Britain and its western allies must be prepared to send ground troops to defeat Islamic State forces or risk a terror attack in Europe of “such size and horror” that draconian security measures would have to be introduced, Tony Blair has said.
In a lengthy article on the Brussels bombings, the former prime minister said local forces could be used against Isis in Iraq, Syria and Libya. But he said western ground forces would eventually be needed to defeat Isis as it sought to create a caliphate.
Blair wrote in the Sunday Times: “We must build military capability able to confront and defeat the terrorists wherever they try to hold territory. This is not just about local forces. It is a challenge for the west. Ground forces are necessary to win this fight and ours are the most capable.”
The allied countries which are carrying out airstrikes against Isis targets, including the UK and US, have so far not deployed ground forces beyond unannounced special forces to guide the bombers and troops that train Iraqi forces in combating Isis.
But Blair believes that David Cameron and Barack Obama need to go further. He wrote: “We can use local allies in the fight, but they need equipment and where they need active, on-the-ground, military support from us, we should give it.”
Blair, who dispatched ground forces to Iraq and Afghanistan, acknowledged the challenge of deploying ground troops to the region once again. He wrote: “The pain of the casualties in such engagements weighs heavy. Western armed forces are mainly volunteers. We need an open and frank discussion with them about how to create the conditions to go and conduct these campaigns. There will have to be new methods of coalition building and cooperation between nations.”
The former prime minister issued a stark warning of the dangers of failing to defeat Isis. He wrote: “We will have periodic but increasingly frequent acts of terrorism that will result in many more victims and start to destabilise our political and social cohesion. Eventually the terrorists will commit an act of such size and horror that we will change our posture; but by then the battle will be much harder to win without measures that contradict our basic value system.”
He said the military fight against Isis should be part of a wider strategy to confront what he called the “perversion” of the Islamic faith by the ideology of Islamism. He sad people should be careful talking about tackling violent extremism because Islamism was a “much broader problem of ideology”, whose supporters run into the millions across the globe.
Blair wrote: “The reality is that the adherents of this view of Islam are numbered in many millions, have, in some countries, elements of official support, and are systematically teaching it to millions of young people across the world … This ideology is not interested in coexistence. It does not seek dialogue but dominance. It cannot therefore be contained. It has to be defeated.”
He said Islamism could not be defeated if the “paralysing grip of the present political discourse” on the right and left continued. In an apparent dig at Donald Trump, who has spoken of denying entry to the US to all Muslims, Blair criticised the tendency on the right to trip into bigotry towards Muslims.
In what appeared to be a rebuke to Labour leader Jeremy Corybn, the former prime minister criticised those on the left who warn that “calling it Islamism is stigmatic”. They preferred, Blair wrote, “to believe that in any event we have caused all of this through western policy although the countries now affected cover the gamut of policy positions from the most interventionist to the expressly pacific”.
Blair said Islamism could be defeated by marshalling an alliance within Islam. “Many Muslims are speaking out and as they do, others gain confidence and follow; because the majority of Muslims hate the way their faith has been hijacked. And never forget the majority of terrorist victims are Muslim.”
He said David Cameron could lead the fight against Islamism within Europe if he won the EU referendum. Blair said of Cameron, who has spoken of the need to defeat the ideology of violent extremism: “For the UK and for a Cameron premiership, if liberated from Britain’s internal European debate, it could mean the leadership of this task in Europe where Britain’s strengths and the PM’s own instincts are uniquely suited to it.”
This article was written by Nicholas Watt Chief political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Sunday 27th March 2016 11.36 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010