Shoot the messenger: PM blames media for anti-war mood

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair has turned the blame for his disastrous military campaigns in the Middle East on anti-war dissidents and the media.

Warning it would take the West another 20 years to defeat Islamic terrorism, the Prime Minister used a wide-ranging "swansong" lecture on defence to denounce critics and the media who have been a thorn in his side since the invasion of Iraq.

He also dismissed those - including many defence chiefs - who claimed the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath had fuelled insurgents and terrorism.

The Prime Minister rejected as "ludicrous" the notion that removing two dictatorships in Afghanistan and Iraq and replacing them with a UN-backed process to democracy had made Britain a greater target for international terrorism.

However, Mr Blair's speech last night provoked widespread criticism from MPs and military chiefs.

Speaking to an invited audience of military commanders and academics on board a warship in Plymouth, the Prime Minister disclosed his fears that the West no longer had the stomach for sustained military campaigns. He also appeared to blame the media for the global outrage provoked by the war in Iraq.

"[Islamic terrorists] have realised two things: the power of terrorism to cause chaos, hinder and displace political progress especially through suicide missions; and the reluctance of Western opinion to countenance long campaigns, especially when the account it receives is via a modern media driven by the impact of pictures.

"They now know that if a suicide bomber kills 100 completely innocent people in Baghdad, in defiance of the wishes of the majority of Iraqis who voted for a non-sectarian government, then the image presented to a Western public is as likely to be, more likely to be, one of a failed Western policy, not another outrage against democracy."

Acknowledging the public backlash against the Iraq war, Mr Blair said: "Public opinion will be divided, feel that the cost is too great, the campaign too long, and be unnerved by the absence of 'victory' in the normal way they would reckon it.

But the Prime Minister added: "They will be constantly bombarded by the propaganda of the enemy, often quite sympathetically treated by their own media, to the effect that it's really all 'our', that is the West's fault. That, in turn, impacts on the feelings of our armed forces. They want public opinion not just behind them but behind their mission."

He warned that the terrorists had learnt how to use the media to undermine public opinion. He cited a website, called LiveLeak, showing "gruesome images" of the "reality of war" as the kind of propaganda weapon that was being used by international terrorism.

The Prime Minister's targets also appeared to include military chiefs, such as the former head of the army, General Sir Mike Jackson, who have criticised the Government for failing to look after the soldiers.

"The military and especially their families will feel they are being asked to take on a task of a different magnitude and nature. Any grievances, any issues to do with military life, will be more raw, more sensitive, more prone to cause resentment," he said.

Mr Blair seemed desperate to provide a lasting justification of his support for the US in the "war on terror". The Prime Minister had wanted to use his lecture to start a debate on the future of Britain and its military strength, on "tough" and "soft" defence. Some countries had retreated to peacekeeping while Britain maintained a force to fight wars. "We must do both," he said.

Seeking to stiffen the resolve of the West, he said: "Terrorism cannot be defeated by military means alone but it can't be defeated without it." He added: "The parody of people in my position is of leaders who, gung-ho, launch their nations into ill-advised adventures without a thought for the consequences. The reality is we are those charged with making decisions in this new and highly uncertain world; trying, as best we can, to make the right decision. That's not to say we do so but that is our motivation."

Mr Blair was accused of "delusional ramblings" by John McDonnell, leader of the left-wing Campaign Group of Labour MPs. Alan Simpson, a leading Labour anti-war MP said: "Tony Blair is whingeing about the hundreds of thousands of people like me who opposed the war on Iraq. He totally fails to realise that soldiers and their families blame him for the reckless way he launched an illegal war with no coherent exit strategy."

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, who also opposed the war, said: "The Prime Minister does not seem to have learnt the lessons of Iraq. Without United Nations authority the military action was illegal and severely damaged Britain's reputation. This will be the Prime Minister's legacy."

Air Marshal Sir John Walker, former head of defence intelligence and deputy chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, said: "This is politics, not morality. The only reason Mr Blair is saying this now is because he cannot airbrush Iraq out of the news. He is talking about renewing the covenant with the armed forces because they are the ones having to bear the fallout from his mistakes."

His attack on the media was "particularly rich coming from a party which made a such a fetish out of spin," added Sir John.

The shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said: "This is yet another episode of 'Ten Wasted Years', by Tony Blair. His legacy will be an overstretched army, navy and air force.

"Our servicemen and women want to know what Tony Blair is going to do about the failure to deliver armoured vehicles to protect troops from roadside bombs in Iraq. They want to know when they will have enough helicopters in Afghanistan and when the Hercules transport fleet will get proper protection."

Tony Blair's spin unspun

By Colin Brown

* BLAIR SAYS: "The parody of people in my position is of leaders who, gung-ho, launch their nations into ill-advised adventures without a thought for the consequences."

ANALYSIS: No amount of lectures will erase the fact that Iraq is now a mess because of the failure to plan for the peace after Saddam was toppled, and it has made Iran the dominant force in the region.

* BLAIR SAYS: "Public opinion ... will be constantly bombarded by the propaganda of the enemy ... to the effect that it's really all "our", that is the West's, fault."

ANALYSIS: Mr Blair is losing the propaganda war over Iraq, but blaming the media for covering the reporting of the horror of daily life in Baghdad is a sign of his desperation.

* BLAIR SAYS: "The risk here - and in the US where the future danger is one of isolationism not adventurism - is that the politicians decide it's all too difficult and default to an unstated, passive disengagement, that doing the right thing slips almost unconsciously into doing the easy thing."

ANALYSIS: Mr Blair appears worried that after handing over power to Gordon Brown, his successor may come under pressure to do the "easy thing" and bring the troops home before the 'job is done'.

* BLAIR SAYS: "The extraordinary job that servicemen do needs to be reflected in the quality of accommodation provided for them and their families, at home or abroad. So much of what is written distorts the truth."

ANALYSIS: Mr Blair is clearly irritated not only at the media but also at defence chiefs for criticisms of the "overstretch" of the armed forces.

* BLAIR SAYS: "September 11 wasn't the incredible action of an isolated group. It was the product rather of a worldwide movement, with an ideology based on a misreading of Islam."

ANALYSIS: Mr Blair still linked September 11 with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But there is no evidence that Iraq was used as a training ground for terrorism. It is now.