Opinion and Editorial

Blair’s new pre-emptive strike

Neil Berry (Issues)
Filed on January 30, 2014

His foreign policy was a catalogue of counter-productive folly

Tony Blair will not go away. Last week in a fashionable London restaurant a young barman who regards him as a war criminal tried to place the former UK prime minister under citizen’s arrest. Days later, with customary unabashed self-importance, Blair was proclaiming that religious extremism, not political ideology, lies at the root of 21st century global conflict. He was also trumpeting the establishment of a Blair Foundation website at Harvard University designed to expose perversions of faith and promote tolerance.

Blair behaves like a prophet the world ignores at its peril. Not that he bears much resemblance to traditional conceptions of prophets, feverishly pursuing as he does a gaudy celebrity life-style and missing no opportunity to enlarge his wealth. Yet what most compromises Blair’s crusade against extremism is the perception that he himself has done more than a little to foment it through his unconditional support of the calamitous US invasion of Iraq in 2003. His critics are hoping that the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war will lay bare that Blair knowingly misled the UK parliament, encouraging the belief that Iraq posed a nuclear threat to the UK after agreeing with US President George W. Bush to invade Iraq in order to effect regime change. But what has become of the inquiry that was launched five years ago under the auspices of the former top civil servant Sir John Chilcot?

Expected later this year, the Chilcot Inquiry report has apparently been delayed because of concern that disclosure of communications between Blair and George W. Bush could compromise the UK’s ‘special relationship’ with the US. Blair’s new posture as an apostle of tolerance seems like a faintly desperate bid to write his own headlines, a pre-emptive strike against a report he fears is going to damage his ‘legacy’.

Whatever Chilcot’s verdict on the conduct of the Iraq war, it has long been plain that Blair’s foreign policy was a catalogue of counter-productive folly. It was Blair’s belief that only by remaining as close as possible to the US could European nations hope to exercise influence over the superpower’s foreign policy. Like most of Blair’s arguments, it was specious, meaning in practice that the UK occupied a role of abject subservience without being able to exercise any benign restraining influence on the US whatsoever. For his critics it is perhaps some consolation that Blair’s supine stance vis-à-vis the US has ultimately helped to make the ‘special relationship’ a public issue as never before. It is not just anti-American leftist cranks who are exercised about evidence that US military bases in the UK are being used for drone strikes and mass surveillance.

Perhaps the greatest irony attending Blair’s career is that the British leader who proclaimed the virtue of interventionism has done more than any other to discredit the whole concept. Arguably, it was thanks to Blair that there was so little public support in the UK for intervention in Syria. The rejection by the British parliament of such action, followed as it quickly was by the US decision against intervention, raises the possibility that greater caution in London in 2003 might have prompted second thoughts in Washington about the wisdom of subjecting Iraq to military ‘shock and awe’.

Added to all this, Blair’s strident advocacy of military intervention has been a potent factor in radicalising Muslim youth in the UK, spawning bitterly disaffected young British people who regard their government as the stooge of the US in a ‘war on terror’ that is actually a war on all Muslims.

Incapable of admitting to error, certain of the righteousness of his cause, mystified that he inspires widespread abhorrence, Blair exemplifies the very zealotry he aspires to combat. Possessed of a no less rigid mindset, George W. Bush has seldom been seen since his catastrophic presidency came to an end, and many must wish that Blair had followed his example. Where Tony Blair differs from his old American friend is in his manifest horror of going unnoticed. Indeed, it is tempting to feel that if Blair has crimes to answer for, not the least of them is his insatiable craving for attention.

Neil Berry is a London-based writer

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