War unleashed terrorism. Some misjudgement

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The Independent Online

The sober and persuasive delivery could not disguise the fact that Tony Blair's speech was an act of political desperation. For months, the war debate has focused on whether Mr Blair acted dishonestly. He wants the questions raging about the war to relate to his judgement.

The Prime Minister has a convincing case as far as questions about his integrity are concerned. The British debate has focused disproportionately on whether he doctored intelligence or acted illegally. These overblown rows obscure the alarming elements of some of the intelligence on Saddam's WMD, even if it was wrong, and that Mr Blair genuinely believed the intelligence.

But this does not move the Prime Minister to much safer political terrain. His interpretation of the intelligence was among several factors that led to misjudgements honestly made. In yesterday's speech, Mr Blair claims that the most substantial difference between him and the opponents of war is the "characterisation of the threat" faced by the international community. He says that after 11 September he saw the new threat plainly. "Here were terrorists prepared to bring about Armageddon. Here were states whose leadership cared for no one but themselves." But most people would agree with this characterisation.

He has erected a false dividing line. The real divide is over whether going to war against Iraq was the appropriate response to the new danger. Mr Blair received intelligence, not published in his dossier, warning him that a war would increase the risk of terrorism. Towards the end of yesterday's speech, Mr Blair implicitly accepts this has been the case.

Indeed, with a deft sleight of hand, he uses the chaos of Iraq today to justify his broader view of the risk posed by terrorists: "The terrorists pouring into Iraq know full well the importance of destroying not just the nascent progress of Iraq towards stability, prosperity and democracy, but of destroying our confidence."

He is right, but it was the war against Iraq that gave the terrorists the chance to "pour" in and wreak their havoc. Mr Blair also puts the case for changes in the way the United Nations functions in the new world order. Again he has a strong case. But it was the Prime Minister who sought to legitimise the war by seeking the endorsement of the UN as it is constituted at present.

He is wrong to argue that he almost got a second resolution to trigger war. There was never a chance of securing one on that basis. The earlier 1441 resolution was agreed only because there was no explicit reference to military action. For six months, Mr Blair's policy was to seek UN endorsement, implying this was a body of supreme importance, but to warn that he would still back the war if the UN did not agree with him.

Britain went to war to address the threat posed by international terrorism. The threat is greater than it was before the war. That is quite a misjudgement.