[Signed] Jan in Reston"
First let's congratulate Tony Blair for going down in history. He is the only Labor party candidate to win a third term in a row and only the second prime minister in history to win three general elections in a row with a mandate. Today is his birthday, so he has much to celebrate.
Second, it's early hours to be making sweeping assumptions about what the vote means. There were predictions that voter turnout would be low. And Michael Howard's party got strategic advice, which seems to have paid off, from American GOP operatives. So Pundita waits on the breakdown of the vote numbers and technical analysis by British pundits who specialize in such matters.
I will note that the votes weren't even counted before the Left here and in Britain were spinning the numbers to mean a resounding rejection of Blair's decision to stand by the Bush administration's position on Iraq.
Blair is sensibly not disputing the spin, for to dispute it would point to other reasons why the Conservatives made gains in the election. It's to be remembered that Michael Howard and his party took virtually the same position as Blair with regard to supporting the US in the Iraq campaign.
Britain's defense secretary took a more measured view of the vote. According to the Scotsman
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon acknowledged Iraq had been an issue in the campaign, but insisted it was “nothing like” as significant as the economy and public services.Pundita does not think Mr Hoon was blowing smoke, although his observations might be precise to the point of misleading.
He told ITV1: “I have not found people saying that Iraq is the most important issue as far as they are concerned.
“I have had some people who have raised it with me but not as a central decision-making factor in how they cast their vote.”
It's to be remembered that while a "majority" of British polled at various times in the past were against Britain joining the Iraq campaign that is not to say a majority is "practically all." Many British did support and continue to support Blair's decision on Iraq. However, what has many British concerned is the way the decision was made--it rested solely with Blair--and what is seen as Blair's stubborn and wrong-headed defense of intelligence on Iraq WMD that was viewed at the time as greatly flawed.
What Pundita finds stubborn is the persistent refusal of Blair's critics to accept the obvious, which is that Britain agreed to support the US war on terror. This support includes accepting the US military command's general strategy on how to fight the war and where the campaigns should be staged. This would include the Iraq campaign.
There is no "Iraq war," as Pundita has noted more than once on this blog--any more than there was an Afghan war. There are operations within the war on terror; Afghanistan and Iraq are but two.
In other words, when Blair stood with President Bush's decision to invade Iraq, he was standing with the war on terror. Thus, he didn't make a liar out of the British people's agreement to support the US war--an irony, given that Blair is accused of being a liar by his critics.
Blair's greatest mistake, and Bush's, was in not stressing in their speeches what I've just noted. However, I think the history books could view their reticence to speak straight not so much as a mistake as an unavoidable tradeoff. Once you start talking about the "war on terror" in fully rational terms, it leads to clarification of the battle plan.
So it doesn't do for a national leader to be terribly clear during war when making public statements about the war. Of course that observation runs against the grain of democracy but there is nothing democratic about war and its prosecution.
Blair and Bush decided to get behind the WMD rationale for invading Iraq and tough out the consequences. It will be up to history to determine the wisdom of their decision.