Having finally announced his departure, Tony Blair will be increasingly concerned about his place in history. The apparent coronation of Gordon Brown –his charismatically-challenged Chancellor of the Exchequer– is only to increase Blair´s worries: not only is it unlikely that Brown will be capable of turning the tide in Iraq or anywhere else where Blair has failed, but it is also far from clear that Labour will win the next elections under the Scot´s leadership. During the last six months or so, Blair has worked hard to improve his image, especially internationally, by doing interviews, holding speeches and publishing articles. Now, at the end of his reign, it is a good time to review these attempts at spinning the unspinnable failure of his foreign policy.
Blair’s main theme throughout seems to be “values” and, at a supposedly more practical level, democracy in the Middle East. In the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs, Blair wrote an article titled “A Battle for Global Values”. This title, all so subtly hinting at his righteous morality, clearly shows the delusional aspects of Blair’s inner workings: if these values are indeed global, why do we need to do battle? Doesn’t Blair mean his values? “A Global Battle for My Values” would be more appropriate, honest and therapeutic from his personal perspective. In any case, the article only goes downhill from there:
“We did not want another Taliban or a different Saddam Hussein. We knew that you cannot defeat a fanatical ideology just by imprisoning or killing its leaders; you have to defeat its ideas”. Translation: The war in Iraq was justified, for Saddam Hussein is on the same side as the terrorists of 9/11. Oh, and we’re still working on the ideas-thingy.
“We face war […] but one that cannot be won in a conventional way. […] We can win only by showing that our values are stronger, better, and more just than the alternative”. Translation: We have entered in a perpetual conflict of good (i.e. “us”) against evil (any unspecified alternative to “us”), as identified and defined by me on and ad hoc basis. Once the ignorant masses in the Middle East understand that we are better than any alternative, the world will enter a phase of perpetual peace.
“We will never get real support […] unless we also attack global poverty, environmental degradation, and injustice with equal vigour”. Don’t let this confuse you: Blair, however delusional, does not believe himself to be the Messiah. He just needed to mention these issues in order to appease the left-wing loonies who argue that you cannot kill your way out of international conflict. Just don’t ask him to compare the financial resources that have gone into the war in Iraq (roughly half a trillion dollars and counting) to those spent on poverty reduction: the Net Official Development Assistance in 2005 of the USA and UK combined was around 40 billion, of which a large percentage was related to “reconstruction efforts” in Iraq .
The critical reader might perhaps suspect that these quotes are a selective reading of a more intelligent overall narrative. Would that it were so: all three were taken from the very first page of the FA article.
Blair’s main argument thus goes something like this: There exist universal values that are morally superior to any alternative. We know what those values are. We therefore need to do everything in our power to explain/impose those values in order to enlighten the ignorant masses. Invading Iraq was a necessary and good first step, albeit with some bumps along the way.
In a lapse of concentration during an interview with David Frost on Al-Jazeera (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfVRGsckZP8), Blair actually seemed to agree that the war in Iraq had been a “disaster”. He quickly recovered, however, by blaming Al Qaeda et al for all the ills brought upon the Iraqi people. Osama bin Laden is always useful in such situations. So is Saddam Hussein, by the way. The rather daft rhetoric tends to be something like this: “what would the Iraqis prefer, Saddam’s dictatorial, despotic and evil regime, or the difficult early stages of a beautiful, shiny and new democracy?”.
In the Frost interview, Blair explained his overall plan as follows: “driving forward with a strategy for the whole of the Middle East that is about helping and empowering and supporting the moderate elements against the extreme elements”. Later Blair singled out “Iranian-backed militia” as particularly “extreme elements”. In practice, it means supporting anyone vaguely interested in some type of western-style democracy. Thus the UK reaction – or rather, lack of reaction – to the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, the unproductive meddling in Lebanese internal politics, and the antagonism against the elected Palestinian government. It does not explain, however, the UK ‘s friendship with Saudi Arabia , Pakistan and Egypt , but perhaps we should not be too critical.
The personal tragedy of Blair is that he really does seem to care about the environment, debt-relief, and many other issues that have been swept away by the “war on terror”. The reason that history will probably judge him harshly is that when important decisions had to be made, he let Britain ‘s “special relationship” with the US overshadow his own instincts. In his resignation speech on May 10th, he said that in response to 9/11 “ I decided we should stand shoulder to shoulder with our oldest ally. I did so out of belief”. As a result, he frequently backed away from standing-up against the White House and its extremist policies. Now, as a result, he has nothing to hide behind when it comes to defending his legacy.
The result has not only been disastrous for the Middle East and the world as a whole, but also specifically for Britain ‘s security in the 21 st Century. A poll last month by the Observer newspaper showed Blair’s own constituency feeling less safe as a result of Blair’s foreign policy. The Oxford Research Group agreed, stating that “ The ‘war on terror’ is failing and actually increasing the likelihood of more terrorist attacks” (in their report “Beyond Terror: The Truth About The Real Threats To Our World”).
Now, at the end of his days as Prime Minister, Blair prefers to avoid specifics, instead talking about values. Curiously, for him these values seem to be an objective and universally accepted truth. The practical implications, however, are ambiguous and undecided in Blair’s mind. During the Al-Jazeera interview, Frost asked him what he should have done differently in Iraq . The answer: “well, you can debate that forever”. Unlike the existence of universal values, apparently.
Finally, Blair’s conclusion (in FA) about why his strategy has not been more successful so far? “Because we are not being bold enough”.
Please leave before you can do any more harm, Tony.