British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s speech last Thursday wasn’t aimed at his audience in the House chamber. It was aimed at the despots of the Middle East and the faux-Napoleons of Old Europe who, if they fail to listen and understand, will lose all. Blair’s speech performed two great tasks we have been neglecting. First, he took stock of the war against terrorism and second, he re-charted the hard course we’ll have to take to win it. Blair didn’t pull punches. In his view, America and Britain have a duty to remove the threat of terrorism wherever it is found, with or without the EU or the U.N.
Blair’s new dispensation requires redrawing large portions of the world’s map without first asking permission from the EU or the U.N. By the time he was half done, Chirac’s blood pressure must have climbed to nose bleed level, and many in Tehran, Pyongyang and Damascus must have been reaching for the Tylenol. But like Bush before Iraq, many of the enumerated adversaries must now question whether he was serious, or whether his political troubles make it impossible for him to deliver.
Blair’s seriousness comes into question because of the Dark Ages of the 1990s. Then, in the company of many other conservatives, I misjudged Blair to be little more than a Clinton clone. Those who loved him then, despise him now. Eleanor Clift says he’s merely Mr. Bush’s smokescreen, his speech an intended diversion from the “uraniumgate” non-scandal the Dems are working feverishly to sustain. Visiting Brit columnist Clive Crook calls Blair a “helium-filled dilettante.” Let them eat yellowcake. The BBC — which the CENTCOM guys came to call the “Baghdad Broadcasting Company” — and whose coverage was so biased that the crew of Her Majesty’s flagship Ark Royal banned it from shipboard, is now calling for Blair to resign over reports that his government “sexed up” the intelligence reports on Iraq to justify the war. But the BBC’s supposed source denied saying it in a tense Parliamentary hearing this week and has now suicided. Blair will likely survive this round at least, and probably a lot more. The management of the BBC may not.
The British libs — and the French and Germans — have a passionate hate for Blair, even more so than for President Bush. They hate Blair because he is a convert, a liberal mugged by reality into conservatism, at least on international matters. In his speech, Blair paid ritual attention to AIDS, poverty and the environment. But unlike unrepentant liberals, Blair is able to see that this war must be the highest priority, and unless we defeat terrorism, we won’t have the opportunity to deal with those issues, and said as much.
Blair has a better understanding of the world than is to be found among his — and Mr. Bush’s — detractors. That understanding places Britain where it should be: on the outside of the European Union tent, looking in not with envy but with hope tempered by what Blair too kindly called the EU’s “potential for weakness.”
The wogs still start at Calais, and Blair threw a gauntlet at their feet. “There is no more dangerous theory in international politics than that we need to balance the power of America with other competitive powers…Such a theory may have made sense in 19th-century Europe…Today, it is an anachronism to be discarded like traditional theories of security.” To discard that theory is to discard the central unifying principle of the EU and with it France’s last vestige of international importance. It also destroys the theory that the United Nations is an essential part of international relations. Were that not clear enough, Blair addressed the U.N. membership directly.
He said to the U.N.’s members that merely by joining the U.N., their own despotisms are not immunized against international action. Though he didn’t mention Kofi Annan by name Blair aimed at him, and hit Annan in the ten-ring. Blair said, “It is not the coalition that determines the mission, but the mission the coalition.” Understand, Mr. Annan, that the lack of U.N. blessing means nothing to the legitimacy of the mission or the coalition that undertakes it.
Blair understands that. “There never has been a time when the power of America was so necessary or so misunderstood, or when…a study of history provides so little instruction for our present day.” But to say that is not to say that we cannot deal with the threats we face, if indeed we face them. And if we have the courage to say openly that which most needs to be said: that nations must be reshaped — by diplomacy, or by force of arms, or both — in order to end the threat of terrorism.
Blair believes that terrorism cannot be defeated without peace between Israel and a Palestinian state. But to that he added implicitly what I have been saying explicitly for more than three years: the Arab world is using the Palestinians as cannon fodder to fight Israel, and until the Arab world accepts Israel, no peace can be made. He had pointed words were for Iran, Syria and the rest of the Arab world in which “a fanatical strain of religious extremism has arisen, that is a mutation of the true and peaceful faith of Islam.”
If only Colin Powell could bring himself to offer, as Blair did, a “new dispensation” for the Middle East, a model for remaking that region. In Blair’s dispensation, Israel “should be recognized by the entire Arab world”, and “Iran and Syria, who give succor to the rejectionist men of violence be made to realize that the world will no longer countenance it…” This may be — it must be — America’s goal in the Middle East. And it will require widespread change to the governments and culture of hatred there.
Blair’s most important statement was that history will forgive us for removing one too many despots, but not for removing one too few. Decisive action must continue or we will fail. This reasoning was Mr. Bush’s from September 11 forward. It needs to be restated from the White House as well as Downing Street from time to time. The commitment to decisive action charts a course on which the war against terrorism can be won. Such clear statements, with the military force of the U.S. and the U.K. behind them, pave the way for peaceful resolutions that will never be attained by the muddle of our diplomacy.
Blair’s speech should be remembered, but not for stirring oratory. This wasn’t Churchill speaking of Britain’s “finest hour.” It wasn’t President Bush, on 20 September 01, telling the world we will give no quarter to terrorists, and make no distinction between them and the nations that support them. This was the new Blair, sending messages so tough and clear that the Great Communicator himself would have been proud to send. These were messages that our leaders have been too squeamish to send to the EU, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran and others. We should make it clear to those nations — and others, such as North Korea — that Blair’s new dispensation will be the chart by which we intend to navigate the world for at least the next few years.
Blair’s speech comes at a time when our war against terror seems to have run aground in the streets of Baghdad. Tony Blair refreshed our resolve by saying tough things that had to be said, at a time we were becoming reluctant to say them publicly ourselves. Thank you, Mr. Blair, for helping us get back on track. Full speed ahead.