Tony Blair — In His Own Defense
What needs to be done to find a globally unified strategy against terrorism?
British Prime Minister Tony Blair still faces plenty of criticism for rushing into the Iraq War and possibly overstating the danger that Saddam’s WMD program posed. But while acknowledging that there were some uncertainties, Mr. Blair leaves no doubt that he would do it all again to safeguard his country — and others — against global terrorism. In this Globalist Document, Mr. Blair presents his case.
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 galvanized me was that it was a declaration of war by religious fanatics — who were prepared to wage that war without limit.
They killed 3,000. 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 Muslims and the West that a religious jihad became reality — and the world would be engulfed by it.
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.
The global threat to our security was clear. So was our duty to act to eliminate it. First, we dealt with al Qaeda in Afghanistan, removing the Taliban that succored them.
But then, we had to confront the states with WMD. We had to take a stand. We had to force conformity with international obligations that for years had been breached with the world turning a blind eye.
For 12 years, Saddam had defied calls to disarm. In 1998, he had effectively driven out the UN inspectors — and we had bombed his military infrastructure. But we had only weakened him, not removed the threat.
The truth is, disarming a country — other than with its consent — is a perilous exercise.
Here is the crux: It is possible that even with all of this, nothing would have happened. Possible that Saddam would change his ambitions, possible he would develop the WMD but never use it, possible that the terrorists would never get their hands on WMD — whether from Iraq or elsewhere.
We cannot be certain. Perhaps we would have found different ways of reducing it. Perhaps this Islamic terrorism would ebb of its own accord.
But do we want to take the risk? That is the judgment. And my judgment then and now is that the risk of this new global terrorism and its interaction with states — or organizations or individuals proliferating WMD — is one I simply am not prepared to run.
This is not a time to err on the side of caution, not a time to weigh the risks to an infinite balance — and not a time for the cynicism of the worldly wise who favor playing it alone.
Their worldly wise cynicism is actually at best naiveté — and at worst dereliction. When they talk, as they do now, of diplomacy coming back into fashion in respect of Iran or North Korea or Libya, do they seriously think that diplomacy alone has brought about this change?
Since the war in Iraq, Libya has taken the courageous step of owning up not just to a nuclear weapons program — but to having chemical weapons, which are now being destroyed.
Iran is back in the reach of the International Atomic Energy Agency. North Korea in talks with China over its WMD. The A.Q. Khan network is being shut down, its trade slowly but surely being eliminated.
Yet, it is monstrously premature to think the threat has passed. The risk remains in the balance here and abroad.
These days, decisions about it come thick and fast. And while they are not always of the same magnitude, they are hardly trivial. Let me give you an example.
During the war, we received specific intelligence warning of a major attack on Heathrow airport. To this day, we don’t know if it was correct and we foiled it — or if it was wrong. But we received the intelligence.
We immediately heightened the police presence. At the time, it was much criticized as political hype or an attempt to frighten the public. Actually, at each stage we followed rigidly the advice of the police and Security Service.
But sit in my seat. Here is the intelligence. Here is the advice. Do you ignore it? But, of course intelligence is precisely that: intelligence. It is not hard fact. It has its limitations.
On each occasion, the most careful judgment has to be made taking account of everything we know and the best assessment and advice available.
But in making that judgment, would you prefer us to act, even if it turns out to be wrong? Or not to act and hope it’s OK? And suppose we don’t act and the intelligence turns out to be right, how forgiving will people be?
And to those who think that these things are all disconnected, random acts, disparate threats with no common thread to bind them, look at what is happening in Iraq today.
The terrorists pouring into Iraq know full well the importance of destroying not just the nascent progress of Iraq toward stability, prosperity and democracy — but of destroying our confidence, of defeating our will to persevere.
They know full well, a stable democratic Iraq, under the sovereign rule of the Iraqi people, is a mortal blow to their fanaticism. That is why our duty is to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan as stable and democratic nations.
The doctrine of international community is no longer a vision of idealism. It is a practical recognition that — just as within a country — citizens who are free, well-educated and prosperous tend to be responsible and to feel solidarity with a society in which they have a stake.
Nations that are free, democratic and benefiting from economic progress tend to be stable and solid partners in the advance of humankind. The best defense of our security lies in the spread of our values.
But we cannot advance these values except within a framework that recognizes their universality. If it is a global threat, it needs a global response, based on global rules.
This Globalist Document is excerpted from a speech given by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his Sedgefield constituency on March 5, 2004. For the full text of Mr. Blair’s speech, click here.