This Is No Time To Appease
26 September 2005
IDS addresses the Washington-based Hudson Institute on the war in Iraq and the wider struggle against terror.
THE PERMANENT THREAT
Three years before 9/11, Peggy Noonan wrote these now famously prophetic words:
“We live in a world of three billion men and hundreds of thousands of nuclear bombs, missiles, warheads.
It's a world of extraordinary germs that can be harnessed and used to kill whole populations, a world of extraordinary chemicals that can be harnessed and used to do the same.
Three billion men, and it takes only half a dozen bright and evil ones to harness and deploy.
What are the odds it will happen?
Put it another way: What are the odds it will not?
Nonexistent, I think.
When you consider who is gifted and crazed with rage . . . when you think of the terrorist places and the terrorist countries . . . who do they hate most?
The Great Satan, the United States.
What is its most important place?
Some would say Washington.
I would say the great city of the United States is the great city of the world, the dense 10-mile-long island called Manhattan, where the economic and media power of the nation resides.”
Those words capture the great truth about the struggle that the civilised world finds itself engaged in.
They capture the threat that will exist for the foreseeable future.
It’s a permanent threat and our nations need to be on a war footing until that threat has been brought under control and our defences made much stronger.
That permanent threat is posed by the deadly alliance of evil men with devastating weaponry.
The world has always had its share of evil men.
The problem of our time is the portability, cheapness and availability of devastating weaponry.
I detailed this problem in a pamphlet I wrote in 1999 - ‘A race against time’.
Political leaders haven’t spent enough time educating the public about this permanent danger.
Worse – some have raised an alternative spectre of imminent dangers and then exaggerated them.
That spectre has been one of the biggest propaganda gifts to the opponents of the Iraq war.
I think, for example, of the British Government’s suggestion that Saddam Hussein could deploy weaponry in 45 minutes.
Scaring the public because you are in a political hurry cannot be done without grave risks.
Labour’s multiple warnings of imminent danger were swiftly followed by the failure to find stockpiles of WMD and the narrow case for war became a scandal in the eyes of the public.
The mistreatment of Dr David Kelly – the weapons inspector who committed suicide after apparently doubting some of the government’s WMD claims - was appalling.
A decent and loyal servant of his country was crushed between the twin colossi of the Government and the media.
Yet Dr Kelly remained a supporter of the war in Iraq but for broader and more honest reasons.
He saw the regime, its history and its technologies as the threat.
And that’s the real point to take from this.
We need a relentless and truthful focus on the permanent nature of the threat if we are to win public support for future stages of the war on terror.
It is often said that truth is the first casualty of war.
Truth was a casualty of Tony Blair’s case for war.
In the battle that lies ahead we need to put truth back on the frontline.
THE 24/7 MEDIA FRENZY IN IRAQ
As we look to the future course of the war on terror it seems particularly important that we understand, explain and complete the task in Iraq.
Over the last few weeks, I have watched with dismay as reports from Iraq have pounded the British public with a message of despair and defeat.
Majority public opinion - on both sides of the Atlantic - has quite reasonably reacted to this negative message by turning against the war.
Sometimes, as I have watched the relentlessly negative reports, I have marvelled that more than a third of the British public still support the war.
The news reports have been followed by the usual stream of ‘I told you so’ commentators.
The interviews are full of fashionable panaceas.
We must have immediate reviews of this or that action.
We must question the tactics of our troops and of course, the endless calls for ‘an exit strategy’.
If you listen carefully a pattern emerges.
First is the implied, but never openly stated, view that the current situation is far worse than that which prevailed under Saddam Hussein.
Second, that no worthwhile progress has been made in Iraq.
Third, that Iraq is teetering on the brink of a civil war.
And fourth, that Iraq has nothing to do with the war on terror.
I am beginning to wonder if 24/7 news media and the sacrifices necessary for national security are compatible.
I wonder whether contemporary journalism has the basic ability to bring perspective to its coverage by balancing insight into long-term war aims with coverage of the everyday costs of a war in progress.
