What Blair didn’t say (Part 9)

In a recent Ephems entry I remarked, not for the first time, on the media’s repeated assertions that Tony Blair (in the words of a Guardian columnist, chosen at random)  “famously [sic] insists that there is no connection at all between the actions of his government in Iraq and the threat to the UK from international terrorism.” I pointed out that ‘no, he  doesn’t, actually, and never has, however ‘famous’ the allegation that he does. He is even on the public record as stating that he has never said such a thing.’   And I quoted the prime minister’s words at a press conference on 26 July this year in which he explicitly denied having said what he is constantly accused of saying.

Since no-one, to the best of my knowledge, has so far been able to come up with chapter and verse for Blair ever having denied any connection between the invasion of Iraq and the threat to the UK from terrorism, I naively thought that this might be the end of the matter, if not in the national press — I can’t assume that all the editors at Wapping and Canary Wharf (or wherever they are now) read this blog attentively twice a day — then at least in the Ephems community.  I should have known better.  My post prompted a lively debate on what Blair had and hadn’t said, what exactly he had meant by what he had said, and what might or might not constitute a ‘connection’ between Iraq and the terrorist threat in Britain.  My assertion that he had set out his position on the issue quite clearly at the July press conference was scornfully dismissed as deliberate evasion. 

One contributor came close to citing two specific speeches by Blair in which he allegedly —

simply and robustly denied that his policies had caused global terrorism or made terrorism worse (see speeches 21 March 2006 on global terrorism and 26 May 2006 at Georgetown on the Downing Street website.) To give an analogy, when asked if by opening the door he wasn’t fanning the flames, he simply says ‘I didn’t light the match.’ I suppose there are also degrees of obfuscation ranging from ‘not making absolutely clear’ to ‘rendering totally unintelligible’.

To enable you to make up your own mind whether Blair’s words on this subject in the two speeches mentioned can reasonably be construed as denying any connection between Iraq (and other foreign policy actions that have angered Muslims) on the one hand, and the threat of terrorism in Britain on the other, and whether the passages in question amount to obfuscation by unintelligibility, here they are:

Speech of 21 March 2006, London: ” A Clash about Civilisation”:

I also acknowledge … that the state of the [Middle East Peace Process] and the stand-off between Israel and Palestine remains a, perhaps the, real, genuine source of anger in the Arab and Muslim world that goes far beyond usual anti-western feeling. The issue of “even handedness” rankles deeply. …So the statement that Iraq or Afghanistan or Palestine or indeed Chechnya, Kashmir or half a dozen other troublespots is seen by extremists as fertile ground for their recruiting – a statement of the obvious – is elided with the notion that we have “caused” such recruitment or made terrorism worse, a notion that, on any sane analysis, has the most profound implications for democracy.
…we must reject the thought that somehow we are the authors of our own distress; that if only we altered this decision or that, the extremism would fade away. The only way to win is: to recognise this phenomenon is a global ideology; to see all areas, in which it operates, as linked; and to defeat it by values and ideas set in opposition to those of the terrorists. The roots of global terrorism and extremism are indeed deep. They reach right down through decades of alienation, victimhood and political oppression in the Arab and Muslim world. [My emphasis — BLB]

The other is as follows:

Speech of 26 May 2006 at Georgetown University, Washington DC: third of three foreign policy speeches:

In the first [of three speeches], I argued that the global terrorism that menaces us, can only be defeated through pulling it up by its roots. We have to attack not just its methods but its ideas, its presumed and false sense of grievance against the West, its attempt to persuade us that it is we and not they who are responsible for its violence. In doing so, we should stand up for our own values, asserting that they are not Western but global values, whose spread is the surest guarantee of our future security….
Let us go back to the immediate issue: Iraq. We can argue forever about the merits of removing Saddam. Our opponents will say: you made terrorism worse and point to what is happening there. I believe differently. I believe this global terrorism will exploit any situation to further its cause. But I don’t believe that its cause is truly to be found in any decision we have taken. I believe it’s cause is an ideology, a world-view, derived from religious fanaticism and that had we taken no decisions at all to enrage it, [it] would still have found provocation in our very existence. They disagree with our way of life, our values and in particular in our tolerance. They hate us but probably they hate those Muslims who believe in tolerance, even more, as apostates betraying the true faith.  [My emphasis — BLB]

