Tony Blair Refuses to Repent: The Man Who Helped Destroy Iraq is Licking His Lips At Intervening in Syria
Tony Blair at the World Economic Forum in 2009.
Photo Credit: World Economic Forum/Flickr
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Shortly after Tony Blair set up shop as the Quartet Representative in the luxurious American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem he met a group of former Parliamentary colleagues. To the jangle of jaws dropping on the floor, he confessed that before he had come out there, he had not realised just how little he really understood about the Israel-Palestine conflict as Prime Minister. The reality on the ground was so much worse then he had ever imagined.
This was a Prime Minister who had (rightly) placed a great deal of emphasis on resolving this central issue in the Middle East, yet here he was admitting that he had been profoundly ignorant about it.
Despite this Blair refuses to consider that this ignorance also extends to Iraq and other countries in the region with grave consequences. Has he once owned up to a lack of understanding of the complexities of Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, Libya, Lebanon, Iran or Syria? In each case he has acted as a cheerleader for aggressive intervention. I have spent my professional career and academic life studying the Middle East and it is a daily learning experience. For Blair, it has been sufficient to identify a threat and presume that a military option will solve the problem. For Blair, understanding the intricacies of these countries and peoples is immaterial. This was why he systematically side-lined Arabists at the Foreign Office and ignored the advice of other Middle East experts.
In his shoes, sending British troops to invade a far off country I had never visited and knew little about, I would have surrounded myself with the best experts available. It was hard to find even one Iraq expert who believed that the war as planned in 2003 would succeed. The late Sir David Gore-Booth, Britain’s former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said to me only days before the war. He said, “Chris, they will never invade Iraq. It is too crazy. It cannot work.” Not for the first time, I argued that one should never underestimate the insanity of politicians.
It is not just his ignorance and arrogance that hinders him - Blair is a man of conflict and conflicts of interest. An envoy or representative should be studiously impartial and build the trust of all sides. He boasts on his website of 87 visits to Jerusalem in 5 years but other than a richer sun tan and the removal of a handful of checkpoints, there are few pitiful successes he can point to. Worse, he has failed to challenge the status quo of thickening Israeli occupation and multiple sieges of Gaza. He even actively lobbied against the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations.
Blair should stick to Palestine but instead makes regular media appearances commenting on crises all over the region. On Egypt, even as Mubarak’s goons were brutalising Egyptian citizens, he described dictator as a “ immensely courageous and a force for good”. Despite being the Quartet representative to the Palestinians, he sees no conflict of interest in him calling for intervention in other neighbouring states. But imagine if he publicly opposed any tough line on Iran and how quickly the Israelis would move to get rid of him. Compare Blair to the UN-Arab League Envoy on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi. He is focussing on Syria crisis not commenting on events in Mali and Gaza. Blair should divest himself of all conflicts not least his commercial dealings with interested parties. He should also not be accepting $1m dollar awards from Israeli institutions.
Yet why should Tony Blair’s opinion now matter? In an ideal world, Blair’s record as a serial and continuous failure would allow us to ignore his say on Middle Eastern matters. I wished BBC Newsnight had done the same; instead they aired an extensive interview on 26 February 2013 in which Blair offered nothing new and nor a way forward. The debate would have been richer and more constructive if he had not been part of it.