"he seems to have lost his grip on reality"Letters
Faultline over Blair's Iraq defence
Monday March 8, 2004
I am surprised you think Tony Blair's speech "thoughtful" and "carefully expressed" (Leaders, March 6). Leaving aside that a considerable part of it is a bid to rewrite history on the decision to go to war in Iraq, it suffers from the principal flaws of so many missives on the "war on terrorism". First of all, it hypes the threat. Yes, a terror group with a usable nuclear device would be a grave danger. But no, it would not in any way be an existential threat to even a single country, let alone "civilisation".
Second, it claims the "enemy" - international Islamist terrorist groups - are nihilists, bent on bringing about a worldwide religiously motivated conflagration, with no discernible political goals. This is manifestly false. For once Mr Blair is right: we disagree about the nature of the threat. But it is we who are rational; we know there is no risk-free world.
Champaign, Illinois, USA
Tony Blair's speech puts him in a camp even more extreme than the president he has followed so slavishly. By conflating terrorism, "rogue states" (whatever that means), Iraq and centuries of international law into a wild, dystopian Old Testament vision, he seems to have lost his grip on reality. 9/11 was certainly a spectacularly evil action, but it was just a terrorist event - the world has had many previously and, regrettably, we are likely to have many more. By giving al-Qaida credit for creating some sort of faultline in world politics he is investing them with hugely exaggerated powers - in a century they will be a historical footnote.
Perhaps Blair should look back to an earlier September 11: in 1973, when President Allende of Chile was overthrown and killed in a US-orchestrated coup. Blair's allies in Washington have been supporting brutal states for years. The US armed Iraq for it to be able to fight Iran. Britain has supplied arms to the slaughterers of thousands of East Timorese, the Indonesians. We don't need to change international law - just stop supporting brutal regimes.
Your leader overlooked the most salient point in Blair's speech, viz if international law does not justify the war, change the law. As usual he wrapped it up in humbug.
The problem with the speech is not its dissonance with US policy, as you suggest. The rhetoric (pervasive terrorist threat, "new type of war", resolve from a decisive and courageous leader) is cribbed from the post-9/11 scripts of the most hawkish elements of Bush's inner circle. If Blair's comments were intended to be internationalist, they will, even so, be seized upon by neo-conservative unilateralists, just at a time when their political credibility was ebbing.
Our government should not ignore threats, but surely, before one country launches a pre-emptive attack against another, with the inevitable civilian casualties, there must be some demonstrable link with a credible and imminent threat. It is the absence of any such linkage in the case of Iraq that continues to cause such disquiet.
With Mr Blair, I am also in favour of developing international law to permit a more interventionist approach to human rights abuses - provided we have the machinery to ensure it is impartially and even-handedly applied, and not a smokescreen for pursuit of the enforcers' strategic and economic interests under the guise of some realpolitik.
Rev Gordon Webb
Keighley Methodist circuit
Perhaps it would be safer for all of us for Tony Blair to return to his first inspirational philosopher, John Macmurray, whose experiences in the first world war trenches led him to the revelation that such apocalypse should be avoided at all costs. He later adopted non-violence and became a Quaker. In contrast, many Christian fundamentalist Americans actively seek to hasten the apocalypse by turning biblical revelation into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Let's probe the words "terror" and "good and evil". Who has vast armament factories, and who does not? Who has vast fleets of flying battleships, and who does not? Who has mighty fleets on the seas and under them? Who has vast surveillance structures? The category of "who has", of almighty power, seems always to belong to the "good". The "evil", those who use "terror", seem always to be in the category of "who does not".
Mr Blair says that we must be "utterly resolute in opposition to terrorism as a way of achieving political goals". In December 2000 my sister Charlotte was one of 21 people killed in an attack by the Burundian terror group Palipehutu-FNL. No action has been taken against the perpetrators and the atrocities continue. The Foreign Office has refused to proscribe them and the UN security council has given no response to Burundi's request for an international commission of inquiry into the atrocities in the country. Is it any wonder that there's so much cynicism about our politicians?