Blair's Political Future Looking Dark as Koizumi's Shines
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)
Just as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's grip on power looks secure, his British counterpart Tony Blair is suffering a critical leadership crisis. The issue causing Blair so much damage is his support for the American-led invasion of Iraq. Although both Koizumi and Blair have stood firmly behind President George W. Bush's Iraq policy, in recent months the two men's political fates have sharply diverged. Last week Koizumi looked on course for reelection to the presidency of his party, while an embattled Blair received a fresh political wound that could eventually prove fatal.
Before the war began, a passionate Prime Minister Blair told the British people that they had no choice but to act against Baghdad in order to prevent chemical and biological weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists. Iraq was depicted as a potential threat to world peace and a sponsor of terrorism. Many Britons did not accept this assessment and the country experienced the largest protest rallies in its history with millions taking to the streets. Despite this huge level of public opposition, Blair stood firm on his decision to commit British troops to war.
Even though the main military phase of the operation was successfully concluded in near lightening speed, the fallout over the decision to go to war has continued to dog Blair. Consequently, his approval and trust ratings have hit all-time lows. While on a visit to Tokyo in July, the suicide of a British defence official greatly added to his woes. Now, a newly released intelligence document has the potential to sink the Blair premiership.
Basically, the prewar report by the Joint Intelligence Committee informed Prime Minister Blair that toppling Saddam Hussein's regime would make it easier for terrorist groups to obtain chemical and biological weapons, and that the threat from al-Qaeda would be heightened by deposing the Iraqi dictator. The report concluded there was no intelligence to prove that Iraq had provided chemical or biological materials to al-Qaida or other terror groups. Blair chose to ignore this intelligence advice and support President Bush's efforts to oust the Iraqi tyrant.
The reaction of the British press to this new revelation was highly critical as the Friday 12 September headlines clearly demonstrate.
Blair's war: PM ignored intelligence advice on Iraq (Independent)
Blair on the Rack over Iraq terror Warning (The Times)
Blair rejected terror warnings (Telegraph)
Cabinet aware of war terror risk (Guardian)
The Joint Intelligence Committee report greatly complicates an already immensely difficult situation for Blair and he will need all his phenomenal political skills to survive the current storm. So far Koizumi has been able to deflect criticism away from his unpopular Iraq policy by focusing on the threat posed by North Korea. However, if Blair is eventually unseated by the ceaseless attacks of his Iraq policy, there is a real danger that the issue will return with a vengeance to haunt Koizumi.
Newspaper References and Extracts
Blair's war: PM ignored intelligence advice on Iraq
Independent, 12 September 2003
Another of Tony Blair's main justifications for war on Iraq was blown apart yesterday by the disclosure that intelligence chiefs had warned that deposing Saddam Hussein would increase the risk of terror attacks on Britain. The Prime Minister told Parliament and the public earlier this year that the West had to act against Baghdad to prevent chemical and biological weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists. But exactly two years after al-Qa'ida's 11 September attack, a committee of MPs revealed that the Mr Blair had been told that the threat from Osama bin Laden "would be heightened by military action against Iraq".
Cabinet aware of war terror risk
Guardian, Friday 12 September 2003
Senior cabinet members were shown the intelligence assessment which warned that war against Iraq could increase the threat from terrorism, Downing Street revealed today. The intelligence and security committee (ISC) disclosed yesterday that the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) had warned Mr Blair in February - a month before the invasion of Iraq - that al-Qaida was "by far the greatest threat to western interests" and that the threat would be increased by military action against Iraq. An assessment prepared by the JIC on February 10 entitled International Terrorism: War with Iraq, said there was no intelligence that Iraq had provided chemical or biological materials to al-Qaida. Nor was there any suggestion of any intention by Saddam Hussein's regime to carry out chemical or biological terror attacks using Iraqi intelligence officials or their agents.
Blair on the Rack over Iraq terror Warning
The Times, Friday 12 September 2003
Intelligence Chiefs said Action would Increase al-Qaeda Threat
Tony Blair is facing fresh questions over the Iraq war last night after it was revealed that intelligence chiefs had told him that military action would increase the risk of terrorist attacks. Mr. Blair took Britain to war in spite of a warning that the collapse of the Iraq regime would make it easier for terrorist groups to obtain chemical and biological weapons, and that the threat from al-Qaeda would be heightened by action to depose Saddam.
Blair rejected terror warnings
Telegraph, Friday 12 September 2003
Tony Blair faced fresh controversy over his case for war against Iraq last night after a parliamentary committee disclosed that intelligence chiefs had warned him that toppling Saddam Hussein would increase the risk of terrorist attacks against Britain.
The Joint Intelligence Committee told Mr Blair five weeks before the invasion that al-Qa'eda and other terrorist groups "represented by far the greatest threat". The JIC, which oversees the security services, warned that the collapse of the Iraqi regime could increase the risk of chemical and biological weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.
MPs' Shock Report: The Warnings Blair Ignored
Mirror, Friday 12 September 2003
Tony Blair ignored advice that terrorism posed a far greater threat than Saddam Hussein as he plotted war on Iraq, secret evidence revealed yesterday. Senior MPs said in a report spy chiefs believed that "al Qaeda and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest threat to Western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq." Mr Blair led Britain to believe Iraq had large quantities of chemical and biological agents - some of which could be mobilised in 45 minutes - and could arm Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda But, it was disclosed, he ignored information from the powerful Joint Intelligence Committee that: A strike on Saddam could dramatically increase the risk of terrorists obtaining WMD.
Confident Koizumi Outshines Browbeaten Blair
Asia Times, 23 July 2003
Winds of War Propel Koizumi towards Electoral Victory
Debates, GLOCOM Platform, 16 July 2003
Koizumi and Japan's Holy Grail
Asia Times, 31 May 2003
Japan's PM seeks to defy political gravity
Asia Times, 3 May 2003
Japanese Premier's Adversaries Want "Regime Change"
Debates, GLOCOM Platform, 14 April 2003
Japan's Iraq Policy: It's North Korea Stupid
Debates, GLOCOM Platform, 26 February 2003
Koizumi Haunted by Blair's Iraq Dilemma
Debates, GLOCOM Platform, 17 February 2003