Sunday, 7 July 2013

Tony Blair and Egypt.

Tony Blair's ideas on Syria and Egypt and the Middle East generally are interesting in that they have tended to be largely about maintaining his position as a 'great statesman' and to fit in with his attempt to safeguard his 'legacy' over the decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003.

Given the scale of the catastrophe in Iraq and the recent resurgence of sectarian conflict there, Blair has continually sought to frame events in Syria and now Egypt through the lens of an 'extremism' versus 'stability' paradigm in which both are defined according purely to propaganda need.

As Blair opines today in The Observer,
'The events that led to the Egyptian army's removal of President Mohamed Morsi confronted the military with a simple choice: intervention or chaos. Seventeen million people on the streets are not the same as an election. But it as an awesome manifestation of power'.
Blair's 'thinking' usually boils down to a series of binary choices in which the alternative is 'unthinkable'. This was quite clear in his approach to the decision to invade Iraq where he kept repeating the line that 'inaction is an option' and, therefore, his decision to act was 'right'.

Actually, in Egypt the military takeover was not a 'simple choice' because it could force the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to give up the ballot box in favour of armed struggle. There is no room in Blair's worldview for subtlety. Nor are his pronouncements, supporting what many see as a coup, at all diplomatic.

The idea that to overthrow an elected president with 51% of the vote by force was 'a simple choice' is curiously contradicted later when Blair offers another timeless gem of political wisdom-"We have to take decisions for the long term because short term there are no simple solutions". 

Given that Blair is manifestly supporting a coup, given that he thinks the Egyptian army should retain control until it decides the economy is sufficiently strong for the army to decide to tolerate democracy again. that acts as a ringing endorsement for authoritarianism.

After all, Blair has quite obviously hinted that the military takeover is a decision for the 'long term' . As a Special Envoy for the Middle East Quartet, Blair could prove an embarrassment for the US and UK governments. They have said as little as possible about the army's action through fear of being seen to back a coup

Indeed, the US funds the Egyptian army to a tune of $1.5bn, something that is technically illegal, and does not want to be seen as meddling in the affairs of a sovereign state to suppress democracy should events spiral out of control as Muslim Brotherhood supporters get more irate about their president being toppled.

For Blair interventions that are deemed to uphold 'stability' ( as his too from Afghanistan to Iraq were ceaselessly presented ) are the opposite of those interventions by chaotic 'extremists'. That is useful if the blame for the carnage in Iraq is to be shifted away from the decision to invade that unleashed it.

That is why Blair writes,
'...when we contemplate the worst that can happen, we realise that it is unacceptable.We could end up with effective partition of the country, with a poor Sunni state to the east, shut out from the sea and the nation's wealth, and run by extremists.Lebanon would be totally destabilised; Iraq further destabilise'.
Just as the progress to democracy in Iraq was hindered by 'extremists', Blair is trying portray the intervention by Hizbollah and Iran in Syria in the same oversimplified light while failing to mention that Sunni Islamist insurgents fighting against Assad include the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood !

So Blair's call for more 'intervention' in Syria to support the anti-Assad Sunni insurgents is obviously contradicted by him having just supported what many would see as a coup to get rid of the the Muslim Brotherhood, the erstwhile allies of those he's demanded be backed in Syria.

Moreover, the stupidity of the supposed advocacy of tough minded 'realpolitik' now is quite obvious when it is considered that one reason Iran is able to aid the Shia is because Maliki's Shia regime in Baghdad sympathetic to Tehran and allowing Iraqi airspace to be used for arms to be shipped to prop up Assad.

And this geopolitical fact is one longer term consequence of the invasion of Iraq in empowering Iran and the Shia majority via their Islamist parties, something to be swept aside by Blair by the selective deployment of the word 'extremism', a rhetorical trick used also by the current Foreign Minister William Hague.

As "analysis" Blair's is next to useless. As a supposed diplomat, Blair's intervention here is even rather damaging because a Special Envoy for the West he is almost explicitly suggesting he'd rather there was military rule to preserve order until such a time as the economy improved as democracy can be allowed again.

After all, Blair does not seem to be impressed even by the secular opposition to the dictator Mubarak
'I remember an early conversation with some young Egyptians shortly after President Mubarak's downfall. They believed that, with democracy, problems would be solved. When I probed on the right economic policy for Egypt, they simply said that it would all be fine because now they had democracy it was well to the old left of anything that had a chance of working'.
Blair is officially titled a Special Envoy but he comes across as more of a Special Pleader for Western interests first and foremost over that of a considerable number of people of the Middle East. As with Britain itself 'the people' are to be listened to only when their aspirations coincide with what he decides is 'right'.
 'I am a strong supporter of democracy. But democratic government doesn't on its own mean effective government. Today, efficacy is the challenge'.
If that means a coup by the Egyptian military, so be it. It may well be what Blair wants and many, including the Egyptian protesters, were right about the incompetence and creeping Islamisation agenda of the Morsi government. Yet Blair is supposed to be a diplomat brining a 'peace process' to the Middle East.

The Middle East is a complicated region. Blair is not intelligent or knowledgeable enough to understand it or play a constructive part in its affairs. It is far more complicated that Northern Ireland. Blair should be dropped as Special Envoy where he can only do more harm and inflame opinion.

Everything Blair does and everything he writes seems to be more about Him and His Role in History. The man is quite clearly haunted by his role in the catastrophe in Iraq and needs to keep rationalising the decision to invade both to himself and before others.

Even on the grounds of Blair's supposed expertise in 'public diplomacy',his interventions are unhelpful and foolish, an attempt to present himself as 'decisive' as opposed to both current incumbents in the White House and Downing Street. Blair still seems to be deluded that he has some sort of power to shape events.

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