I know Johann has already linked to Blair’s speech today but I think it is worthy of some comment as well.
I am not going to get into the political pundit’s job of trying to read signals of career intent from the speech, although Blair’s view that “Once this row dies down, another will take its place and then another and then another,” does rather suggest that the speech’s aim was not to ‘move on’ but to try and regain some of the confidence that has been lost and to pre-empt the further attacks that will follow.
And the phrase “it is not a matter of trust but of judgement” is obviously an attempt to change the way in which the issue is being appraised by many. It is one of the weakest passages in the speech because clearly the issue is whether you trust Blair’s judgement.
And my answer is that on the issue of the terrorist threat I do trust Blair’s judgement. Why? Because whatever you think of his domestic political priorities, his transformation of the Labour Party, his personal style, his religious beliefs or his wife’s fashion advisors, Tony Blair is not stupid.
And it would take a very stupid man indeed to lead Britain into war and into diplomatic dischord with many of its friends in Europe for no other reason than that is what some right-wingers in Washington, who couldn’t give two hoots about Tony Blair, wanted. It would be a remarkably idiotic politician who put his political career on the line for no other reason than neo-con conspirators had asked him to.
Clearly Blair had his reasons and this speech is a long overdue attempt to inform doubting or sceptical voters as to why he went to war and the PM is surprisingly frank in outlining his rationale and his core thinking on the broader issues.
In a nutshell what Blair is saying is this – either you believe that Islamic terrorist groups represent a serious threat or you don’t.
If you do think September 11th marked a declaration of war and an escalation of fanatical violence then you need to look at the issue of WMD and illegal weapons trading, you need to ask yourself whether the old attitudes to nation states and military intervention are relevant or not and whether the UN and international law, as presently constructed are up to the job. Blair has some pointed comments on those issues.
If you don’t think Islamic terrorist groups mark a real threat (and in our papers we can read suggestions that terrorists are ‘bogeymen’ or ‘hate figures’) then Blair has very little to say to you I’m afraid.
In fact there is very little in Blair’s speech that would distinguish his views from those of Christopher Hitchens and we know what Hitchens has to say about people who don’t take the terrorist threat seriously – but then he isn’t a politician.
On Iraq specifically Blair rather painstakingly goes through the whole decision making process but in essence he says that whatever chances there were that the situation would have resolved itself, he wasn’t, in the new situation post-9/11, prepared to take the risk.
Perhaps the key passage though is this:
I understand the worry the international community has over Iraq. It worries that the US and its allies will by sheer force of their military might, do whatever they want, unilaterally and without recourse to any rule-based code or doctrine. But our worry is that if the UN – because of a political disagreement in its Councils – is paralysed, then a threat we believe is real will go unchallenged.
This dilemma is at the heart of many people’s anguished indecision over the wisdom of our action in Iraq. It explains the confusion of normal politics that has part of the right liberating a people from oppression and a part of the left disdaining the action that led to it. It is partly why the conspiracy theories or claims of deceit have such purchase. How much simpler to debate those than to analyse and resolve the conundrum of our world’s present state.
He’s right. But it will it be enough to shake people out of denial?
Some more thoughts on this later.