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Chris Patten talks with Kerry O'Brien -

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(generated from captions) Mick O'Donnell reporting. As Iraq prepares for its all-important National Assembly elections next month, President Jalal Talabani has predicted that British and American troops could begin withdrawing by late next year. That prediction is based on the hope that Iraq will be then able to defend itself against an insurgency that has more than doubled its attacks within the past 12 months. If that does happen, will it silence the critics of America's and its allies' intervention in Iraq, who've painted the war as a foreign policy disaster? One of those critics was Chris Patten, former senior British Conservative Minister

in the Thatcher and Major years. Then Hong Kong Governor, European Commissioner and now a life peer. He's in Australia to promote his book, "Not Quite a Diplomat", and I spoke with him in Melbourne. Chris Patten, the British Defence Secretary has cautiously embraced the Iraqi President's suggestion that British troops could be out of Iraq by the end of next year. As a critic of Britain's and America's intervention in Iraq, are you now somewhat heartened

by the optimism of the Iraqi Government, at least, that they are working to a workable independent democracy? Well, I hope so.

Even though I was a critic of the invasion and even though if I had known what was going to happen I'd have been an even bigger critic, there's no point in any of us dancing on coffins. There's no point in any of us simply saying, "I told you so." We all have to deal with the consequences. If we are going to see a functioning Iraq state democratic plural with the Kurds and the Sunnis and the Shi'ia all lying down happily together, terrific. I think my worry, and the worry of other people, is we blow away Saddam Hussein is nothing but a good thing, but that we've risked blowing up Iraq in the process

with all sorts of consequences for the region. So, I hope that the British Defence Secretary and the Iraqi Prime Minister are correct. I'll just say one thing - I'm a great critic of the war

and even though I think it's done incalculable damage to the ability and future of governments to use force pre-emptively when there is a real threat, I haven't been one of those who think we should simply pull the troops out.

In your book you talk about Iraq policy being made over the heads of the British Foreign Office and the US State Department. What do you mean by that and what was the effect? In Washington, plainly, Colin Powell was cut out of the action and anybody who might have offered a few words of caution actually Colin Powell - if anybody knew about invasions and the use of the military, it was him, but he was sidelined by the assertive Nationalists, by Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld on the one hand and what General Powell reportedly called the "f-ing crazies" on the other, the neocons. In Britain, I think Mr Blair, who has great charm, overestimates his abilities on the international stage. You can't charm people out of their own view of their national interest and certainly I don't think he ever had the detailed grasp of the issues that one might have liked. I think he saw the whole issue simply through the prism of what he believed should be Britain's relationship with the United States, an ally partner who asks no questions, but was prepared to act as No. 1 spear carrier

and No. 1 explainer of America's intentions to Europe's wimps and I think that was fatal and led him into a posture which lost him the most important attribute in politics

in any country, that is the benefit of the doubt as far as the electorate is concerned. Have the London bombings changed your views on Britain's involvement in the war on terror in any way, shape or form? No, they haven't. Largely - if you don't mind me putting it this way - largely because I've never really seen it as a "war on terror".

I don't think you have wars on proper nouns. I think all of us will find ourselves for the next as far ahead as we can see dealing with those who can create mayhem by using technology to murder, kill, maim people. I've spent much of my life dealing with Irish terrorism. Most recently reorganising the police service in Northern Ireland as part of the Belfast Agreement. I'm not remotely one of those who thinks that you can fudge the distinction between terrorist violence and legitimate political action. You have to try to understand what motivates terrorism. I do think you have to try to understand and deal with the sense of alienation which creates an environment in which terrorists operate. You're critical of George Bush's foreign policy, but you're not one of those, it seems, who questions his intellectual capacity on your meetings with him. You say in the book after meeting Mr Bush several times that you not only found him very confident of what he was about and what he was saying and doing and so on, you never found yourself disliking the man. You say, "It is usually easier in politics if you dislike the person "as well as the words, "so I guess I feel more comfortable with Vice-President Cheney." Quite so. Why do you dislike Dick Cheney? I think he gives conservatism a bad name. Why do you dislike Dick Cheney? I think he gives conservatism a bad name. I think he associates conservatism with making rich people even richer,

with more perks for the corporate world, with the most assertive sorts of nationalism. If you look at things - the arguments at the moment, America 2001 had the huge sympathy of the world after the attacks on New York and Washington. Now, three years down the road, four years down the road, we see the Administration, particularly Vice-President Cheney, trying to prevent Senator McCain writing into American law the fact that Americans don't torture each other. So America is on the back foot on human rights issues. America, which stood for and argued for Helsinki and the sort of approach to human rights which eventually helped us sink the Soviet Union. How have they got themselves into this mess? They've got themselves into this mess because of that implaccable ultra-conservative presence at President Bush's right hand and I think that it's a pity that the President doesn't listen more to his father and less to Vice-President Cheney. As you look around the world,

how many leaders can you say you actually admire? Well, it's a very good question. Of the ones that I've met, I worked for one - I didn't always agree with her - but I worked for one Margaret Thatcher, whom I admired, because she did combine a sense of ideas and principles with the ability to get things done. I admired Zhu Rongji, not because I admired China's human rights record, but because he seemed to me to be a colossol bulldozer of a politician. I greatly admired, in Europe, Chancellor Kohl because he had that political ability to know when politicians have a really historic decision

and to get that decision right. I think he was almost single-handedly responsible for - well, with Gorbachev for German unification and the three people that have most charmed me have all been black - have all been Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan and Colin Powell, all of whom have that combination of grace and authority, which is what charisma actually means. I think Colin Powell is a slightly tragic figure because of the way he became -

because of the way he was used by the Administration which he served. In Europe at the moment, I have to say that I think we draw pretty much of a blank when it comes to great leaders. Chris Patten, thanks very much for talking with us. Thank you very much.

And that's the program for tonight. We'll be back at the same time tomorrow,