New Offer by Britain
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GWEN IFILL: For more now on Britain’s compromise plan we get two views. Gerard Baker is an associate editor of the British newspaper The Financial Times. He is based here in Washington. And Pippa Norris is a lecturer in comparative politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. She has written extensively on British elections, politics, and public opinion. Welcome, both of you.
Pippa Norris, these benchmarks that were outlined take by the British at U.N. — They are being floated as we spoke now with the membership — what do you make of them?
PIPPA NORRIS: Well, they are clearly critical for Blair, he is working flat out to try to get some sort of support because if he can get those who are wavering and the countries who are feel they need further support, if he can get them on board, then he can go ahead. Once the U.N. passes a resolution, then clearly he is still facing a debate in parliament but, nevertheless, his back bench will go along with him; his cabinet will go along with him, and interestingly the public will as well. When the U.N. passes as resolution, then something like three quarters of the British public say okay in that case British troops should be deployed. If he doesn’t get the resolution through he has got problems in cabinet, he has got problems in parliament and tremendous problems with the public. Only 20 percent under those conditions would support sending British troops into action.
GWEN IFILL: What is it about these benchmarks, these tests that make it more likely that people would support the resolution when it says things like Saddam Hussein should go on television and in Arabic say all the things he has been unwilling to say so far?
PIPPA NORRIS: In a sense I think many countries were feeling that if we simply passed a blank check, if the U.N. put forward a resolution which didn’t have anything specific in it, then Pres. Bush could interpret it in any way that he want and he could declare war under any conditions. When you specify benchmarks, what you are giving is a reassurance and some of the matters which are put down in these six different proposals I think are uncontentious, the idea for example that there has to be a destruction of all the different weapons of mass destruction, that we can all agree upon. But I do think as well that by saying that Hussein has to go on television and actually admit to this, that’s is a very high hurdle indeed.
GWEN IFILL: Gerry Baker, what do you make of these benchmarks, are they a face saving effort by the British?
GERARD BAKER: Their ostensible aim is to bring about the disarmament of Saddam Hussein and as Pippa says to produce a specific series of tests, which the U.S. and Britain have been asked by some of the other countries on the Security Council to do. That is the ostensible aim and the British government restated that today. They want him to meet the tests as an absolute proof that he has made the strategic decision to disarm.
The political aim, the near-term political aim is to garner enough votes on the Security Council to at least to present the resolution, the British – U.S. -Spanish resolution as it is now as having a majority support on the Security Council and to challenge in particular the French to veto it. That is terribly important, again as Pippa said for the British in particular, but it’s also important for the United States. The United States would like to be able to go to war if it has to go to war with, being able to demonstrate that it has at least a plausible degree of support from the international community, that it has authority from the international community, a majority of members on the Security Council supporting it. It wants to be able to do that.
GWEN IFILL: Ifill: Part of the point of this, this declaration, this side statement I guess what they are calling what these benchmarks would be, is to declare the British on the side of a kind of a moral victory and put the French, isolate the French as unreasonable in their rejection of the second resolution?
GERARD BAKER: Exactly. If you can get a majority at the — the supermajority of the Security Council requires, nine votes out of the fifteen. If you can get those nine votes the resolution would then pass and in effect force would be authorized by the U.N. unless one of the permanent members vetoes the resolution, and obviously everybody is focused on France.
The problem for France in those circumstances would be, if it was the only country that was going to use the veto, it could then be very easily presented by the British and the Americans as the unilateralist country. Britain and the United States would be able to say to the world, look, we got the majority of support from the Security Council which represents the world after all and the one country that stood up against all this, that defied the will of the international community was France. So don’t accuse us of being unilateralists; don’t accuse us of not listening to international opinion. It’s the French; the French have stood in the way of doing this.
GWEN IFILL: What if Saddam Hussein does what he is doing for instance now in destroying the al Samoud missiles which is to say step up and meet say half of these — these admissions, these, make half of the concessions, 2/3 but not all of them. Does that run the danger of murking things up even more?
PIPPA NORRIS: Yes, it does indeed. And as we’ve seen there is always problems about any sorts of benchmarks where different people can interpret them in different ways. Even the statements of Blix some people have seen as critical. Some have seen as showing there is progress. So any benchmarks can make life more complicated. On the other hand I think the point that was just made is really important, which is that it’s the legitimacy of the United Nations and the Security Council which is partly the issue here. It’s not simply the political pressures which are on Blair. But also that if we can have some sort of resolution, some sort of consensus, then the unity of the Security Council is preserved. That is something which is more important even than the current problems with Iraq.
GWEN IFILL: Okay. Speaking of complications, let’s talk about Donald Rumsfeld’s comment yesterday, Gerry Baker; that was all over the head lbs, that was all the talk today in London, was this something which created a real beginning of a breach between the United States and Britain?
GERARD BAKER: Well, I think Rumsfeld likes to describe himself as forward leaning in his postures, as yet another example of the fact that perhaps he is leaned so far forward he tripped over himself. There is a clear — he clearly misspoke. The joke going around London today was we’ve been waiting he has insulted every single other member of the international alliance — we were wondering when our turn was going to come.
