Everyone is turning against Tony Blair at the moment.  It’s not just the usual suspects at the Daily Mail, the Telegraph and the Guantanamo-obsessed Today programme.  It’s not just Clare Short and Gordon Brown.  The Guardian, The Economist and Jack Dromey have now got the knives out for Labour’s longest-serving leader.

At the root of Tony Blair’s troubles isn’t, of course, the loans-for-peerages scandal although it hasn’t helped.  It’s not the debt crisis in the NHS or the missed child poverty targets.  At the root of his troubles is the war in Iraq – which began three years ago yesterday.

Given all of this – and the fact that 54% of ConservativeHome Panel Members think the war on Iraq was a mistake – I hesitate to post this entry but I’ve just read the best speech I’ve come across in some time… and it was given by our Prime Minister.

The handling of the liberation of Iraq has, of course, left much to be desired but I still believe that it was the right thing to do.  In thinking that I part company with many Conservatives I otherwise respect but I’m happy to be in the company of many humanitarian leftists who know that the troubles and insecurities of the world are also our own in the post 9/11 world.

Here are two extracts from the PM’s speech (which is really worth reading in full):

"This is not a clash between civilisations.  It is a clash about civilisation.  It is the age-old battle between progress and reaction, between those who embrace and see opportunity in the modern world and those who reject its existence; between optimism and hope on the one hand; and pessimism and fear on the other.  And in the era of globalisation where nations depend on each other and where our security is held in common or not at all, the outcome of this clash between extremism and progress is utterly determinative of our future here in Britain.  We can no more opt out of this struggle than we can opt out of the climate changing around us.  Inaction, pushing the responsibility on to America, deluding ourselves that this terrorism is an isolated series of individual incidents rather than a global movement and would go away if only we were more sensitive to its pretensions; this too is a policy.  It is just that; it is a policy that is profoundly, fundamentally wrong…"

"Reactionary elements know the importance of victory or defeat in Iraq.  Right from the beginning, to them it was obvious.  For sure, errors were made on our side.  It is arguable that de-Baathification went too quickly and was spread too indiscriminately, especially amongst the armed forces.  Though in parenthesis, the real worry, back in 2003 was a humanitarian crisis, which we avoided; and the pressure was all to de-Baathify faster.  But the basic problem from the murder of the United Nations staff in August 2003 onwards was simple: security.  The reactionary elements were trying to de-rail both reconstruction and democracy by violence.  Power and electricity became problems not through the indolence of either Iraqis or the MNF but through sabotage.  People became frightened through terrorism and through criminal gangs, some deliberately released by Saddam. These were not random acts.  They were and are a strategy.  When that strategy failed to push the MNF out of Iraq prematurely and failed to stop the voting; they turned to sectarian killing and outrage most notably February’s savage and blasphemous destruction of the Shia Shrine at Samarra.  They know that if they can succeed either in Iraq or Afghanistan or indeed in Lebanon or anywhere else wanting to go the democratic route, then the choice of a modern democratic future for the Arab or Muslim world is dealt a potentially mortal blow.  Likewise if they fail, and those countries become democracies and make progress and, in the case of Iraq, prosper rapidly as it would; then not merely is that a blow against their whole value system; but it is the most effective message possible against their wretched propaganda about America, the West, the rest of the world.  That to me is the painful irony of what is happening.  They have so much clearer a sense of what is at stake.  They play our own media with a shrewdness that would be the envy of many a political party.  Every act of carnage adds to the death toll.  But somehow it serves to indicate our responsibility for disorder, rather than the act of wickedness that causes it.  For us, so much of our opinion believes that what was done in Iraq in 2003 was so wrong, that it is reluctant to accept what is plainly right now."

Tony Blair is at his best when he is strategic.  His strategic political insights devastated Toryism for more than a decade.  His strategic understanding that 9/11 changed the world was also spot-on.  Tony Blair cannot, of course, manage anything.  He can’t manage Britain’s NHS or even relations with his Downing Street neighbour.  Katrina revealed the weaknesses of George W Bush’s own management skills.  Bush and Blair have made winning the war in Iraq very difficult but they know that we could not wait for more 9/11s to happen.  Tomorrow’s threats – because they are potentially so devastating in scale – have to pre-empted.  That is what is happening – bloodily and sometimes ineptly – in Iraq today and everyday.  Another left-winger – Christopher Hitchens uses a column in today’s WSJ – ‘Iraq is no "distraction" from al Qaeda’ – to remind us of the absolute need for the forces of democracy and moderate Islam to prevail in Iraq.

Whether we supported or opposed the invasion of Iraq we cannot retreat now.  The Conservative Party leadership has a duty to help the public understand that, too.

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