Blair Announces Plans to Step Down British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he will leave office at the end of June. Blair made the announcement on Thursday after weeks of speculation. Former British Army Col. Tim Collins talks about Blair's legacy.
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Blair Announces Plans to Step Down

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Blair Announces Plans to Step Down

Blair Announces Plans to Step Down

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From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen. Madeleine Brand is away.

Coming up, Iraq's national security adviser met with members of Congress on Capitol Hill this week. His message: The war is a marathon, yet the finish line is in sight.

But first, the news today from Great Britain. Prime Minister Tony Blair announced he will be stepping down on June 27th. Blair's popularity, even among his fellow Labour Party members, has suffered in recent years, due in large part to his support of the Iraq war. Here's Blair speaking today.

Prime Minister TONY BLAIR (Great Britain): Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right. I may have been wrong. That's your call. But believe one thing if nothing else, I did what I thought was right for our country.

COHEN: On yesterday's program, we heard from parliament. I spoke with a Labor MP who is intensely critical of Tony Blair. Today, we turn to a former Army officer who led British troops into Iraq during the invasion of 2003.

Colonel Tim Collins gave an inspirational speech on the eve of battle that even President Bush reportedly took notice of. Colonel Collins has since come out against Britain's involvement in the war. He joins us now on a cell phone from London. Welcome, Colonel.

Colonel TIM COLLINS (British Army, Retired): Hi.

COHEN: You just heard some of Tony Blair's remarks from today. What are your thoughts when you hear what he had to say?

Col. COLLINS: Well his record, as far as military affairs have gone, is a mixed bag. He - when we took part, he was responsible for the intervention in Kosovo, which was widely acclaimed of being a success and for the benefit of the Muslim Albanians of Kosovo. And then, of course, there's the intervention in Sierra Leone, where the people of Sierra Leone were threatened by a brutal terrorist gang, and intervention by British soldiers at the behest of Tony Blair was very successful.

But unfortunately, the intervention in Iraq, whilst well meant, lacked any formal plan, and ultimately has resulted in a void that has caused this confusion and mayhem that's now reigning in Iraq. And so that, ultimately -with other world leaders - he's ultimately culpable.

COHEN: Tony Blair says today that maybe what he did was wrong. When he says that, what do you think?

Col. COLLINS: My belief is history will judge the Iraqi intervention on the basis of the fact that there was no plan for what should follow, and then that was further compounded by the fact that the army was removed and the police were dismissed. And whilst the excuse of coming there, to some quarters of the United Kingdom with a long history in Iraq (unintelligible) the state of Iraq knew better than that. And really, that was Tony Blair's role as a good ally of the United States, to warn against the consequences of those actions. He failed to do that.

COHEN: What impact do you think Tony Blair had on the British military as an institution?

Col. COLLINS: Well I think his main legacy will be the extent to which the armed forces were heavily committed in Iraq, and then further committed in a war in Afghanistan without any particular point. But there's no doubt that we can also thank Tony Blair for taking the efforts of the previous conservative administration and delivering peace in Northern Ireland. A brutal, 35-year onslaught by Republican terrorists was ended. They were brought to the peace table, and I think that will be his greatest legacy - and many lives saved.

COHEN: Colonel Tim Collins is a former British army officer. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Col. COLLINS: Thank you very much.

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