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The British Participation in the Iraq War

Analysis of Tony Blair's speech of March 18th, 2003

©2020 Wissenschaftlicher Aufsatz 18 Seiten


The aim of this research paper is to analyse the language usage of politicians, in particular Tony Blair’s wording in regard to the third Gulf War. Hereby, the theories of identity and othering are used and combined with the theory of populism. The partnership between the USA and Great Britain is of course taken into account.


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Research question

3. Historical overview
3.1 Impact of 9/11 on UK policies
3.2 Role of the UK

4. Theoretical approach
4.1 Theory of populism
4.2 Theory of identity
4.3 Othering
4.4 Discourse analysis

5. Current State of research
5.1 Relevance

6. Methodical approach
6.1 Operationalization
6.2 Material selection

7. Tony Blair's Rhetoric

8. Analysis of Blair's speech from Tuesday 18th of March 2003
8.1 Main statements of the speech
8.2 Tony Blair's populist rhetoric
8.3 Tony Blair's usage of othering

9. Results

10. Shortcomings

11. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Because Iraq allegedly possessed weapons of mass destruction, the USA declared war on Sad­dam Hussein in 2003, which the Britain actively supported. The dictator was overthrown, the weapons arsenal never found. After the US invasion Iraq came to the brink of civil war. The last American troops withdrew at the end of 2011. The finals decision of the British House of Commons to join this invasion was highly controversial at the time and is still heavily debated. Probably the most important figure in the discussion: Tony Blair, the then incumbent Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

In every interaction one chooses between different formulations and consciously and uncon­sciously choose certain phrases. Every formulation can have its own meaning. One chooses formulations according the audience and according what one tries to say. When it comes to politicians those wordings have a special impact. Their speeches and quotations are spreading through social media, newspaper, radio and television. Nowadays almost everyone can find out what which politician said when and in which context. Politicians use their public recognition to show the people their perspective as well as to polarize (cf. Jarren / Röttger 1999: 199f.).

Language can have a huge impact on policies or international affairs. Recently Angela Merkel the current German Chancellor said “Wir schaffen das” in regard of the refugee crisis. Due to social media and other forms of rapid news dissemination, almost everyone in Germany and abroad knew her quote. The quote itself run through the media and had a major impact on domestic refugee policies, as well as an impact on the people's view of the refugee situation.

The attacks on the 11th of September 2001 mark a turning point in history as well as foreign politics. When it comes to foreign politics after the attacks off 9/11 and the fall of the Taliban regime in November of the same year, the second phase of the “Global War on Terror” by the US Administration started - the Goal a regime change in Iraq (cf. The Chilcot Report 2016: 5f.).

The aim of this research paper is to analysethe language usage of politicians, in particular Tony Blair's wording in regard of the third Gulf war1. Hereby the theories of identity and othering are used and combined with the theory of populism. The partnership between the USA and Great Britain is of course taken into account.

2. Research question

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 divided Europe by the question of how to react appropriately to the increasing threat of international terror (cf. Hacke 2003: 11f.). The USA forced the way into the third gulf war on their mission of war on terror. The fundamental refusal of Germany on the one hand and the participation of the UK on the other hand, both led to a deviation of Eu­rope. At cost of some European allies, Tony Blair supported in 2002-2003 Washington's project in the near East and chose allegiance with George W. Bush. The decision was “deeply unpop­ular in Britain” (Sharp 2004: 59).

The following research question was used for the submitted paper:

How did Tony Blair legitimize the British participation on the Iraq war?

This study is a political rather than a legal one. One should not confuse legality and legitimacy in this case. I follow the Chilcot Report and Greestocks statement that the military operation was legal but it's legitimacy highly questionable (cf. Greenstock 2009: 38). According to Jo­seph the Prime Minister has in this case the authority to direct armed forces (cf. Joseph 2013). Furthermore, according to other researchers, Blair's attempts at legitimacy are considered to have failed because the majority of the British population has never supported the war in Iraq (cf. Strong 2015: 2).

3. Historical overview

3.1 Impact of 9/11 on UK policies

The presented paper deals with Tony Blair's construction of identity prior to the Iraq war.

On the 7th of July 2001 Tony Blair becomes the prime minister of the United Kingdom. The Iraq war was a consequence of George W. Bush's “war on terror”. This certain agenda followed in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. As a result, it is necessary to explain first the influ­ence that 9/11 had on the UK. That is why the paper begins with a brief historical overview.

On the 11th of September 2001, the USA was attacked. The attacks constituted a critical turning point concerning the thread of international terror. From this point on terrorist attacks, aiming at civilian casualties, could take place anywhere in the world. After the attacks of 9/11 Tony Blair declared that the UK will support the USA and will stand by their side in the fight against international terror (cf. The Chilcot Report 2016: 18). Furthermore, Blair was building a coali­tion against the thread of terror, including military actions against terrorist organisations, such as Al Qaida and Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Thereby, Blair did see a thread by terrorists using chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and the danger of staying inactive (cf. ibid: 18f.).