Like kids in the back of a car, during a long journey, today’s media are always asking ‘are we there yet?’
‘If it bleeds, it leads,’ is the maxim under which they operate.
What if today’s media had reported WWII’s 219 average daily US deaths – the way they have reported the two-deaths-a-day toll in Iraq?
I wonder if Washington would have been forced to sue for peace with Berlin?
Hitler would then have been able to master the kind of weaponry with which he could have held the world to ransom.
He may not have had those weapons at the time of the allies’ capitulation but it would not have taken him long to develop them.
At the heart of today’s media coverage of Iraq is a dangerous politicisation.
Coverage of current events is being used as the means to evaluate the decision to go to war.
Whilst that is important for the purposes of political accountability it confuses the fact that there are really two different policy questions at stake.
Last edited by watchthevideo; 16-10-2006 at 01:55 AM.
WHERE WE RIGHT TO GO TO WAR? SHOULD WE CONTINUE THE WORK BEGUN IN IRAQ?
The first is: ‘Were we right to go to war?’
The second: ‘Should we continue the work that has been begun in Iraq?’
I continue to believe that it was absolutely right to liberate Iraq.
Saddam’s Iraq had the capacity to develop and then use devastating weaponry against his own people, the countries of the Middle East and western targets.
He could have deployed that weaponry himself or supplied it to terrorist networks.
For years the United Nations had repeatedly resolved to pacify Saddam but had repeatedly failed to enforce its resolutions.
Western publics would not have forgiven their political leaders if Saddam had been left in power and had then come to hold the world to ransom with horrific weapons.
I recognise that there are many people who never saw the situation as I did.
They opposed the war and still do.
But, in a sense, that first question of whether to go to war or not is distracting us from the second and more pressing question.
Are we right to continue in Iraq?
Answering this question correctly is essential for winning the battle for the hearts and minds of our publics.
My answer is clear: Iraq has become the frontline in the war on terror and there can be no retreat from that frontline.
IRAQ IS THE FRONTLINE IN THE WAR ON TERROR
Al-Qaeda and other terror groups have chosen Iraq as their place to fight.
They are spending many of their own followers’ lives and vast resources in this conflict.
They realise that if they can force the allies out of Iraq they will have won a mighty victory.
The terrorists’ nightmare is an Iraq that succeeds in making the huge transition to democracy.
The terrorists are sophisticated enough to know that the best ally they have is a terrorised western public and the media is their channel to achieve that.
As much as they want to sow division between Sunni and Shiite they want to weaken the resolve of the public in the west.
They are fighting on two fronts.
There is the insurgency itself and then the battle of the ether – the battle to sicken western public opinion.
Our battle to stiffen the resolve of the British and American publics is in serious danger of being lost.
Calls for an exit strategy are music to the terrorists’ ears.
Terrorists know that exit strategy is a politician’s term for retreat and all that it entails.
Those who say they support the war on terror but not the war in Iraq need to explain what will happen if the terrorists do force us out.
In last Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal President Talibani acknowledged the real and current problem of foreign subversion.
But, he said:
"While the problem of some of our neighbours supporting terrorism is bad enough, we can only imagine what our neighbours might have done if American troops had not been present.”
“Most likely,” he warned, “Iraq would have been transformed into a regional battlefield with disastrous consequences for Middle Eastern and global security.”
His words challenge us all to recognise that there is no half way position for any of us.
If we believe in the war on terror then we have to recognise that it must be fought in Iraq.
For all the complexities, the debate is quite simple.
I believe we are fighting to create a tolerant and accountable democracy which will bring peace and justice to a country whose people have been denied both for so long.
Ranged against us is a ruthless foe, who knows he must break us in Iraq if he is to succeed.
If he does succeed, Iraq will plunge into a new era darkened by oppression and persecution.
It will be internally riven and fought for by its neighbours.
But more than that: a terrorist victory will feed the monster of Islamic extremism worldwide - opening every city from New York to Berlin and from London to Paris to a rejuvenated terrorist onslaught.
