Speaking to the Royal United Services Institute to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and discuss the withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair implicitly slammed President Biden, stating, “It is clear now, if it wasn’t before, that America has decided for the foreseeable future it has a very limited appetite for military engagement,” adding that “short term political imperatives” have given “our allies anxiety and our opponents a belief our time is over.”
In his compelling speech, Blair began by asserting, “The Taliban are part of the global movement of radical Islam. The movement contains many different groups but they share the same basic ideology. In simple terms, this holds that there is only one true faith, only one true view of that faith, and that society, politics, and culture, should be governed only by that view. Radical Islam not only believes in Islamism, the turning of the religion into a political doctrine but in the justification of struggle if necessary, armed struggle to achieve it. Other Islamists agree with the ends but eschew violence; but the ideology itself is in inevitable conflict with open, modern culturally tolerant societies.”
“Is radical Islam a coherent ideology which represents a first-order threat to our security or are we facing, despite some common themes, a series of disconnected security challenges each of which require handling on its own terms based on local circumstances?” he asked. “ Is Islamism a problem or only its manifestation in violent extremism? Is it akin, as I say, to revolutionary communism and must be countered by a combination of security and ideological measures over the long term, or is that to overstate it, overestimate it, and thus to perversely as some would argue by the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan to elevate its appeal rather than diminish its appeal.”
“In my view, Islamism, both the ideology and the violence, is a first-order security threat, and unchecked, it will come to us even if centered far from us, as 9/11 demonstrated,” he posited. “Like revolutionary communism, it operates in many different arenas and dimensions, and like it, its defeat will come ultimately through confronting both the violence and the ideology by a combination of hard and soft power.”
He turned to the lack of political will in the West to confront radical Islam militarily: “Western societies and their political leaders have become, quite understandably, deeply averse to casualties amongst our armed forces. This is not a problem for the armed forces themselves, who are brave and extraordinary people, but it is now an overwhelming political constraint to any commitment to Western boots on the ground except for special forces. Yet the problem this gives rise to is obvious: If the enemy we’re fighting knows the more casualties they inflict the more our political will erodes, the incentive structure is plain.”
“There is an additional challenge for Europe and NATO: It is clear now, if it wasn’t before, that America has decided for the foreseeable future it has a very limited appetite for military engagement,” he continued. “ … For me, one of the most alarming developments of recent times has been the sense that the West has lost its capacity to formulate strategy. That its short-term political imperatives have simply squeezed the space for long-term thinking. It is this sense more than anything else, in my judgment, which gives our allies anxiety and our opponents a belief our time is over.”
He later confronted the term “ending forever wars”: “The term, or the phrase, ‘ending forever wars,’ has been used by politicians of all stripes … I think it is a deeply mistaken phrase because number one, we haven’t ended this war; we’ve ended our participation in it, different concept; number two, it’s not forever. Twenty years, for a lot of the groups we’re fighting, twenty years for them is not a long time. And if you take the revolutionary communism analogy, we’ve stayed with that 67 years or more. But finally, the rhythm of what we’ve been doing post-2014 and say by the end of 2019 was obviously completely different from what we’ve been doing … in the years after the big problems arose in Afghanistan. So I just think it’s not a good way of making policy because in the end it’s a political slogan; it’s not really based on an analysis of the threat and strategy to come.”
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