3.2 Role of the UK

In the end of the year 2001 the president of the USA decided to pursue a regime change policy in Iraq (cf. The Chilcot Report 2016: 13). The United Kingdom under Prime Minister shared the overall objective to deal with Saddam Hussein, especially because of the violation of UN Security Council resolutions and “his assumed weapons of mass destruction programmes” (ibid: 13). In contrast to the US-American approach, based on legal advice the UK could not support the US aspiration of a regime change. The primary goal of the UK Government was the disarmament of Iraq, which was legitimized by resolutions of the UN Security Council (cf. ibid: 13).

In a paper by Tony Blair, in late 2001, he suggested President Bush a strategy for a regime change in Iraq, without losing the international support. The Idea of a disarmament of Iraq was publicly argued by Tony Blair since February 2002, after President Bush stated that, “States like these [North Korea, Iran and Iraq], and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arm­ing to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction these regimes pose a grave and growing danger.” (Bush 2002)

4. Theoretical approach

4.1 Theory of populism

First, a classification of the term “populistic” must be made. There are 4 criteria. The first cri­terion is the reference to the people as a unit, in which individual differences are faded out in favour of the construction of an anti-pluralistic and identarian popular will (cf. Pfahl-Traughber 2017). The second criterion is the recourse to immediate and direct relationship between the populist actor and the people (ibid.). In concrete terms, this means simplifying social and tech­nical modernizations that facilitate understanding. Pfahl-Traughber speaks in this context of “politicians you can touch” and the demands for more direct democracy, while at the same time fading out associated dangers to the separation and control of power (ibid.). According to Pfahl- Traughber, the third criterion is that political discourse is based on every day or Stammtisch (English: regular table) discourses (ibid.). Here the focus in on the stimulation of fears and problems and the connection of these negative feelings with a group of people who are stigma­tized as the guilty (ibid.). In the third criterion the importance of prejudices and stereotypes becomes obvious, these are used to propagate simple solutions to complex problems. The fourth criterion refers to the formation of a confrontational identity (ibid.). Here the simple and true people is opposed to the elites, it is spoken of we and the others (ibid.). Furthermore, the fourth criterion refers to a dualistic way of thinking, a distinction is made between positive-negative and good-evil. The goal of populists is to find a guilty party outside the group for problems within the simple and true people, thus creating a unity of the people.

4.2 Theory of identity

The theory of identity is a theoretical approach which exists in social and political theory there­fore it is necessary to first map the theory which is used in this paper. The theory of identity in international relations belongs to the post-structuralist theories (cf. Guillaume 2011: 13). As well it the theories belong to the post-structuralist approaches, it exists in other theory schools, in particular social constructivism (cf. Hopf 1999:1f.).

One constantly encounters identities in a society hence one addresses language, characteristic behaviour and habits with it (cf. ibid: 1f.). It is important to understand “how states understand themselves” and “how state identities are constructed at home as well as through interstate in­teraction” (ibid: 10). “State actors constitute the structures of the social reality of world politics through inter-subjectively held beliefs” (Altoraifi 2012: 41). Identities have an impact on states actors on how to act, what interests they have, further identities determine interests and “provide a framework for guiding action” (ibid: 41).

4.3 Othering

When studying the theory of identity one main key term is the so-called othering . Othering remains a historically and contextually bound mechanism, reflecting and leading to certain re­lations between an identity and alterity” (ibid: 11). Basically, the others can be defined “in difference to the self” (Reinke de Buitrago 2012: 14). The processes of othering have an im­pact of certain policies and international relations. Essential in the process of othering is that by definition, there needs to exist something which is different to the self. That means in par­ticular we define self and other always in relation to each other (ibid: 14f.). The main focus in this paper will be on the purely negative content of those relations. Othering is a process it does not only describe the status quo it is on-going. The status quo is made of existing ideas. One constantly responds to new events and even crises, thereby we learn new aspects which need to fit into our existing assumptions (cf. ibid: 15f.). Due to the differentiation of self and other in international relations, it seems that the others are always a different country, which is not per se the case (cf. Hopf 1999: 9f.). The others can be for example ethnical or religious groups as well as states.


1 The paper examines the third Gulf war from March 20th, 2003 to May 1th, 2003. The formulations third Gulf war and Iraq war are used in this paper as synonyms.


ISBN (Paperback)
Institution / Hochschule
Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen
2021 (Dezember)
Iraq Irak Blair Britain Gulfwar Constructivism

Titel: The British Participation in the Iraq War