1st Edition

Public Opinion, Legitimacy and Tony Blair’s War in Iraq

By James Strong Copyright 2017
    228 Pages 8 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    228 Pages 8 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    In the wake of the publication of the Chilcot report, this book reinterprets the relationship between British public opinion and the Blair government’s decision-making in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It highlights how the government won the parliamentary vote and got its war, but never won the argument that it was the right thing to do. Understanding how, why and with what consequences Britain wound up in this position means understanding better both this specific case and the wider issue of how democratic publics influence foreign policy processes.

    Taking an innovative constructivist approach to understanding how public actors potentially influence foreign policy, Strong frames the debate about Iraq as a contest over legitimacy among active public actors, breaking it down into four constituent elements covering the necessity, legality and morality of war, and the government’s authority. The book presents a detailed empirical account of the British public debate before the invasion of Iraq based on the rigorous interrogation of thousands of primary sources, employing both quantitative and qualitative content analysis methods to interpret the shape of debate between January 2002 and March 2003.

    Also contributing to the wider foreign policy analysis literature, the book investigates the domestic politics of foreign policy decision-making, and particularly the influence public opinion exerts; considers the domestic structural determinants of foreign policy decision-making; and studies the ethics of foreign policy decision-making, and the legitimate use of force. It will be of great use to students and scholars of foreign policy analysis, as well as those interested in legitimacy in international conflict, British foreign policy, the Iraq War and the role of public opinion in conflict situations.

    Dramatis Personae

    1 Introduction: Understanding a controversial war


    Part One: Public opinion

    2 British public influence over foreign policy

    Searching for the Loch Ness Monster

    A constructivist approach

    3 The Iraq debate: An overview

    Rallying round the flag

    Pockets of support

    Salience and communication

    Part Two: Legitimacy

    4 Understanding legitimacy

    Legitimacy as a discursive construct

    Studying the Blair government’s discursive legitimization efforts

    Categorizing the debate

    5 Threat and WMD




    6 Legality and the UN

    Defining the UN’s role

    Procedural ambiguities

    Clashing timetables

    7 Morality and regime change Understanding Tony Blair

    Legality and morality

    Regime change

    8 Politics and authority

    The ‘special relationship’

    Blaming France

    Domestic politics

    Part Three: Tony Blair’s war in Iraq

    9 Aftermath

    Reality asserts itself

    David Kelly

    The 2005 General Election

    10 Implications

    Selling the Iraq war

    A holistic approach

    A two-level debate


    James Strong is a Fellow in Foreign Policy Analysis and International Relations in the Department of International Relations at the London School of Economics, UK. 

    ‘Strong’s book is excellent, pushing our understanding of the relationship between public opinion and foreign policy in novel directions. The research is rigorous and well-grounded in theory and methods. I highly recommend it, to scholars, students, and any readers interested in democratic politics, British foreign policy, or the legitimacy of international interventions.’ - Juliet Kaarbo, Professor, Politics and International Relations, University of Edinburgh, UK

    ‘Strong provides a well written, closely argued book which is essential reading for students of British politics and academics alike.’ - Victoria Honeyman, Lecturer in British Politics, University of Leeds, UK