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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 March 2006, 17:13 GMT
Iraq war allies remain in step
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs Correspondent, BBC News website

Tony give speech on international terrorism

One of the most interesting things in Tony Blair's speech on foreign policy was his disclosure that government advisers had told him never to use the phrase "Islamic extremism".

It was advice he resolutely rejected as he laid out his beliefs that such extremism - and especially its ideas - should be "taken on".

The phrase in the speech Mr Blair would probably like remembered most is: "This is not a clash between civilisations. It is a clash about civilisation."

It is a clever phrase because it gets round the awkwardness of those who use the "clash of civilisations" approach. They fall into the trap of taking sides between East and West, Christian and Muslim, secular and religious. Mr Blair is trying to run up a flag around which moderates of all faiths and no faith can rally.

In the speech, he sought to elevate a group of policies at home and abroad into a doctrine of how to fight international terrorism.

It is an activist and sometimes an interventionist policy set against what he calls the "benign inactivity" of those who say that intervention is wrong.

Pre-emption, in the sense of the Bush doctrine of the pre-emptive strike, is not ruled out, but it is not emphasised.

Iraq invasion

Of course, Mr Blair's critics will see all this as simply an attempt to justify the unjustifiable and the illegal - the invasion of Iraq.

Certainly, he sought to justify the invasion.

The speeches show that the architects of the Iraq war are still in tune with each other

But in the first of three speeches on foreign policy, he also sought to put the invasion into a wider framework - one that would also justify continuing the war in Iraq. He called it a struggle between "democracy and violence".

If he can convince people that the war is worth fighting as part of a global struggle, he is more likely to calm their fears about the cost and the commitment.

President Bush is doing much the same kind of thing in a series of speeches and comments he is making around this third anniversary of the invasion.

It is also interesting to note how the emphasis in Mr Blair's justification of the 2003 invasion of Iraq has changed.

This speech did not mention weapons of mass destruction. Yet on the eve of the war in 2003, Mr Blair made much of them.

In the House of Commons on 18 March that year, he went into detail about Iraq's supposed arsenal and spelt out what he felt was an acute danger - that of terrorists getting hold of such weapons from dictatorships.

"The possibility of the two coming together - of terrorist groups in possession of weapons of mass destruction, or even of a so-called dirty radiological bomb - is now, in my judgment, a real and present danger to Britain and its national security."

There was none of that in this speech.

President Bush

Mr Bush also now avoids mentioning weapons of mass destruction much. On 20 March in Cleveland, he did what Mr Blair has done. He justified the war in Iraq by linking it to the war on terror he declared after the 11 September 2001 attacks.

"The central front on the war on terror is Iraq," he stated, and mentioned WMD only is passing by referring to Saddam Hussein's use of them in the past.

But Mr Bush is more open in talking about using military force. Despite this, the speeches show that the architects of the Iraq war are still in tune with each other.

Does Mr Blair's speech now matter?

Given that he has said this is his last period in office, it does not matter as much as if it was his first.

His speech does not change his approach. It confirms it and seeks to give it a philosophical framework. He has an eye on history. And certainly on contemporary politics.

And for the moment, he remains in power to put it into effect.

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