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AMERICAN MORNING

Tony Blair Accused of Exaggerating Iraq Threat

Aired June 18, 2003 - 08:18   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, ANCHOR: To world politics now.
They are partners in the search for banned weapons in Iraq, but President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have been accused of exaggerating the threat posed by Iraq to gain support for the war.

But the criticism Mr. Bush faces from political opponents and the press is nothing compared to what his ally's hearing across the pond. To talk about why and how that works out we have our senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

Bill, good morning.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning, Daryn.

KAGAN: Why does it work differently? Why are there two standards for these two different men?

SCHNEIDER: Well, in the first place, the war was far more controversial in Britain than in the United States. And that's mostly because the trauma of 9/11 was so much greater in the United States.

But it's also because an American president is really the symbol of the nation. A British prime minister is more the symbol of his party. You may know that after World War II, the voters in Britain threw Winston Churchill out of office because they wanted a change of party.

Now, what's happening in Britain is that the attacks on Tony Blair have been merciless. Screaming headlines, charges of lying, exaggeration, manipulation of evidence. You rarely hear those kinds of charges against George W. Bush.

KAGAN: You certainly -- there we go -- we certainly can't be a lightweight if you're going to be prime minister of England, and you have to go before the House of Commons. It's something that he does on a regular basis. Tony Blair did that earlier today and here's a little example of what that looked like.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The intelligence that we put out in the dossier last September described absolutely accurately the position of the government. And that position is that, indeed, Saddam Hussein was a threat to his region, and to the wider world.

I always made it clear that the issue was not whether he was about to launch an immediate strike on Britain. The issue was whether he posed a threat to his region and to the wider world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: That was actually mild, what he faced today. Can you imagine such a thing happening here in the U.S., where the president goes on the floor of the House or the floor of the Senate and goes back and forth with those leaders?

SCHNEIDER: No, you wouldn't hear those kinds of direct charges. The most sensational charge is what he was talking about, was that Blair's claim last year that Saddam Hussein could launch chemical or biological attacks against Britain or the -- or other countries within 45 minutes, the charge is that that was based on unreliable or even doctored evidence. That's what his opponents and even some people in his party are charging.

You don't hear those kinds of charges against Bush because, as the president, especially in wartime, he's the symbol of the nation. You know in Britain, they have a different symbol of the nation, not the prime minister. They have a queen for that.

KAGAN: Not here. President Bush's fate will be played out over the next year and a half. What about Tony Blair?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Tony Blair, of course, has the secure majority. His problem is a little different from Bush's. Namely not the opposition party, which was actually more pro-war than his own Labor Party. His problem is in his own party.

There are a lot of people in the Labor Party who did not support the war, who are always opposed it, and if Blair, there's any evidence, direct evidence that Blair manipulated, doctored the intelligence information, misled or conned the British people, as some newspapers have charged, his party can replace him as prime minister.

The chancellor of the exchequer, which is like the secretary of the treasury Gordon Brown, is a rival for power, and he's available as another possible prime minister. So his party could throw him out. They did that, the conservatives did that to Margaret Thatcher.

KAGAN: Interesting to watch. Bill Schneider in Washington. Bill, thank you.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

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