The terrorists don’t want to win in Iraq in order to begin a happy retirement.
They want to win in Iraq as a stepping stone to America and other free nations around the globe.
Iraq is not as I have heard the media say, another Vietnam.
It couldn’t be more different.
In Vietnam your country’s strategic purpose – the containment of communism - had merit.
But that strategic purpose was hugely undermined by the nature of the Saigon regime you had chosen to support.
Corrupt and without any democratic mandate, they undermined the USA’s claims of the moral high ground.
This time we are standing with the vast majority of Iraqis who despise the insurgency and all that it stands for.
We are on the side of democracy.
The most obvious evidence for that is the surge in troop recruitment that follows every terrorist outrage.
The Iraqi people want their country to defeat the insurgency and they are enlisting to ensure that defeat happens.
William Kristol has put it very well: as the Iraqi army stand up, our inclination should not be to stand down but to stand with them.
That combination of more troops is essential for victory.
For the first time we might soon have the combination of numbers, technology and local knowledge to defeat the insurgency.
A continued high level of troops is also going to be necessary to overcome the infiltration problems that have recently come to public attention in the Basra region but are not unique to that area.
APPEASEMENT IN THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY
Failure to stay the course in Iraq amounts to appeasement.
Historically my own party has had a problem with appeasement.
During the 1930s we closed our eyes to the storm clouds gathering over Europe.
We even played a part in Hitler’s rearmament.
We sold Rolls Royce engines to the Luftwaffe – decadently and short-sightedly putting commercial interests before our security.
Winston Churchill was the voice in the wilderness during the 1930s – warning against this appeasement.
“One ought never to turn one’s back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it, “ he said.
“If you do that, you will double the danger.
But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half.”
Today’s need to meet dangers promptly and without flinching will necessitate new alliances outside of international groupings like the EU and UN.
The EU and the UN do not understand the doctrine of pre-emption.
Sir Winston certainly did.
“You never fire until you are shot dead?” he once asked…
“That seems a silly thing to say.”
In conclusion, I do not want to pretend that all is well in Iraq.
Nor do I wish to ask you and the media to wear rose tinted spectacles.
But I do ask both government and media to focus on today’s real battles – not yesterday’s political battles.
In the argument between media and governments about who was right about the initial decision to go to war in Iraq we are losing perspective on what is at stake now.
We have become unbalanced, lost in an exercise of political point scoring like children in the playground.
This is no way to face the greatest threat of our age.
Every generation is faced with a great challenge to protect and advance the freedoms that we take for granted.
My father’s was to fight to free people from the yoke of Hitler's barbarity and then to uphold those hard-won freedoms against the communist threat.
When the Berlin Wall came down too many assumed that we had won.
The generation that slashed European defence spending believed that freedom was secure and lowered their guard.
To-day we face the same challenge of that brave wartime generation.
It may be different in manner and action but in outcome it is the same.
Too many in the world face each new dawn scared that each day could be their last.
Their lives are owned by intolerant and violent despots.
Here today many organised pressure groups fret about the infringement of civil liberties – yet who pleads for those huddle in the darkest, most repressed corners of the world?
If freedom with justice and tolerance are right for us then they are right for them also.
Some years ago Neville Chamberlain justified our failure to defend Czechoslovakia from the Nazis by saying we knew little '...of this far and distant land'.
That failure plunged that nation and much of the world into tyranny and oppression for many decades.
Surely the challenge of our time is to be passionate about the freedom of peoples we may never meet, no matter how distant their lands.
Now is the time for us to dig deep and hold our nerve.
Many years ago Gladstone said 'there is no greater bulwark against tyranny than the breasts of free men'.
Have we forgotten so quickly?
For today’s memory lapse will condemn millions of people to a totalitarian future.
We will also have handed a huge victory to the likes of al-Qaeda.
Bin Laden’s hate-filled followers will know that the west can be terrorised into capitulation.
If the reign of terror succeeds in Baghdad who in London, Washington, Tokyo, Paris, Berlin and Canberra could be so naïve to think that they are not next?