British Opposition Leader Takes Cautious Line on Iraq
Michael Howard (Leader of the Conservative Party), J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times) and Samir Nassif (Journalist, Arab Press)
Michael Howard is the leader of the Conservative Party, Britain's main
opposition party, and if his party wins the next election he will become
prime minister. His overall approach to the conflict in Iraq is not
radically different to that of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. In the
previous Conservative government, Mr. Howard held a number of senior Cabinet
Sean Curtin: If you became Prime Minister, what would you do to
internationalize the Iraq conflict in order to bring more forces into the
coalition, easing the strain on UK and US troops?
Michael Howard: I have not mentioned that in the specific proposals I have
put forward for Iraq (see here) for this
reason. Everyone would like to internationalize the military action that is
taking place in Iraq and all the other steps that are being taken to try to
improve the situation in Iraq. Everyone would like to accomplish that. I
think people are trying now, but it is an extremely difficult thing to
achieve. It is easy for someone in opposition to ask for things that
everyone would like to accomplish but which are extremely difficult to
achieve. All the points I have put forward in my detailed plan for Iraq are,
I think, readily achievable. I have tried to avoid asking for things that I
knew everyone would want to accomplish but are very difficult to do, at
least in the short term. I am certainly in favour of internationalization. I
think that efforts have been made to internationalize the involvement in
Iraq, but it is an extremely difficult thing to do. That is why I did not
mention the subject.
Samir Nassif: Do you think that when George Bush senior decided not to go into Iraq, he was taking a decision that was in the best interests of his country and the security of his people? George Bush junior made a different choice. Whose judgment was right that of George Bush junior or George Bush senior?
Michael Howard: Of course, President Bush senior was acting in what he thought was the national interest of his country. That is what statesmen do, but it does not mean that you do not very often make difficult judgments about where the national interest lies and very often the leaders do not always get those judgments right. What I think your question overlooked, or failed to take fully into account, is the difference that exists in the world between the first Gulf War and the second. 9/11 took place between the two and although there may not be a direct connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, what happened on 9/11 changed the world and therefore in pursuing the national interest, you inevitably will make different judgments from the judgments you made before.
Samir Nassif: But Saddam Hussein was much more dangerous in 1991 than he was before this ongoing invasion, yet George Bush senior decided not to invade.
Michael Howard: I think the remarks I have made already really answer your question.
Chatham House Member: Is there a point where Britain will have to retire from Iraq?
Michael Howard: The best exit strategy is to build and achieve a peaceful and stable Iraq. I think that the specific proposals I have already put forward will help towards achieving that. If we can achieve that then it will be a great prize. It would act as a beacon to other countries in the region and it is something I imagine, whatever our views on the rights and wrongs of the war, we share as an objective. Were it not to succeed and leave behind a failed state, then the consequences would be dire. So, we have to apply ourselves with the necessary vigor and determination towards achieving that objective. For my part, as long as it was the view of both the Iraqi government and the United Kingdom government that our troops could play a significant role towards the achievement of that objective, I would keep them there.
To read a transcript of the speech Mr. Howard gave prior to the question and answer see here.
Profile Michael Howard
Michael was elected Member of Parliament for Folkestone and Hythe in 1983. The following year he was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Solicitor General. In 1985 he entered the Government as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Trade and Industry with responsibility for corporate and consumer affairs.
In 1987, he moved to the Department of the Environment, first as Minister of State for Local Government and then as Minister of State for Water and Planning. In 1990, he entered the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Employment.
Following the 1992 election, Michael was appointed Secretary of State for the Environment. In this position he played a major role in securing the participation of the United States at the Earth Summit in Rio, which he attended on behalf of the Government.
In May 1993, he became Home Secretary, a position he held for four years.
From 1997 to 1999, Michael served as Shadow Foreign Secretary. In September 2001, he was appointed Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. In November 2003, he was elected Leader of the Conservative Party and of Her Majesty's Opposition.
Michael was born in 1941 and educated at Llanelli Grammar School and Peterhouse, Cambridge. In 1962 he was elected President of the Cambridge Union. He was called to the Bar in 1964 and was appointed a QC in 1982.
The above comments were made at Chatham House in London on 17 November 2004