Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Covering the Tony Blair speech

I caught a bit of it on live TV yesterday, and just about popped a vein when I heard this:

Left and right still matter hugely in politics, and the divergence can sometimes be sharp, as we all know. But the defining division in countries and between people is increasingly open or closed. Open to the changing world, or fearful, hunkered down, seeing the menace of it, not the possibility.

This is the age of the interconnected. We all recognise this, when it comes to economics, communication and culture, but the same applies to politics. The struggle in our world today, therefore, is not just about security, it is a struggle about values and about modernity . . .

Yep, saying that Left and Right still matter hugely in politics, coming from an all-boomer, all-spin – and for most intents, extreme-Right (= policy whores for the highest bidder) - government is surely the most blatant, egregious lie ever told by the sleazy Brit PM.

And that’s saying something. Broadsheet coverage of the Blair speech seems to have missed this howler, strangely enough. Instead, they have (i) pfaffed around pointing out the irony of UK Labour’s Blair (nominally Left) and Australia’s governments being close Iraq war chums, and (ii) otherwise run great chunks of the howler-less parts of the Blair speech.

The first is no irony, and not only because the Blair government is not substantively Left. Rather, the US/UK/Oz tripartite “coalition of the willing” is simply the world’s three largest debtor nations (per head, if not absolutely), showing their best, cheesiest “I’m good for a credit limit increase, (please?)” faces to the world’s saver nations (who, Japan aside, have stayed conspicuously out of Iraq). Without the Iraq frolic then, all three nations would look much more nakedly bankrupt. (It’s paradoxically true that when one is hopelessly in debt, spending (and so borrowing) more money is a source of creditor comfort, as long as the said spending is done with due solemnity, if not pain). Oh, and with Iraq’s (theoretical) oil wealth, it also helps to jointly bind the “coalition of the willing” that the US and Australia are, per capita, the world first and second-biggest oil consumers/pigs (not sure about the UK, but it wouldn’t be far behind).

Then there’s the boring bits of the Blair speech that the broadsheets did run. Again strangely enough, the Age and the Australian both ran with much the same edited extract. So that you, the reader, can see the two editors’ involved respective peccadilloes, I’ve meshed the two edited extracts together. Italicised is what ran in the Age, but not the Australian, while the vice versa (in the Australian, but not the Age) is bolded.


The struggle in our world today is not just about security, it is a struggle about values and about modernity - whether to be at ease with it or in rage at it. To win, we have to win the battle of values, as much as arms. We have to show these are not Western, still less American or Anglo-Saxon values but values in the common ownership of humanity, universal values that should be the right of the global citizen.

This is the challenge. Ranged against us are the people who hate us; but beyond them are many more who don't hate us but question our motives, our good faith, our even-handedness, who could support our values but believe we support them selectively. These are the people we have to persuade. They have to know this is about justice and fairness as well as security and prosperity.

And in truth there is no prosperity without security; and no security without justice. That is the consequence of a connected world. That is why we cannot say we are an open society and close our markets to the trade justice the poorest of the world demand. Why we cannot easily bring peace to the Middle East unless we resolve the question of Israel and Palestine. Why we cannot say we favour freedom but sit by while millions in Africa die and millions more are denied the very basics of life.

If we want to secure our way of life, there is no alternative but to fight for it. That means standing up for our values not just in our own country but the world over. We need to construct a global alliance for these global values; and act through it. Inactivity is just as much a policy, with its own results. It's just the wrong one.

The immediate threat is from Islamist extremism. You mourn your victims from Bali as we do ours and those from July 7 last year in London. We can add to them victims from Madrid, or September 11 in the US. But, this terrorism did not begin on the streets of New York. It simply came to our notice then. Its victims are to be found in the recent history of many lands from Russia and India, but also Algeria, Pakistan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Indonesia, Kenya and countless more. And though its active cadres of terrorists are relatively small, it is exploiting a far wider sense of alienation in the Arab and Muslim world.

We will not defeat this terror until we face up to the fact that its roots are deep, and that it is not a passing spasm of anger, but a global ideology at war with us and our way of life. Their case is that democracy is a Western concept we are forcing on an unwilling culture of Islam. The problem we have is that a part of opinion in our own countries agrees with them.

We are in danger of completely misunderstanding the importance of what is happening as we speak in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our troops, British and Australian, are alongside each other and I know whatever our views on either conflict, we are all deeply proud of the commitment, dedication and bravery of our armed forces.

But in each case, we have nations engaged in a titanic struggle to be free of a legacy of oppression, stagnation and servitude. In each case, its people have, for the first time, been offered a choice to vote. In each case, they have seized it, despite obstacles we can scarcely imagine.

But in each case also, the forces of reaction are at work, trying through the most evil of means, terrorism - the slaughter of the innocent because they are innocent - to destroy this hope.

I know the Iraq war split this nation as it did mine. And I have never disrespected those who disagreed with me over it. But for almost three years now we have been in Iraq with full UN support. From the outset, our forces in Afghanistan have been there with UN authority. In both cases, there is the full support of democratically elected governments.

Every reactionary element is lined up to fight us. They know if they lose, a message is sent out across the Muslim world, that strikes at the heart of their ideology. So they are fighting hard.

We must not hesitate in the face of a battle utterly decisive in whether the values we believe in, triumph or fail. Here are Iraqi and Afghan Muslims saying clearly: democracy is as much our right as yours; and in embracing it, showing that they too want a society in which people of different cultures and faith can live together in peace. This struggle is our struggle.

If the going is tough - we tough it out. This is not a time to walk away. This is a time for the courage to see it through. But though it is where military action has been taken that the battle is most fierce, it will not be won by victory there alone.

Wherever people live in fear, with no prospect of advance, we should be on their side; in solidarity with them, whether in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Burma, North Korea; and where countries, and there are many in the Middle East today, are in the process of democratic development, we should extend a helping hand.

This requires, across the board, an active foreign policy of engagement not isolation. It cannot be achieved without a strong alliance. This alliance does not end with, but it does begin with, America. For us in Europe and for you, this alliance is central. And I want to speak plainly here. I do not always agree with the US. Sometimes they can be difficult friends to have. But the strain of, frankly, anti-American feeling in parts of European politics is madness when set against the long-term interests of the world we believe in. The danger with America today is not that they are too much involved. The danger is they decide to pull up the drawbridge and disengage. We need them involved. We want them engaged.

The reality is that none of the problems that press in on us can be resolved or even contemplated without them. Our task is to ensure that with them, we do not limit the agenda to security. If our security lies in our values and our values are about justice and fairness as well as freedom from fear, then the agenda must be more than security and the alliance include more than America.

Once the Israeli election has taken place, we must redouble our efforts to find a way to the only solution that works: a secure state of Israel and a viable, independent Palestinian state. We must continue to mobilise the resources and will to turn the commitments of 2005 into action to combat the ravages of conflict, famine and disease in Africa where millions, literally millions, die every year preventably. We must focus on the threat of climate change, now made all the more acute by anxiety over energy supply.

This is a big agenda. It means action on all fronts.

There will be many insidious and persuasive voices that urge us to stay in our comfort zone, high in the stands and watch the field of play. It is tempting, and yet I don't believe our countries will ever truly prefer spectating to playing. We naturally get stuck in. It's our way. It's certainly always been yours.

In 1939, when Britain declared war on the Nazi tyranny, that same day your prime minister announced you were at war too; no ifs, no buts, just solidly with the world. How magnificent and how typical of Australia. We needed you then and we need you now. Today's struggle is of a very different nature, but it will determine our collective future. I believe it is one together that we can win.

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