I have no time for Tony Blair, whose policies and actions in Iraq and whose assault on our civil liberties at home have shamed his and my country.  In my strongly held view, the sooner he steps down, the better for (almost) all of us.  But the many genuine and grave charges against him are undermined by the inclusion of accusations that won’t stick.  One of these — there are others, unfortunately — is surely the canard that he has “famously” or “consistently” denied any link between Iraq (etc.) and terrorism: or that at best he has ducked the issue by obfuscation and evasion.  The passages quoted above acquit him, it seems to me, of all such charges.  Not only is his position on this issue made very clear:  it is also right.  The foreign policy issues to which many Muslims angrily object are indeed linked to terrorism in the sense that they are exploited in order to incite people to commit criminal acts of violence and then to try to justify them when they have been committed.  But the link is not a causal one:  the invasion of Iraq, and the west’s failure to resolve the numerous other conflicts around the world involving Muslims, have not caused the terrorism, and if they had not been available to be exploited for terrorist purposes, other issues would have been used with the same consequences.  Above all, it would be intolerable for any government to shrink from policies or actions that it believes to be right, necessary and in the country’s interests, purely for fear that they could be exploited by a small minority at home to incite and justify the indiscriminate murder of innocent people.  We can never let the murderers’ blackmail dictate our country’s policies at home or abroad.  There are other and better ways of tackling the terrorist threat, and other and better reasons for tackling the root causes of Muslim anger whenever it is peacefully expressed.  For once, Tony Blair has got it right.

But I don’t expect anyone else to agree!


11 Responses

  1. Brian,
    Peter Taylor writes an intelligent piece here
    He ends with an observation of his own and a comment from Mike Scheuer, former head of the CIA's Bin Laden unit, who ought to know a thing or two.
    In the wake of last year's bombings in London, Tony Blair said, "Let us expose the obscenity of these people saying it is concern for Iraq that drives them to terrorism." Such attacks in London and elsewhere are undoubtedly obscene, but the reason for them is scarcely beyond doubt. As Scheuer says, "Iraq is a self-recruiting machinery for al-Qaida. Al-Qaida doesn't have to do anything except let Iraq speak for itself"

    Taylor's " Al Qaida- a time to talk- may be worth an hour of our time on Sunday.

    Brian comments:  Tony, we aren't going to agree on this, I'm afraid.  In my view Taylor's article verges on the obscene, and I fear that his television programme on Sunday is likely to be even worse.  I am putting my reasons for this harsh judgement in a new post , qv.

  2. Rob says:

    “We can never let… blackmail dictate our policy at home or abroad”

    Presumably you oppose having a paid police force and prison service then, since their existence is clearly a result of allowing the fact that people commit crimes dictate our policy. Unless of course this is a principle which only applies to murderers, in which case, of course, the thing to do would be to fight crime other than murder as we currently do, but totally ignore murder. The idea that policy should not take into account some of the predictable costs of that policy is a) clearly ridiculous, and b) as I’ve already said, obviously in direct conflict with the position you took on Charles Taylor’s trials for warcrimes, which so far as I know, you haven’t repudiated.

  3. Tom says:

    One comment on Rob’s.
    The FCO lists on its website its first strategic international priority as:
    ‘* Making the world safer from global terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.’ Presumably ‘making the world safer’ would include taking into account some of the predictable costs of our policies.

    As to the substance of whether our policies have any causal link with terrorism in this country, I notice Peter Clarke is reported on the BBC website today as saying that ‘his officers had to be focused on a "whole range of people…Not just terrorists not just attackers but the people who might be tempted to support or encourage," he said.’ Is there a possibility that the ‘people who might be tempted to support or encourage’ are in any way influenced in their thinking by the actions of the Blair government?

