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Public Opinion, Legitimacy and Tony Blair's War in Iraq (Hardcover) (James Strong)

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This book aims to reinterpret, from a Foreign Policy Analysis perspective, 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 the simple but powerful point that the government won the parliamentary vote and got its war, but never won the argument that it was the right thing to do. That mattered in the longer term, in the face of missing WMD, rising casualties and chaos on the ground. 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.

The book does two main things in pursuit of this goal. Firstly, it proposes an innovative constructivist approach to understanding how public actors potentially influence foreign policy. It frames the debate about Iraq as a contest over legitimacy among active public actors, breaking the debate down into four constituent elements covering the necessity, legality and morality of war, and the government’s authority. Secondly, it 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. It employs both quantitative and qualitative content analysis methods to interpret the shape of debate between January 2002 and March 2003.

Alongside these specific objectives, the book looks to contribute to the wider FPA literature in three ways. Firstly, the book investigates the domestic politics of foreign policy decision-making, and particularly the influence public opinion exerts; secondly, it considers the domestic structural determinants of foreign policy decision-making, highlighting the intervening role played by constitutional rules that insulate governments from public criticism, in the British context the Prime Minister’s formal power to direct the armed forces in the name of the monarch. Finally, the book studies the ethics of foreign policy decision-making, and specifically the legitimate use of force.

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