"Understanding Tony Blair’s failure to legitimize the Iraq War: A deliberative approach" [pdf]
The paper was presented at a conference on "Failure and Denial in World Politics", London, October 17-18, 2015.
Tony Blair often gets the blame for the legitimacy deficit surrounding Britain’s war in Iraq. This article uses a conceptual framework derived from the social theory of Jürgen Habermas to gauge how far Blair deserves the criticism he gets. It considers how truth fully he made his case for war, how open he was to the widest possible public debate and whether he showed flexibility in the face of opposition. It follows Blair in treating legitimacy as an intersubjective sociological phenomenon rather than an abstract normative principle, but uses Habermasian thought to bridge the gap between the two. It finds Blair centrally culpable for the failure of his legitimization efforts. He tried too hard to be persuasive, and as a result presented his case for war in the wrong way. The way he tried to legitimize his war ensured it was illegitimate. It also made his arguments less persuasive in turn. This article both demonstrates exactly how and why Blair failed, and shows the value of a Habermasian approach.