    A word on the accusation of obfuscation. The closest Blair comes to acknowledging a link in the extracts I referred to is when he says that Iraq etc ‘is seen by extremists as fertile ground for their recruiting’ (note ‘is seen as’, not ‘is a’). But then he says ‘global terrorism will exploit any situation to further its cause’.  Any situation?  So the link is no closer than that between terrorism and ‘any’ other situation? Apart from that he knocks down the idea that his policies were the sole or main cause of violence. He doesn’t seem to accept, however, that his policies had any influence on the scale or likelihood of terrorist attacks in the UK other than being used coincidentally as a pretext.  So if we hadn’t gone into Iraq the extremists might have used the ban on fox-hunting as an excuse? Perhaps to the politician or the diplomat Blair’s pronouncements are crystal clear but to the man in the street or in the blogosphere things do appear dangerously close to obfuscation.

    By the way, I agree entirely with Brian’s condemnation of the opening and conclusion of Peter Taylor’s article. As far as I know, ministers didn’t ‘insist that the terrorist threat has nothing to do with Iraq, they just didn’t say specifically that there was a connection. And the statement that Iraq is ‘the reason’ for terrorism goes as far off the rails in one direction as I think Blair has in the other.

    P.S. I imagine how Blair would respond to the charge of obfuscation. "Our opponents will say ‘you obfuscated’. But I believe that people will use any opportunity to misunderstand what I say. The idea that some people have chosen to misunderstand me – a statement of the obvious- is then ellided with the notion that I deliberately lied to them." End quote.

  4. Tim Weakley says:

    I don’t see the point of Rob’s first sentence.  Are we to understand that criminals in general, each of whom exists in his own warped little world, are collectively trying to blackmail the rest of us into doing something or other?

  5. Rob says:


    Brian seems to be invoking a principle that you ought not to take into account the likelihood of other people doing terrible things when considering what to do. Since (part of) the motivation for a police force and prison service is crime prevention, having a police force and prison service is dictated by the fact that people will, unless they are stopped, do terrible things. This clearly takes into account the likelihood of other people do terrible things when considering what to do: otherwise, you wouldn’t try and stop them.

  6. Brian says:

    It’s difficult to believe that some of those who have commented here are genuinely unable to distinguish between:  (1) changing government foreign policies that are otherwise deemed desirable in the national or international interest, in the hope of appeasing small criminal groups in the UK who threaten to murder innocent people unless the policies are changed to make them more to their own liking;  (2)  adapting domestic policies on the prevention, detection and punishment of crime in order to ensure that those policies remain relevant to changing patterns in crime;  and (3) bringing about the settlement of a long-running and exceptionally violent civil war by securing agreement on a number of measures including a limited amnesty and guarantee against arrest and trial for one of the belligerent faction leaders, provided that he goes into exile abroad: and then breaking that undertaking by seizing the person concerned in his exile and putting him on trial — thus making it far more difficult to use this tool for peace-making and reconciliation in the future.

    If anyone really can’t detect the overwhelming and material differences between those three situations, I doubt very much whether anything I say here will enlighten them.  To claim to see all three as in any way analogous must surely be an attempt to tease.  Beyond a certain point intellectual ingenuity morphs into perversity.

    As a tailpiece:  it isn’t the case that ministers, including Tony Blair, have merely refrained from acknowledging any connection between Iraq and terrorism, without explicitly acknowledging it.  Blair could hardly have been more explicit in acknowledging a connection in his press conference on  26 July this year, from which I quoted in an earlier post here.   The existence of a connection is also plainly implicit in the extracts from Blair’s speeches of 21 March and 26 May quoted in this post (above).  The point is that he denies any causal connection.  And he is right.  All this stuff about obfuscation is just — well, obfuscation.  Blair has repeatedly made the defining point that we would be facing the threat from international Islamic terrorism regardless of what we have done or not done in Iraq, and indeed that we faced it before there was any question of attacking or occupying Iraq.   Those who can’t grasp that elementary fact can’t understand the nature of the terrorist threat or how best to defeat it.

