Sunday, 4 August 2013

Tony Blair: Failed Statesman

Tony Blair's role as a Special Envoy to the Middle East is bound to continue to grate with those for whom the duplicitous case for war that he spun in the run up to the invasion of Iraq discredited Britain; the war led to more deaths than would have otherwise happened and wasted billions of pounds unnecessarily.

Blair's attempt to offer a running diplomatic assessment of what is happening in the Middle East is about justifying his role. But it is also about using 'public diplomacy' to spin the line that his decision to 'intervene' in Iraq, no matter the controversies about whether it was 'right', has to be seen in a longer historical perspective.

There is no other interpretation that could explain what Blair means when he declares,
'...counter-intuitive though it is to say so, underneath all the turmoil, the fundamental problems of the region are finally being brought to the surface in a way that allows them to be confronted and overcome. For us, now is the time not for despair, but for active engagement'.
In fact, nowhere does Blair outline what sort of intervention he has in mind for Syria. Nor does he ( because he can't ) mention the obvious truth that the West is already intervening covertly in Syria by having the CIA funnel arms to the 'rebels' from the Balkans, Turkey and Jordan.

The only silver lining for Blair is that he can now present Syria as a sectarian war that would have happened in Iraq anyway whether the US and Britain had invaded or not. This grandstanding olympian 'master of the universe' is simply thinking only of his 'Legacy'.

The fact hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and 179 British troops died needless deaths for nothing is not even the main issue for Blair. He sees these deaths as the birth pangs of a new democratic order being born in the Middle East. Something he needs to believe in to assuage his bad conscience.

But that simply has not happened and cannot under conditions of civil warfare and seething sectarian hatreds that he helped unleash by backing an illegal war. There will be no positive consequences to his decision in 2003. He's was and is a decade on a complete failure as a statesman.

Blair still needs to face facts; the 'living nightmare' he describes in Syria is partly a consequence of Iraq disintegrating into sectarian warfare. It now has a majority Shia government that looks more favourable towards Iran and has interests in allowing Hizbollah and Iranian arms to flow into Syria to back Assad.

That, in turn, is due to the intensified rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran with regards their influence over Syria and potential oil and gas pipelines to the Mediterranean Sea from the Persian Gulf. Iran, Iraq and Syria form a potential Shia axis of powers to rival Sunni dominated states to the south.

But all Blair offers as 'analysis' is the this,,
'..there was recently a seminal statement from Najaf by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al–Sistani, the most influential Shia cleric in Iraq, proclaiming the need for a civil, not religious state, in which all people had equal freedom to participate and disagreeing with those close to Iran who want Shia to go to Syria to fight for Assad alongside Hezbollah'.
The way Blair treats the Middle East and 'his role' is as though he were dealing with Britain and Northern Ireland in 1997. The Middle East is not a region that can have its problems 'solved' by him being some sort of 'good will ambassador' nor offering soundbites that 'frame' what he sees as 'the issues'. Take this,
'Neither do closed economies fit with open societies. The need for economic reform to provide jobs is absolute. A functioning private sector and an education system educating the large young population for a world which today is more inter-connected than ever before are pre-conditional to progress.'
That could have been uttered at any New Labour conference podium in the 1990s. It is Blair that has not learnt that it is 'time to move on'. At least Antony Eden resigned after the Suez fiasco in 1956 and quietly retired to the countryside until his death two decades later.

Blair is driven by an obsessive need to be active and 'do good' ( as well as make lots of money ) because he sees it as a sign of his continued success and providential mission. The best thing he could do is to get out of public life. He is a curious relic of the age of delusion in the 1990s.

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