March 02, 2005

Blair Issues a Message to Bashar

The Guardian: Can we talk about the wider region, I know our time is limited, but your policy of constructive engagement with Syria. Are we now at a stage where we say (a) that is kind of over, but (b) it didn't work, given everything that has happened in the last two or three weeks?

Tony Blair: I think what you have always got to do is to give people a chance, but they have got to take the chance, and we have given Syria a chance. Now I don't want to comment, because we can't be sure who is responsible either for the appalling assassination of Hariri, or the terrible terrorist atrocity in Tel Aviv, we can't be sure. But what we can say is that for Syria it is important to realise that the international community expects certain obligations to be undertaken and adhered to. And in the wider Middle East what is happening now, I think people have missed the announcement of President Mubarak of Egypt, this is of huge significance, and what is happening in Kuwait, and Bahrain and many other Gulf states is of huge significance. There is a genuine, it may only be a ripple of change at the moment but it is happening throughout the Middle East and it is important that we encourage it because it is out of there that so many of the issues that we grapple with in the international community arise, and that is why in the end whatever positions people take on Afghanistan or Iraq, if you can establish democracy there it is of huge importance to again providing an example of how countries can develop.

The Guardian: Just to follow up a few key things in that answer. You said that it is important to give a chance but they have got to take the chance, is it then right to infer from what you said that in your view Syria did not take its chance, you reached out but they ...

Tony Blair: Well the concerns over Syria are well known. I am not saying that it won't change, but I think they have to realise that the international community is looking at Syria very closely at the moment.

The Guardian: I agree you can't be certain, but is it your operating assumption that they were behind the Hariri assassination and the Tel Aviv bomb?

Tony Blair: I think operating assumptions for me are dangerous to make. I don't know, that is the honest answer and therefore it would be unfair to point the finger. There are many in the international community who might, but I will judge it on the basis of the evidence. But I think what is clear is that there are two views of how the Middle East can now develop. One view is the view that I think, and this is what is interesting about today's conference, because remember you have got Arab countries, you have got European countries, you have got the United States, you have got Russia and they are all coming together round the same pitch basically, which is we want a solution, a two state democratic solution to Israel and Palestine, and we want to see the Middle East and those people who are reformers within the Middle East encouraged, and I think that is all to the good. I mean the very fact that you have got Libya coming back into the international community is another interesting change that is happening. And my advice to any countries who are holding out against this emerging consensus is you know stop holding out and get alongside it. [emphasis added]

Well put, Mr. Prime Minister. You know, and for all the tired and cheap vitriole hurled at Tony Blair for being a dutiful poodle to the Toxic Texan; I am consoled that History will remember him much more kindly. Like Bush, he immediately grasped the existential perils presented by 9/11. But he had to carry forward the torch in a land not as rocked by massive tragedy (though many Britons died in the Towers). The skepticism ran higher, the fellow-feeling less pronounced. The Harold Pinters and Tony Benns roundly mocked him for his Bush-fawning idiocy. He stood firm against such darlings of the left, against a comically biased Auntie Beeb, against the coarse and barely concealed anti-Americanism of media like the Independent and, indeed, the Guardian (from which this interview is excerpted). And, all the while, he communicated the stakes with significant eloquence in an era so often defined by mediocre or worse statemanship. Compare this man to an uber-opportunistic Gerhard Schroder or a corrupt Chirac. There really isn't a comparison to be made, is there? Last, but not least, he has manifestly made good on his pledge to the American people to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with them in the post 9/11 war against terror. In other words, he is a man of his word; not the 'Bliar' of the cheap placards mindlessly hoisted about Shoreditch and Hoxton. Yes, this is a man who has earned the right to hold his head up high.

Posted by Gregory at March 2, 2005 04:15 AM | TrackBack (8)

Well said. Blair deserves to reap the benefits of his courage and eloquence.

Posted by: sammler at March 2, 2005 05:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It was not Chirac or Schroder that joined our country in person in the days immediately after 9/11. It was Prime Minister Blair who stood with the U.S. He did so when in attendance at the U.S. Congress during President Bush's speech to the joint Houses following 9/11 and has stood with us ever since. Since when has the steadfastness of a friend been confused with being a poodle?

I for one felt much better knowing that Blair led his country to stand along side ours, unlike others countries such as Canada under Chretien and France under Chirac whose attitudes were, shall we say, more "nuanced". I felt much better and much brought to tears - literally - seeing Blair physically by our President that night.

The Prime Minister, if even our only friend, is well worth being the only friend we need. Yet, let us not forget Australia which - unlike other nations - is today reinforcing its troop presence in Iraq.

I do not wish to sound too anglo-centric, yet that was the crew of nations that largely fought the Second World War for freedom's sake. If that is the coalition that fights for it again today then we are in good, proud company. Shame on others that do not.

Posted by: Brian Lacey at March 3, 2005 01:06 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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