front page of the Mirror
Article previously published in French as « Perception d’Al Jazeera dans les pays du Golfe persique« .