Leading article: An unpopular war, by any measure

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The Independent Online

The findings of The Independent's poll today demonstrate - perhaps surprisingly, given the recent intervention by the head of the Army - that there does not yet exist an overwhelming public demand for an immediate withdrawal of British troops from Iraq. Some 62 per cent of the public are in favour of getting out as soon as possible, but 72 per cent believe immediate withdrawal would make matters worse. That is one finding Tony Blair will no doubt cling to, as he struggles to convince us of the importance of prolonging our military presence in Iraq.

But apart from this sliver of comfort, this poll makes very bleak reading for the Prime Minister. More than two thirds of the public believe the war in Iraq is now unwinnable. In other words, there is a widespread perception that our troops are doing little more than holding the line. Any expectation of "finishing the job", as Mr Blair insists is necessary, has vanished. And no one now seems to believe that "a stable and prosperous democracy", something Mr Blair promised three years ago, is about to emerge from the anarchy in Iraq.

This foreign policy disaster has taken a terrible toll on the Prime Minister's personal credibility. Three in four of the public believe that Mr Blair's support for the Bush administration's policy in Iraq calls into question his political judgment. The crisis has also further estranged the Prime Minister from his own party. Of Labour voters, 64 per cent share this unfavourable view of their leader.

Yet perhaps the most damaging finding we reveal today is that 61 per cent of people say that the Iraq experience has made them less likely to support a future intervention elsewhere in the world. Before the Prime Minister decided to join President Bush in this reckless adventure, Mr Blair had done much to rehabilitate the doctrine of humanitarian intervention. He had been a powerful and persuasive advocate of the idea that it was wrong to sit back while dictators brutalised people within their own borders. Intervention in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, even Afghanistan, seemed to be a vindication of Mr Blair's outlook. An ethical foreign policy seemed possible.

But then came the distortions and lies over Iraq - and the tarnishing of Britain's good name internationally in the unseemly rush to war. Now a majority of Britons would not support military action to relieve a humanitarian emergency in another part of the world.

Iraq has not only destroyed the Prime Minister's reputation. It has curtailed Britain's ability to be a global humanitarian influence. This is not the legacy for which Mr Blair must have hoped.