Friday, 16 March 2007

Blair – Iraq Interview

I read the transcript of Tony Blair’s interview (15 March 07) with Adam Boulton on Sky TV ( and, as usual, was struck by Blair’s certainty about the chosen path but also about the total absence of subtlety in his understanding and strategy.

Blair said:

“ … until the Western world stops apologising for its values, …. we are never going to defeat this.”

Well I saw after September 11th, an American president who had to decide whether the whole security picture had changed and whether his country faced a fundamental threat that he had to go out and confront and George Bush took that decision.

“… and my view is that at some point the world has got to wake up and understand we are in a fundamental conflict with these people and we are going to win when we stand up to them and if we carry on apologising for ourselves, leaving them the excuse that it’s because of George Bush that they are doing these terrible things, or ridiculous nonsense like that, the more we give in to their propaganda and ideas, the less chance we have of protecting our security.”

A few phrases jump out:

“stops apologising for its values …”

“going to defeat this”

“ …until (West) stops apologising for its values …”

“fundamental threat”

“fundamental conflict”

“confront this”

“going to win when we stand up to them”

There is not a gram of nuance in these statements: what we have is up-front, in-your-face conflict. Those words, and there have been plenty more like those in the last 4 years, might strike fear into the minds of thinking Westerners and most Arabs and most Muslims but they will be like manna from heaven for terrorists. So easily will these words be turned into words against all Arabs and Muslims. So easily will they be used to fan the flames of radical Muslim action.

Those who become terrorists can be imagined as being at the tip of a pyramid with those below having similar but slightly less extreme views and having the potential to become radicalised and move upwards towards the tip. Striking off the tip of the pyramid will remove some terrorists but from below more will replace them. The more Iraqis we kill, the more we talk about extreme Islam, fundamental conflict, battle of values, the more will join the pyramid and the more will rise to the tip. A powerful article in yesterday’s Guardian by Seth Freedman ( describes how radical the views of a Palestinian lawyer (Ibrahim) have become after years of occupation. One can easily imagine how widespread his views must be and how easily some, holding these views, can be radicalised to even more extreme views.

Subtlety, a word unfamiliar to Bush, could have made all the difference. What was required was to stop “feeding” those in the pyramid: address the legitimate concerns of Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims; act fairly to all. This approach, over time, could have reduced the tension but, more importantly, reduced the support for extremists. There’s nothing new about this approach: it is simply a case of reducing the terrorists’ support by reducing the numbers of those who share their views. There is no need for triumphalism, for strident warnings nor for heavy-handed militarism.

We can do this without apologising for, or compromising, our values. Rather, by living and acting out our values, we enhance them.

Just plain and simple low-key common-sense.

Unfortunately, one can’t be a tough War President, or his sidekick, in a simple low-key and common sense way. The path they have chosen, as we have seen, leads to even greater conflict not less and to a diminution of our values.

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