Tony Blair’s latest self-aggrandizing and bloodthirsty pronouncements on Iraq have not surprisingly been greeted with a storm of ridicule, contempt, and disgust across a wide spectrum of political opinion. Boris Johnson, Clare Short, Malcolm Rifkind, Christopher Meyer and even John Prescott have all joined in the chorus of condemnation. Johnson says that Blair has ‘gone mad.’ Short says that he is ‘wrong, wrong. wrong.’ Former Deputy Prime Minister Prescott, who once voted for the Iraq war, now says that he once told Blair that he risked restarting the crusades by going to war.
Beyond the mainstream the condemnation has been even more severe and unrelenting, as is only to be expected. Blair himself is clearly aware of this, and can’t understand why the world doesn’t admire him as much as he admires himself. In his public appearances he increasingly looks like a haunted and hunted man, a disturbing mixture of arrogance, fanaticism and narcissistic self-belief that is entirely disconnected from any awareness of the consequences of his actions.
Blair may have become rich, but outside the elite circles that he serves, his reputation is in tatters and it is difficult to imagine how it can ever be restored. Instead he is likely to spend the rest of his life as a faintly pathetic and dishonourable figure, hollowed out by his own lies and pursued by the horrific trail of blood, folly, madness and destruction that his dim-witted actions have helped unleash, and which he has never accepted responsibility for.
Unlike Bush, who has wisely chosen to retire to his ranch and paint puppies rather than make pronouncements on international affairs, Blair continues to call again and again for another war and another round of bombing in one country after another, in the apparent belief that it will all come out all right in the end and he will appear as some kind of principled and far-sighted prophet.
It is increasingly clear that only the most starry-eyed acolytes who floated in Blair’s slipstream or profited from his activities – either materially or politically – actually believe this is going to happen. Those of us who have long criticized the Great Deceiver can take some satisfaction from seeing the Emperor stripped of his clothes – even if it falls a long way short of the punishment that he should have received for conning and manipulating the country into an aggressive war based on fabricated intelligence, lies, and utterly ill-judged assumptions.
It would be tempting to regard Blair as a tragic figure – a great man brought down by his own hubris and a misguided desire to do good. But Blair is not Creon. He is not Julius Caesar, and he is definitely not Don Quixote. In an interview with Mehdi Hassan at the Huffington Post yesterday, Professor George Joffe accused Blair of ‘total responsibility’ for the unfolding disaster that is now taking place in Iraq.
Joffe was one of three academic experts who visited Blair shortly before the Iraq war and warned him of the possibility of post-war chaos and sectarian conflict in the aftermath of the invasion. Blair was not interested in any of this, and only wanted to talk about Saddam, observing that ‘ the man’s evil, isn’t he?’
Joffe and and his colleagues came away with the impression of a ‘very shallow mind’ who ‘personalised’ the invasion around Saddam Hussein, so that ‘the whole structure of Iraq was utterly irrelevant.. It was very two-dimensional.’
These criticisms do not only apply to Blair himself. Too many people also saw Iraq in ‘two-dimensional’ terms, when they analysed the country at all. Too many people blindly followed him in the rush to war or simply went along with it because to do otherwise would have harmed their careers, or because they wanted to experience the feelgood sensation of ‘saving’ a country from a dictatorship at no cost to themselves.
Now, to paraphrase Thomas Wyatt, those who once sought him out are trying to flee him, in order to preserve their own reputations. One of them is Boris Johnson, who once voted for a war he now describes as a ‘tragic error’, but still insists that it was a faintly noble cause, even as he criticizes Blair. Then there is ‘Baron’ Prescott, who says now that he disagreed with Blair over the war. If Prescott disagreed with the invasion, no one outside the cabinet knew it at the time when his disagreement might actually have counted for something.
The Observer also claims to have reversed its opinions about the war that it once supported, but it still criticizes opponents of the war more than it criticizes the man who helped start it – who still gets regular op eds that he inevitably uses to advocate new wars.
Professor Joffe has dismissed Blair’s latest statements on Iraq and Syria for their ‘inability to understand politics and geopolitics.’ But clearly he isn’t the only one. And his continued prominence is also an indictment of the liberal press which uncritically recycles his pronouncements on every possible occasion, of the ‘Quartet’ that appointed him Middle East ‘Peace Envoy’, of Yale University, which once hired him to speak about ‘faith and globalisation’, and so many other institutions that have sought his expertise – or lack thereof.
So Blair’s former friends may want distance. But the real tragedy about Blair is not simply Blair himself, and the fact that this shabby and disreputable Pied Piper was able to get away with what he did for so long, and the legacy of neo-imperial violence and militarism that he advocated, which has yet to be overcome.