Friday, March 05, 2004

Tony Blair Speech

Today Tony Blair gave a very important speech on the War and Terror, IRaq, et al. I don't know whether the timing was significant. A transcript is here. It is very very good. I'll quite some passages with my thoughts. The passages will be italicised, and other emboldened emphasis is my own.

It is because it was in March 2003 and remains my fervent view that the nature of the global threat we face in Britain and round the world is real and existential and it is the task of leadership to expose it and fight it, whatever the political cost; and that the true danger is not to any single politician's reputation, but to our country if we now ignore this threat or erase it from the agenda in embarrassment at the difficulties it causes.

This comes from a man who has paid a considerable political price for this stand. I think, for those who do not understand why Tony Blair is so strident in his support of the War on Terror, this is it. While I know he cares about reforming schools and the NHS, and tons of over things, these issues are only important because of the freedom we possess. The fundamental issue is the need to preserve that freedom, and everything else comes secondary.

In the period from 24 September to 29 May, the date of the BBC broadcast on it, it was raised twice in almost 40,000 written parliamentary questions in the House of Commons; and not once in almost 5,000 oral questions.

Related to the 45 minute claim that was the centre of the David Kelly fiasco. I would have hated being the grunt who did the leg-work checking this one out. Perhaps it says something of the hype of the modern media that they can whip so much out of nothing (or, from the other side, the effectiveness of the Lib Dems and other anti-war MPs that they were so silent on what was, we have since been led to believe, a major issue).

As Dr Kay, the former head of the ISG who is now quoted as a critic of the war has said: "Iraq was in clear violation of the terms of Resolution 1441". And "I actually think this [Iraq] may be one of those cases where it was even more dangerous than we thought."

Of course this just leads us back into media hype, and a bit like the discovery that David Kelly was also a supporter of intervention in Iraq.

September 11th was for me a revelation. What had seemed inchoate came together.

The point about September 11th was not its detailed planning; not its devilish execution; not even, simply, that it happened in America, on the streets of New York. All of this made it an astonishing, terrible and wicked tragedy, a barbaric murder of innocent people.

But what galvanised me was that it was a declaration of war by religious fanatics who were prepared to wage that war without limit. They killed 3000.

But if they could have killed 30,000 or 300,000 they would have rejoiced in it.

The purpose was to cause such hatred between Moslems and the West that a religious jihad became reality; and the world engulfed by it.

When I spoke to the House of Commons on 14 September 2001 I said: "We know, that they [the terrorists] would, if they could, go further and use chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

"We know, also, that there are groups of people, occasionally states, who will trade the technology and capability of such weapons. It is time that this trade was exposed, disrupted, and stamped out.

"We have been warned by the events of 11 September, and we should act on the warning."

From September 11th on, I could see the threat plainly. Here were terrorists prepared to bring about Armageddon.

Here were states whose leadership cared for no-one but themselves; were often cruel and tyrannical towards their own people; and who saw WMD as a means of defending themselves against any attempt external or internal to remove them and who, in their chaotic and corrupt state, were in any event porous and irresponsible with neither the will nor capability to prevent terrorists who also hated the West, from exploiting their chaos and corruption.

I think this is the part of the speech that resonates most with me. It is something that is so well "known" that it can be forgotten. September 11th changed everything. There are very few moments that are totally revoluationary, just a handful each century. Contrary to the wishes of social historians these revolutionary changes are not primarily social or cultural - though they will contain social and cultural elements and consequences. Neither are they economical, though there economic effects are great. They are political, because it is through politics that a nation, a people, or a world is defined. And, all too often, the most crucial events themselves are acts of violence.

The Assassination of Arch-duke Franz-Ferdinand in 1914 and WW1, The occupation of the remainder of Czechoslovakia in early 1939 and WW2, the series of political demosntrations and revolutions in 1989 from Tiannamen to Bucharest. I contend these three are the most important events and sequences of events of the 20th century, truly global and still reverberating on a global basis (in a way that I do not think Vietnam, for example, does, though of course within the United States the Gulf of Tonkin could quite reasonably be added to that list). Each was world-changing. I am fortunate enough to be of an age that was politically awakened by the events of 1989. My personal remembrance of politics and foreign affairs date from then.

I know that for some of the children of family friends recent events have provided the same catalyst.

So we came to the point of decision. Prime ministers don't have the luxury of maintaining both sides of the argument.

A basic lesson in the realities of office that the opponents of the war need to consider.

But do we want to take the risk? That is the judgement. And my judgement then and now is that the risk of this new global terrorism and its interaction with states or organisations or individuals proliferating WMD, is one I simply am not prepared to run.

Implicit of course is that the anti-war lobby are prepared to run this risk. Chamberlains and Halifaxes the lot of them. Decent well-meaning people (the Chamberlains) or cynical schemers (the Halifaxes) ultimately it does not matter. I have yet to decide what Clare Short is, perhaps a Lord Haw-Haw?

Which brings me to the final point. It may well be that under international law as presently constituted, a regime can systematically brutalise and oppress its people and there is nothing anyone can do, when dialogue, diplomacy and even sanctions fail, unless it comes within the definition of a humanitarian catastrophe (though the 300,000 remains in mass graves already found in Iraq might be thought by some to be something of a catastrophe).

This may be the law, but should it be?

And that is the question the Clare Shorts of this world should be asking. If they had the courage of their liberal, democratic, convictions they too would be asking this question. Throughout his term in office Tony Blair has shown this question exercises him, and he sees no reason why it should be.

In Sierrea Leone he ordered in troops to stand up against some of the most barbaric militias ever to have desecrated the earth.

In Kosovo he stood up against genocide, and in peace he also supported the efforts of many ordinary serbs to establish their own democracy. It was this conflict that taught me the dangers of our media, for as I read and read some more I realised that "the Serbs" were probably as opposed to Milosevic as the rest of us, if not more so, and from a much earlier date. Just as modern Germany remains tarred by the legacy of Hitler I imagine the scares of Milosevic's reign will be deep and take decades to heal.

Afghanistan and Iraq are far more recent events, and all four events are continuing sagas of hopes and disappointments. But as anyone who actually listened to what Tony Blair has said, and no matter the importance of WMD, the moral humanitarian aspect of the war on terror is strong and ever-present.

Now new challenges are on the horizon, in addition to the old. Some of these may require military intervention. Personally I look warily at the situation in Zimbabwe.

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