There was a clear attempt by the White House and the Defense Department last night and again today to clear that up and to make it absolutely clear that the United States is very thankful for British support — continues to expect British support, that the British will fully expect to be involved in the military action as well and that those remarks were – well, I think to be fair to the secretary of defense were an honest attempt to answer a question put to him and reflected some of the concerns that are going on inside the administration with the British, that they gave the wrong impression and gave the impression somehow that the United States didn’t really want Britain and certainly didn’t really need Britain. The latter may be true but it’s not good politics at this stage to alienate the one country that has been resolute in its support for you.
GWEN IFILL: Watching Tony Blair over these weeks we notice he is looking worse and worse, tired. He apparently has the flu he can’t shake. He gets up there on the floor of parliament and people holler at him as is the way of doing things on the floor of parliament. How much danger is he in politically right new as we move closer and closer to a vote in the U.N.?
PIPPA NORRIS: Well, Tony Blair has had flu. That is part of the reason why he does look rather bad. And people have been saying the other problem is that he is taking on too much. Not only is he jetting about trying to get the coalition together on this issue, he is also not delegating many other things, just a couple of days ago for example he was working on Northern Ireland and trying to resuscitate the peace process; a day or two ago he was also working on the health system and trying to have a public meeting about that. So he’s always been the sort of hands-on prime minister who wants to intervene on the issues at the top of the agenda for the Labor Party. There is something of overload going on. This is basically pulling him apart in a lot of different directions. He is not delegating nearly as much. If you look for example at Pres. Bush right now he looks as if he still gets his night’s sleep and comfortable. But Blair himself is really looking probably the worst which he has ever since he came to power.
GWEN IFILL: Not only that, but he also has members of his own party, the Labor Party that you just eluded to, who started saying we’ll resign if we go to war without a U.N. resolution, putting him pretty much on the spot?
PIPPA NORRIS: Yes, in particular, it was Clair Short, who’s very well known as an outspoken politician in his cabinet and who indeed resigned over the previous Gulf War and who in public said he was reckless. And I think that’s right; that stuck in so much else of his other work – he has been seen as fairly cautious, fairly middle of the road, going along with the public and focus groups but on this he is putting his leadership on the line. And take the scenario that for example there is no U.N. resolution. What is going to happen? Well, clearly there’s going to be a debate in parliament because Blair has promised that. There was time there was a rebellion of 120 Labor MP’s.
In the next round could there be much more, maybe 150. He will probably still get it through because he has the support of the conservatives and the opposition party is doing badly now in the polls. They are not providing real problems for Blair but if he goes ahead without the U.N. resolution, which seems fairly clear, he is going to have resignations in cabinet. Clair Short has said that plus some junior aides. He is going to have a back bench rebellion which is going to be the most sizeable this century and in addition, he is going to be totally isolated. If the war goes well, he will be the hero. If the casualties are low, if it’s a short sharp war, then he will be the leader that stood out. If on the other hand everything goes badly, then there could well be a leadership challenge perhaps in the fall when we know the resolution of the war and that is the time when people are going to really question how far he should be the leader of the Labor Party.
GWEN IFILL: Gerry Baker, what would you way is the worst and the best case scenario for Tony Blair right now?
GERARD BAKER: The best case scenario continues to be that 2nd resolution or the 18th resolution on this subject is passed; that it passes with a majority – that it even, the challenge of the majority on the Security Council to the French results in the French backing off and deciding not to veto it so is there a second resolution which authorizes force which has all the full force of international law and we go ahead. The U.S. and Britain, go ahead with a military coalition, defeat Saddam Hussein quickly, get some kind of stable government in place. I mean as Pippa says although Tony Blair in a lot of political trouble at home there is a general calculation in Downing Street and elsewhere in London that provided this war goes well, provided it goes ahead Britain will be taking part in this whatever Rumsfeld said — if the war goes ahead and if it’s a success then all Tony Blair’s problems will be over. That may be wishful thinking but that is certainly the calculation.
GWEN IFILL: If this side statement — if these benchmarks are embraced and they get the votes they want and still get a French veto, do you think that anything that Tony Blair and Jack Straw and Jeremy Greenstock proposed today is going to change the outcome bf this? Will there still be war no matter what?
GERARD BAKER: I think there will be war. There is one wrinkle we should be aware of in this process, which is that there is still a chance I think that the British and the U.S. will decide not to present their resolution. One thing that concerns the British government particularly is that if we go to go through with another resolution and it fails – either because it doesn’t get the majority or perhaps the French and perhaps the Russians veto it and then we still go to war as a result, that will be in according to some legal analysis a clear breach of international law – the British legal authorities are very concerned about this — they are said to be giving advice to the prime minister this would be against international law and this war would be unlawful in a British conception of international law.
So if they don’t do that, if they don’t go ahead with the second resolution, if they think the second resolution is going to fail, they will still claim that they have authority, and it will be a much clearer case they have legal authority under the existing resolutions to go to war. They are still making the calculations here at this very late stage: Do we take the risk of going ahead with the second resolution and failing and running the risk that this could be seen as unlawful, or do we go just ahead with the authority that we’ve got.
GWEN IFILL: Still more hurdles ahead. Gerard Baker and Pippa Norris, thank you very much for joining us.