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(photo credit: AP)
The central point is this: In the end, even the issue of Israel is just part of the same, wider struggle for the soul of the region. ... [I]n Lebanon, in Gaza, in Iraq and add to that in Afghanistan, in Kashmir, in a host of other nations, including now some in Africa - it is a global fight about global values ... about whether our value system can be shown to be sufficiently robust, true, principled, and appealing that it beats [Reactionary Islam].
- Prime Minister Blair, in Los Angeles, August 1
This is not the first time that a British prime minister chose an American forum for a major address on the state of the world. Indeed, the significance of Tony Blair's speech can be compared to Winston Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech, given in Fulton, Missouri in March 1946.
At that time, Churchill warned, not long after the end of a devastating global conflict, that the world must be "shielded from two gaunt marauders, war and tyranny" and that the latter had descended in the form of Soviet control of the nations of central and eastern Europe. In that speech he also noted that:
"Up till the year 1933 or even 1935, Germany might have been saved from the awful fate which has overtaken here and we might all have been spared the miseries Hitler let loose upon mankind. There never was a war in history easier to prevent by timely action than the one which has just desolated such great areas of the globe."
Blair seems to be as worried now as Churchill was then. "Short term," he said, "we can't say we are winning. ... To turn all of this around requires us first to perceive the nature of the struggle we are fighting and secondly to have a realistic strategy to win it. At present we are challenged on both fronts."
Blair, who is under fire from his own party and public for supporting American foreign policy, had been expected in his speech to distance himself from the Bush administration positions on fighting terror. Bravely, he chose to hold to and elaborate on his consistent positions, delivering a devastating critique of those who advocate isolation, blaming themselves, or blaming Israel. He then reinforced some of his thinking at a lengthy press conference on Thursday, where he was subjected to a barrage of hostile questions over his stance.
Though it is pathetic that it needed saying, he pointed out in his Los Angeles speech that it was not the allied operations in Afghanistan and Iraq that caused terrorism, but terrorism that necessitated those justified - and, yes, we might add, disproportionate - actions.
Boldly extending the same logic, he asserted that it was Israel that had been attacked and was under threat from Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas. He even suggested that the West played into the hands of the attackers by criticizing Israel:
"Reactionary Islam seized the opportunity, first in Gaza, then in Lebanon ... [knowing] that their terrorism would provoke massive retaliation by Israel. Within days, the world would forget the original provocation and be shocked by the retaliation."
Blair's description of the war, in short, was brilliant and courageous. His insight that the war against Israel is part of the wider war against the West is critical, and something that even President George Bush has not expressed in such coherent terms.
No less importantly, he strongly dismissed the language of grievances: "It is rubbish to suggest that [terrorism] is the product of poverty. ... It is based on religious extremism ... And not any extremism, but a specifically Muslim version."
Yet strangely, when it came to suggesting solutions, he seemed to employ the grievance-based model he had so forcefully rejected.
"This war ... can only be won by showing that our values are stronger, better and more just, more fair than the alternative. ... Unless we revitalize the broader global agenda on poverty, climate change, trade, and in respect of the Middle East, bend every sinew of our will to making peace between Israel and Palestine, we will not win."
Blair is right that the global jihad cannot be beaten without defeating its dream of destroying Israel. But this, unfortunately, is not how he will be understood.
Reactionary Islam dreams of destroying the Jewish state. It is the Western exposure and rejection of this dream, and forcing the Arab world to disavow it, that will pave the way for a Palestinian state. Israel is not rejecting Palestine; it is the Arab world that continues to reject Israel.
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