Blair’s misleading persona
THIS WEEK came fresh allegations that that former UK prime minister, Tony Blair, knowingly oversold the danger posed by Saddam Husseinís Iraq in order to secure parliamentary backing for a pre-emptive US-led war.
Few now doubt that both Blair and former US president George W. Bush were dishonourable leaders who bear responsibility for the nightmare of sectarian violence that engulfed Iraq following the invasion of 20 March 2003 and could engulf the country afresh.
It might be expected that so tarnished a politician would no longer be listened to about anything. Yet the 10th anniversary of the war has afforded Blair fresh opportunities, in television and radio interviews, to claim that despite everything Iraq is now a better place while proclaiming his undimmed faith in what has been variously described as ‘liberal interventionism’ and ‘military humanism’. Asked if he favours military action against Iran if Tehran fails to prove that it is not pursuing a nuclear weapons programme, he replies with a categorical ‘yes’.
Blair confesses that he has ‘given up trying to persuade people’ of the validity of his arguments on Iraq, implying that if the public does not find him credible on the subject it is not because it has made a rational estimate of his record but because it is defective in understanding. Looking like a man wrestling with ‘anger management’ issues, the former British leader increasingly calls to mind Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell’s depiction of him as a psychotic freak with a grotesquely swollen left eye. It is a Cyclopean image that captures Blair’s maniacal subjectivity, his crazed insensitivity to alternative points of view. Critics might well say to him: ‘We have given up trying to persuade you’.
How curious that Blair portrays himself as both a Christian and a democrat. After all, a Christian is supposed to be a person with a highly developed conscience who believes in turning the other cheek, a democrat someone who heeds the opinions of others. Blair is more accurately defined by his egregious obsession with celebrity, his blatant craving for public exposure. And perhaps, on the 10th anniversary of the war, it is worth pondering the extent to which the war was, not caused, but facilitated by Anglo-American ‘celebrity culture’, with its inordinate investment in personality and visceral drama.
Many will recall how, in the run-up to the war, Blair flew to the United States to confer with George W. Bush and his presidential clique. Exchanging banter and wearing broad grins, the two men swaggered up to their microphones like co-presenters of some television spectacular. And in a sense that was precisely what, at its inception, the Iraq war was: the Bush and Blair Show, a hyped-up media event that promised entertainment in the form of ‘shock and awe’ and ‘full spectrum dominance’.
Not that Blair – in contrast to the US president — presented himself as an unabashed warmonger. On the contrary, he was seeking to be hailed as a messiah. Blair evidently calculated that he would be greeted with gratitude by the people of Iraq. A politician less addicted to publicity, less eager to strut the world stage, might have been more mindful of the perils implicit in attempting to refashion a highly developed Arab state by brute military force. Possessing an agile brain and glib tongue, Blair is a suave performer in television studios but is no reader, no student of history, no thinker. Indeed, all the indications are that he is fundamentally devoid of the intellectual depth that might have placed a check on his — and George W. Bush’s — impetuosity.
Tony Blair despised and discredited is actually a more saleable commodity than a Blair who could boast of tremendous achievements as a liberator and humanitarian. That Blair continues to be the object of lavish media coverage is precisely because he is widely reviled. Readers of the Daily Mail newspaper, whose gaudy online manifestation is fixated with celebrity, are forever being offered fresh evidence that Blair’s pious talk of propagating freedom and democracy masked his ambition to amass a lucrative property portfolio and mingle with the famous. His notoriety as a greedy hypocrite has endowed him with a popular fascination he would otherwise lack. He is a man people love to loath.
The truth is that Blair’s reputed £80m fortune and mania for self-advertisement engage the British public far more than does his role in bringing about a catastrophically counter-productive war.
It is something to think that Tony Blair’s tawdry celebrity is inseparable from the UK-style democracy he held up as the reward awaiting a liberated Iraq.
Neil Berry is a London-based writer
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