Public Opinion, Legitimacy and Tony Blair’s War in Iraq: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

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

1st Edition

By James Strong


216 pages | 8 B/W Illus.

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Hardback: 9781138200715
pub: 2017-02-14
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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.


‘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

Table of Contents

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

About the Author


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.

About the Series

Routledge Studies in Foreign Policy Analysis

The Foreign Policy Analysis (FPA) series covers a broad intellectual canvass, which brings together scholars of International Relations, Area Studies, Politics, and other related fields such as Political Psychology and Administrative Studies. It also engages with a wide range of empirical issues: from the study of the foreign policy of individual countries, to specific aspects of foreign policy such as economic diplomacy or bureaucratic politics, through germane theoretical issues such as rationality and foreign policy. The Series aims to specialize in FPA as well as appeal to the wider community of scholars within International Relations, related fields, and amongst practitioners.  As such the range of topics covered by the Series includes, but is not be limited to, foreign policy decision-making; the foreign policy of individual states and non-state actors. In addition it will include analytical aspects of foreign policy, for instance, the role of domestic factors; political parties; elites. Theoretical issue-areas that advance the study of foreign policy analysis, for example, FPA and Gender, Critical FPA, FPA in a new media landscape, Ethics and FPA, would also be welcomed.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / International Relations / Diplomacy
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Freedom & Security / International Security
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Freedom & Security / Intelligence
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Freedom & Security / Terrorism
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Government / International
POLITICAL SCIENCE / World / Middle Eastern