Turning circle

  • Nick
  • 2 Aug 06, 08:58 AM

On board the PM's plane: Part of political reporters' DNA is the ability to sniff out the faintest whiff of a U-turn.

So, when those of us travelling with the prime minister were briefed that that he'd be calling for a reappraisal of strategy in the war on terror, noses began to twitch. But on hearing the speech in full it became clear that, like the lady, the gentleman at Number Ten was not for turning.

There was no reappraisal, no re-think of the war in Iraq or Afghanistan or Britain's approach to Israel's war in Lebanon. Far from it. Instead Tony Blair painted the picture of a global struggle between moderate and Reactionary Islam, between freedom and repression, democracy and theocracy.

It is incredible to me, he said, that so much Western opinion appears to buy the idea that the emergence of global terrorism is our fault.

Tony Blair checks his speechHe criticised coverage of the war in Lebanon for not recognising Israel's predicament. In that respect, the prime minister has now left a land where his views are the received wisdom to head home to a country with, it appears, grave doubts about his analysis.

So where then was the reappraisal? Where the re-think? Not on the war on terror itself but on the need to have a "hearts and minds" strategy to match the military one. Tony Blair used his speech last night to spend the political capital he has gained for standing shoulder to shoulder with America for so long. He argued that only an alliance of moderation could take on what he has dubbed the "arc of extremism".

And that alliance would only emerge IF moderate Muslims saw that America believed in the need to create a Palestinian state. Nothing else, he said, was more important to the success of our foreign policy. In truth this is not a re-think at all. Straight after 9/11 he declared that the kaleidoscope had been shaken and that the world could and should be re-made starting with solving the Palestinian crisis.

But now he is trying again - saying, in effect, to the US and Israel there is no military solution to your insecurity. Will they listen now? After all, it is not just in the White House that Tony Blair is hailed as a hero - in hotel lobbies and restaurants people stand and clap on gaining a glimpse of America's ally-in-chief.

The doubt though - just as it was over the Iraq war - is when Tony Blair says "yes but" do they hear the "yes" but not the "but". It's a doubt unlikely to be troubling the man upfront in first class who - in his speech to Rupert Murdoch's executives - declared that his inner self-confidence was complete.

After an extraordinary few days - you can read all my posts from the USA by clicking here - I am now heading off on my family hols and am leaving Newslog in the capable hands of James Landale, chief political correspondent of News 24. As Arnie would say, I'll be back.

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