  7. Brian,
    I’ve NEVER suggested a causal connection between the war and the terrorism. Perhaps a correlation

    Homer: Not a bear in sight. The "Bear Patrol" is working like a charm!
    Lisa: That’s specious reasoning, Dad.
    Homer: [uncomprehendingly] Thanks, honey.
    Lisa: By your logic, I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
    Homer: Hmm. How does it work?
    Lisa: It doesn’t work. (pause) It’s just a stupid rock!
    Homer: Uh-huh.
    Lisa: But I don’t see any tigers around, do you?
    Homer: (pause) Lisa, I want to buy your rock.


  8. Rob says:


    in one way it's quite relieving to see that you fail to grasp the idea that there might be a principle of some sort underlying your position, although in another exceptionally frustrating.

    Brian replies:  Rob, you're incorrigible.   

  9. John Miles says:

    I am one of the ignorant minority which doesn't claim to understand the nature of international terrorism, or how best to defeat it.

    D o you know how best to defeat it?

    If so , please please please spell it out for us, in words we can understand.

    You say the connection between the invasion of Iraq and terrorism isnn't a causal one.

    How would you describe it?

    Brian replies:  Please see next comment.  I have dealt at tedious length with these and dozens of other questions already.  This correspondence will now cease (as they used to say) — Ed. 

  10. Brian says:

    Dear intrepid Ephems commentators (and some others),

    Anyone who is still in any doubt about my views on this topic, for what they’re worth, is cordially invited to see, if you haven’t already, —




    You might also like to refresh your memory of some relevant texts that I quoted back in September 2005, a year ago almost to the day:




    and even earlier, —


    and earlier still, —

    http://www.barder.com/ephems/352 and http://www.barder.com/ephems/349
    with the comments on them at —

    http://www.barder.com/ephems/352#comment-484 and
    http://www.barder.com/ephems/352#comment-485 and
    http://www.barder.com/ephems/352#comment-491  and

    Not forgetting the more recent —


    and many other comments on all the above.

    In one or other of these posts and comments I have said all I have to say on the subject, and repetition soon becomes tedious.  I’m getting tired of this particular debate, as no doubt most of you are, so I’m calling it a day.  I reckon I have made my case (at what has become excessive length), and so far no-one has unpicked it, anyway to my own satisfaction;  although no doubt some would argue the contrary.  The lists are now closed, with thanks to all contributors.  Comments on all other Ephems topics continue, of course, to be welcome.

  11. Bob says:

    Out of time? Ah well.

    Brian, I’m amazed you pay Blair the compliment of analysing his actual words. It’s almost as though you expect him to (a) know what he thinks, based on sound socio-economic / historical / political analysis, and (b) relate it accordingly.

    Blair is a man of shallow culture, no political ideology and little apparent sense of history. By his own admission he just believes in ‘ what works.’ He can therefore say (quoting him on 21/3/06) :’ The roots of global terrorism and extremism are indeed deep. They reach right down through decades of alienation, victimhood and oppression in the Arab and Muslim worlds."……yet still magically and ingenuously ask where were the actual CAUSAL factors of global terrorism – ‘cos it ain’t us in Iraq, guv…!  Maybe not.

    But nor perhaps was it the Palestine question. Nor the Afghan wars….Nor the US pushing Israel to cover its oil grab in Arab lands, etc, etc.

    So where did it all start? The Crusades? Looking for causal factors is in itself obfuscation; they’re lost in time, and he – and you – both know it.

    I find contemptible and naive Blair’s contention that a whole lot of hate-filled Muslims – hate-filled for good reasons, but we don’t know precisly what they are ( except that they stem from… " an ideology, a world view derived from religious fanaticism…") – want to do all they can to destroy our way of life out of sheer hatred for it and us. This is typical of the sort of fundamentalist religious ravings he says we’re faced with from them.

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