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At a joint press conference in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Saturday night, Prime Minister Tony Blair said:
"I think we face a global threat based on this global terrorism. I think it threatens not just the stability of this region but of the wider world. I think there is a link between 9/11, what happened on 7 July last year in London, what happened in Madrid, what happens in the terrorism right round this region, what is happening today in Iraq and Afghanistan where we are trying to help democratic governments, elected by their people, be free and liberated from terrorism."
What is remarkable is not what Blair said, but that he had to say it, five years after the the most devastating terrorist attack in history. Further, he is grievously isolated among his own public and party for defending such a view, while he and President George Bush are among the only world leaders even attempting to convince free nations that they must take concerted action to defend themselves.
The fact that so acrimonious a debate still rages in the West over whether we are at war, who it is being fought against, and how to fight it is itself perhaps the most telling marker of where we stand on the anniversary of this terrible event.
In our editorial of September 13, 2001, this newspaper wrote:
"The free world must recognize that it is in a war of self-defense whose goal is victory. The concept of a war against terrorism is meaningless without the goal of removing terrorist regimes. The exact combination of diplomatic, economic, and military tools to be deployed toward this goal is a legitimate matter of debate. But a war against terrorism that avoids the issue of regime change in countries such as Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan cannot be won, because it has not even really been joined."
By this rubric, the war certainly has been joined, in that two of the regimes we mentioned are no longer in power and another terror-supporting regime - Libya - has capitulated. Yet in another sense, it has not, since the principle that terrorism cannot be defeated without forcing the regimes that support it either out of power or out of the terror business has not become part of the Western consensus.
In its leader on the anniversary this week, the Guardian wrote:
"Mr Bush's 'axis of evil' rhetoric has gone but its poisonous legacy remains from Baghdad to Pyongyang... [His] recent attacks on 'Islamo-fascism' as he burnishes his credentials as a war leader mirror Bin Laden's rhetoric. The man in the cave and the man in the White House must not drown out voices of reason with their their inflammatory talk of clashing civilizations...
"Still, bashing Mr Bush is not enough. Europeans cannot just look the other way after the Madrid and London bombings. Governments on this side of the Atlantic must work harder to tackle the Middle Eastern grievances that feed the resentment on which jihadi ideology thrives."
Taking a similar line, former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry managed to write an entire op-ed stating how his party would extricate the US from being "bogged down in Baghdad, beleaguered around the world" and advocating an alternative approach to fighting terror, without even mentioning Iran.
Much of the Western debate remains caught up in the notion that it can be fought either by addressing the jihadis' "grievances," or by police actions against the terrorists themselves. Yet even Bush and Blair, who eloquently debunk these pre-9/11 approaches that failed so spectacularly, have not fully explained to the world what it will take to win.
We are at a dangerous point in this war. The danger is that the West, having defeated lesser terrorist regimes, will allow the most belligerent of them all to obtain nuclear immunity and to undo much of the progress that has been achieved to date.
Blair is stepping down in a few months and Bush is indeed beleaguered. Currently, there is a greater sense of inevitability that Iran will obtain nuclear weapons than that the mullahs will be stopped. The coming months are a critical window in which the West must turn that sense around, and demonstrate its determination to belatedly defend itself against a growing and mortal threat.
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