LOS ANGELES – British Prime Minister Tony Blair called Tuesday for an "alliance of moderation" to counter the "arc of extremism" stretching across the Middle East.
Blair said he still hoped for a quick end to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon, and that once that happens, the global approach to peace must be dramatically reconsidered.
"We will continue to do all we can to halt the hostilities," Blair said, speaking to about 2,000 people at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council Tuesday afternoon at the Westin Bonaventure hotel. "But once that has happened, we must commit ourselves to a complete renaissance of our strategy to defeat those that threaten us.
"My argument is this: we will not win the battle against this global extremism unless we win it at the level of values as much as force, unless we show we are even-handed, fair, and just in our applications of those values to the world."
He said a softer approach — accompanying the military tactics already in place — is necessary to counter extremism flaring up across the Middle East.
"My point is that this war can't be won in a conventional way," Blair said. "Doing this, however, requires us to change dramatically the focus of our policy.
"Unless we re-appraise our strategy, unless we revitalize the broader global agenda on poverty, climate change, trade, and in respect of the Middle East, bend every sinew of our will to making peace between Israel and Palestine, we will not win. And this is a battle we must win."
In the speech, the final event of his five-day visit to the United States, Blair also paid tribute to three British soldiers killed in Afghanistan and another who died after an attack in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.
Blair said that that military action in in Iraq and Afghanistan is not just about changing regimes, but changing values. And he confirmed his position as the staunchest ally of U.S. President George W. Bush, saying that the decision to take action in Iraq and Afghanistan after Sept. 11 was born of a desire to protect both the U.S. and Britain.
"We could simply have chosen security as the battleground, but we didn't," Blair said. "We chose values. We said we didn't want another Taliban or a different version of Saddam. Rightly, in my view, we realized that you can't defeat a fanatical ideology just by imprisoning or killing its leaders; you have to defeat its ideas."
The attacks by Hezbollah on Israel were designed to provoke retaliation and inflame Arab and Muslim opinion against the West, the prime minister said, adding that he remained hopeful that a solution which beings a permanent peace to the volatile region is attainable.
Blair arrived in the U.S. declaring that the pace of diplomacy to solve the crisis in southern Lebanon must be "accelerated," but during a press conference Friday at the White House, both he and Bush stopped short of calling for an immediate cease-fire.
On Tuesday morning, Blair's spokesman said that the prime minister was still hopeful a United Nations Security Council resolution could be agreed to soon, but refused to say when they hoped that would be.
Like the United States, Blair has been very supportive of Israel during this latest conflict and he reaffirmed his support for the Jewish state in Tuesday's speech.
Blair said he would "never" put the interests of Israel at risk, as he urged them to move forward with the Palestinians on the peace process. He said that was necessary not only to "correct the plight" of the Palestinian people, but also to prove to extremists that peace in the region is possible.
"Such a settlement would be the living, tangible, visible proof that the region and therefore the world can accommodate different cultures, that even those who have been in vehement opposition to each other can live together," he said.
And he warned Syria and Iran that should they continue to support terrorism and destabilization in the Middle East, they will be confronted.
"Their support of terrorism, their deliberate export of instability, their desire to see wrecked the democratic prospect in Iraq, is utterly unjustifiable, dangerous and wrong," Blair said Tuesday. "If they keep raising the stakes, they will find they have miscalculated."