Friday, April 29, 2005

Opposition leader: Blair failed to make honest case for war


Opposition leader: Blair failed to make honest case for war

CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Conservative Party leader Michael Howard said Friday that British voters should punish Tony Blair over the Iraq war, claiming the prime minister's justification for the U.S.-led invasion epitomized his "track record of not telling the truth."

The Conservatives strongly supported the war two years ago. But Howard said in an interview with The Associated Press that a confidential memo released Thursday revealed that the government had deceived the British public by not revealing doubts about the legality of the military action.

"I'm criticizing him for not telling the truth and for not having a plan" for securing the peace afterward, Howard said.

"He has a track record of not telling the truth. That's why character and trust are an issue in this election," said Howard, who repeatedly has called Blair a liar.

Iraq has been high on the campaign agenda for May 5 elections all week, since a Sunday newspaper first reported leaks of a government memo indicating doubts about the war's legality since it was not authorized by the United Nations.

Succumbing to relentless opposition and media pressure, Blair on Thursday published the confidential March 7, 2003, memo in which Attorney General Lord Goldsmith said existing U.N. Security Council resolutions provided "a reasonable case" for military action against Iraq, but advised that a new resolution authorizing force would be the "safest legal course."

Ten days later — and just three days before the war began — the attorney general made a written statement to Parliament that said without reservation that military action would be legal without a new resolution. Opponents have questioned whether Goldsmith was leaned on to change his mind. Blair insists the advice was consistent.

Until Blair released the text, Howard told AP, "we didn't know that the advice was full of caveats and warnings, we didn't know that it changed so much."

Blair would have lost the crucial vote in the House of Commons on going to war without the support of most of the Conservative members.

Though Howard wasn't the party leader then, he hasn't disavowed the war but has hit on issues such as Blair's use of what proved to be flawed intelligence — depicting Blair as deceitful.

"We know that the intelligence said on its face that it was limited, sporadic and patchy," Howard said. "He (Blair) said the intelligence was extensive, detailed and authoritative. There's no way you can match up those two sets of words."

Despite the dominance of Iraq as a campaign issue, Blair's Labour Party has stayed comfortably ahead in opinion polls.

A Populus survey for The Times newspaper on Friday put Labour at 40%, for the third day running. The main opposition Conservatives were up one point at 32% and the Liberal Democrats, the only major party to oppose the U.S.-led invasion, were unchanged at 21%.

Populus interviewed 1,429 adults by telephone between April 24-27, with a margin of error of three percentage points. But most of the interviews would have been done before the text of the summary of the memo was leaked to a television station. The poll could not measure any reaction to the publication of the full text on Thursday.

Blair, who also was campaigning in Wales Friday, referred to Iraq and other controversies of his eight years in office, saying "of course there are disappointments and disillusions and problems, that is life."

"But taking everything together I believe this country is stronger, better, fairer, than the one we inherited from the Conservatives in 1997," he said.