Monday, March 08, 2004
War Without End

Tony Blair made a strong speech on Friday, the 5th March, setting forth his reasons for supporting the war In Iraq and the continued presence of British troops in that country. What was striking about his tough stance was that there was no mention of the United States or Europe, no strategic calculus or appeal to self-interest.

Blair's intellectual development has ended in foreign climes. His communitarian leanings have been thwarted or watered down in the domestic sphere and, like all heads of government, his attentions have strayed overseas as the reform programme dissipates into the sands of Old Labour. Blair consciously positions himself as a radical, rejecting the Westphalian settlement, and arguing that the security of the international community, is sufficient to justify war, intervention in a foreign state and regime change. He explains that the radicalisation of his position was a direct consequence of the 9/11 atrocity since that led him to reassess the threat that non-state actors could pose to the West.

From this foundation, Blair provides an explanation and a defence of his actions. Moreover, he provides insight into how the will of the international community can be established in the long-term. Blair remains a supporter of the United Nations and views this institution as a potential tool in the fight against non-proliferation. Since the Security Council of the United Nations cannot meet his expectations, the threat of the risks described outweigh the need to observe the preeminence of the UN.

It means reforming the United Nations so its Security Council represents 21st century reality; and giving the UN the capability to act effectively as well as debate. It means getting the UN to understand that faced with the threats we have, we should do all we can to spread the values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, religious tolerance and justice for the oppressed, however painful for some nations that may be; but that at the same time, we wage war relentlessly on those who would exploit racial and religious division to bring catastrophe to the world.

But in the meantime, the threat is there and demands our attention.

That is the struggle which engages us. It is a new type of war. It will rest on intelligence to a greater degree than ever before. It demands a difference attitude to our own interests. It forces us to act even when so many comforts seem unaffected, and the threat so far off, if not illusory. In the end, believe your political leaders or not, as you will. But do so, at least having understood their minds.

Whilst the rhetoric and ideological underpinnings differ from the tensions that underlie the foreign policy of the Bush administration, their shared view of the terrorist threat has led to a common front on strategy and action. Blair has not concentrated on propaganda and slogans for domestic consumption but his words echo the open-ended commitment that has underpinned Bush's perception of a world at war. The argument that the threat is long-term and constant justifies continuous intervention to shut down proliferation efforts, sterilise failed states and remodel chaotic regions after invasion and regime change.

Since the diplomatic damage of the Iraq War has still not been fully assessed, it is certainly unclear if Blair's crusade (as the religious intent justifies the term) has obtained the results of greater security that he holds out as the objective of his foreign policy. The security threats certainly exist and will have to be dealt with. Open-ended commitments and moral interventionism, under the Neo-Gladstonian phase of Blairism already sound passe as the United States settles down to strategies of containment for terrorism, now that the first full flush of conquest has died away. Now, diplomacy, negotiation and intelligence co-operation are the preferred tools.

Blair's hollow evocation is another post-hoc justification for last year's war. Whilst his risk calculation may have been changed forever in September 2001, his countrymen and fellow parliamentarians will remain immune to his insight unless they face the same reality on British soil (and not even then for some of them).

Due to Britain's position in the world, these risks exist but it is certainly questionable that we should address these out of moral commitment rather than a rational assessment of our national interest. Blair demonstrates his loyalty to a 'permanent revolution' in both foreign and domestic policy, heralding a further erosion to our remaining independence and civil liberties.

(23.00, 8th February 2004)


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