If there is one thing Tony Blair is outstanding at producing it is the grand, sweeping speech on international issues and there are few better examples than his address to the US Congress.
The media may predictable focus on their obsession – Blair’s comments about the probability of finding WMD (as the Guardian and The Independent do) but his speech covered so many other areas and deserves some serious attention.
In fact it was one of the clearest statements of what a left internationalist policy in the era of terrorism should be and once again he made clear the universal values that should be at the heart of approach to global conflicts:
There is a myth that though we love freedom, others don’t; that our attachment to freedom is a product of our culture; that freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law are American values, or Western values; that Afghan women were content under the lash of the Taliban; that Saddam was somehow beloved by his people; that Milosevic was Serbia’s savior.
Members of Congress, ours are not Western values, they are the universal values of the human spirit. And anywhere, any time ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same: freedom, not tyranny; democracy, not dictatorship; the rule of law, not the rule of the secret police.
The spread of freedom is the best security for the free. It is our last line of defence and our first line of attack. And just as the terrorist seeks to divide humanity in hate, so we have to unify it around an idea. And that idea is liberty. We must find the strength to fight for this idea and the compassion to make it universal. Abraham Lincoln said, ‘Those that deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.’ And it is this sense of justice that makes moral the love of liberty.
It is no surprise that Blair got a good reception from congress, nor that he restated the commitment of the UK to the fight against terrorism and the ‘special relationship’. But those who attack Blair as a poodle of the US should look a little closer at what the PM actually said yesterday as he told Bush to ‘listen as well as lead’:
In a carefully phrased but nonetheless pointed manner Blair told the US to cut out the anti-European rhetoric (reminding them of the German troops in Afghanistan and the French in Congo) and commit to working as partners with the EU through persuasive argument and not bossing.
At the same time he told the Europeans to cut out the anti-Americanism and commit to working together with the US – highlighting the new member states as strong future allies.
To be a serious partner, Europe must take on and defeat the anti-Americanism that sometimes passes for its political discourse. And what America must do is show that this is a partnership built on persuasion, not command. Then the other great nations of our world and the small will gather around in one place, not many. And our understanding of this threat will become theirs. And the United Nations can then become what it should be: an instrument of action as well as debate.
Nor did he shrink from pointing out some challenges where America has not shown much enthusiasm:
But frankly, we need to go beyond even Kyoto, and science and technology is the way. Climate change, deforestation, the voracious drain on natural resources cannot be ignored. Unchecked, these forces will hinder the economic development of the most vulnerable nations first and ultimately all nations. So we must show the world that we are willing to step up to these challenges around the world and in our own backyards.
There can be no freedom for Africa without justice and no justice without declaring war on Africa’s poverty, disease and famine with as much vehemence as we removed the tyrant and the terrorists.
And he got it spot on on Israel and Palestine too:
The state of Israel should be recognized by the entire Arab world, and the vile propaganda used to indoctrinate children, not just against Israel but against Jews, must cease.
You cannot teach people hate and then ask them to practice peace. But neither can you teach people peace except by according them dignity and granting them hope. Innocent Israelis suffer. So do innocent Palestinians.
Anyone who is an internationalist, who sees the problems of the world as of far greater import than the comparitively minor worries in the UK, cannot fail but to be glad that we have a Prime Minister who has such a lucid understanding of the global situation and the way ahead in tackling those problems.
What I find bizarre is that many of those on the left who would broadly back Labour on the domestic front, are reviled by Blair’s actions on the international scene.
I find myself in the other camp. I’m not enthused by the domestic agenda but I am very glad we have a radical and progressive leader on the international scene.
Defeating tryanny, defeating poverty, winning peace and democracy in the Middle East and prosperity in Africa are issues that for any socialist must surely have more priority than the local concerns over management structure of the NHS or the prospect of ID cards.
The bizarre thing is that if ‘left’ is defined as being in favour of radical change to the benefit of those who lack economic and political power and ifthe left believes that change has to come through both consent and through determined action, then on the international front Tony Blair is way to the left of most of his critics.