Iraq's invasion and its aftermath illustrate Lord Salisbury's maxim about the 'optimist view of politics', which 'assumes that there must be some remedy for every political ill, and rather than not find it, it will make two hardships to cure one'. The Chilcot inquiry into the 2003 war in Iraq is a world away from the whitewash obligingly thrown over the venture by Lord Hutton's 2004 report, commissioned by Tony Blair while still in office. Sir John Chilcot's summary findings mount a cumulatively devastating critique of Blair's conduct before, during and after the war.
George Orwell, in a celebrated if brutal remark, said that at fifty everybody has the face he deserves. Luckily for him, Orwell didn’t have to specify what one would need to have done to deserve the face Tony Blair has on his Christmas card this year. As a schoolteacher in the 1980s I took my politics class to sit in the Strangers’ Gallery of the House of Commons. More or less horizontal on the shadow front bench, his feet propped on the Speaker’s table, lounged the recently elected member for Sedgefield, aged 31 and acting already as if he owned the gaff. I thought he was an arse then. It would probably be over-egging it to say that he’s come round to this point of view. But on the Xmas card, Blair wears the look of a man wracked by other people’s conscience. His wife, in scarlet, manages to coax her features into a simper while cosying to his manly pecs.
Tony Blair flew into Cairo on Wednesday to offer his support to the administration, to condemn the Muslim Brotherhood and to hold talks on the country's growing problem with an al-Qaida-linked Islamist insurgency. ‘We should support those people in the region who want the open-minded society and the modern economy. That means we support the government here in Egypt,’ he told Sky News Arabia.
Margaret Thatcher once said that her greatest political achievement was New Labour. Tony Blair said today she was a 'towering figure', 'genuine leader' and 'generous-spirited' person who was 'rightly admired' and will be 'sadly missed'; and though they disagreed on 'certain issues' he thought his 'job was to build on some of the things she had done rather than reverse them'. Twenty-five years ago he wrote in the LRB: What makes things even worse for radical, progressive spirits is that the Ultra-Right appears to be even more in control of the Conservative Party this year than it has been previously. Mrs Thatcher clearly regards herself as a dea ex machina, sent down from on high to ‘knock Britain into shape’. She will wield her power over the next few years dictatorially and without compunction. On the other hand, there is a tremendous danger – to which Dr Owen has succumbed – in believing that ‘Thatcherism’ is somehow now invincible, that it has established a new consensus and that all the rest of us can do is debate alternatives within its framework. It is essential to demythologise ‘Thatcherism’.
'In a healthy democracy people can agree to disagree.' That's been one of Tony Blair's stock responses to critics of the Iraq war since before it started. He wheeled it out most recently to dismiss Desmond Tutu's call for him and George W. Bush to be 'made to answer for their actions in the Hague'. Obviously Blair's right, up to a point: the existence of God, who to vote for, the price of jam, what would win in a fight between a weasel and a rattlesnake – all things that people can agree to disagree about. But with some questions – such as, say, whether or not someone's committed a crime – the disagreement has to be settled in a court of law. If you're spotted kneeling over a bloody corpse with a knife in your hand, the police are unlikely to let you go just because you tell them they're entitled to their opinion, even if you're a former prime minister (we're talking about a hypothetical 'healthy democracy' here, remember).
The Financial Times entitled its recent lengthy interview with Tony Blair 'Waiting in the Wings'. Blair, though claiming to be all-consumed by his current Middle East job, also declared himself ready to drop it like a hot brick if only someone would offer him the top job at the EU, the IMF or the World Bank. He angrily dismissed the notion that he wanted to be rich – he's earning £20 million a year – and said the whole point 'is not to make money, it's to make a difference'.
On Friday Tony Blair returned, orange and varnished, to the Chilcot Inquiry to clarify his doctrine of sovereign exceptionalism. As his deposition to the inquiry explains, after 9/11 ‘the calculus of risk on global security had radically and fundamentally changed.’ Blair did not mean that it had changed because after 9/11 the global police got more trigger-happy. It changed because al-Qaida had shown that random sets of hoodlums could hook up and wreak mayhem. Hence the 2003 coalition of the willing. The US was going anyway, and Blair was with them.
Interviewed on PM this afternoon, fresh from giving evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry, Tony Blair spoke scornfully of 'all those people' treating Iran ‘softly', which is to say, not bombing it. Presumably, 'people' means Barack Obama. He was speaking only days after Tunisian public rage rose up against one of those 'Bastions against Muslim Extremism' that replaced the 'Bastions against Communism'. What has happened in Tunisia could happen across the Middle East. As Patrick Cockburn points out in today's Independent, one of Blair's problems is ignorance:
I've always had trouble with cataloguing books. In Ireland I came across a bookshop that had a wall of fiction divided into two. They were labelled: Novels by Men and Novels by Women. I left weeping. I'm in two minds about Daunt Books' method of geographic cataloguing. Graham Greene and Joseph Conrad all over the shop, though Dostoevsky safely under Russia.
And the Lord spake unto his good and faithful servant, saying, Thou art my son, in whom I am well pleased. And though there be some that pretend to adore Mammon through God; yet others cherish God, by the offices of Mammon. Thou knowest well, my son, many there are that give by taking; and their name is Legion. But twice blessed are they that take, by giving.
Some ex-ministers one of them ByersRevealed themselves greedy and liarsBoth Hoon and Pat HewittSaid pay me and blew itBut they all pale into insignificance beside the post-prime-ministerial £20 million of Tony Blair.
Bizarre lost causes, no.1 in an occasional series: the campaign to 'Keep Tony Blair for Prime Minister’. Failing that, they're keen for people at least to sign a petition to 'Ban Blair-Baiting’ for the duration of the Chilcot Inquiry. The petition has been online since the beginning of August last year. In seven months it's gathered a whopping 615 signatures. According to 'Keep TB for PM', the reason for this is a 'conspiracy of silence’ by the British press. Well, that's a charge they can level no longer – you heard it here first. Go on, sign it if you want to. Tell your friends. Let's see if we can't get it up to 616 by the end of the month.
The Chilcot Inquiry is providing further evidence that Tony Blair misled the British public in the run up to the war in Iraq in 2003. Five years earlier he less famously deceived the people of Northern Ireland into believing that paramilitary prisoners wouldn’t be released and Sinn Fein wouldn’t be able to enter government until the IRA had decommissioned its arms. On the basis of this deception, Northern Ireland’s Catholics and a bare majority of Protestants ‘consented’ to the Good Friday Agreement.
As if there weren't already enough reasons to think it a bad idea, Silvio Berlusconi has thrown his weight behind the campaign to install his old friend Tony Blair as the first president of the Council of Europe. It would be funny, if it weren't so depressing (and so depressingly unsurprising), that a demagogue of the right who absurdly claims to be the victim of a vast left-wing conspiracy involving judges, politicians, journalists and anyone else he cares to name, should count a former British Labour prime minister among his allies rather than his opponents.
Although everyone is denying it, European public opinion is obviously being softened up, especially by the Kinnockian wing of the Labour party, for Blair’s emergence as the first full-time president of Europe. And although in a rational world his election would seem self-evidently absurd, given his record, it is being put about that many European leaders – including, improbably, Sarkozy – are enthusiastic. If they are, they should ask themselves what a Blair presidency would actually mean. Blair does not share the Conservatives’ blockheaded hostility to ‘Europe’ but he would nonetheless be the candidate of the United States – and that is what the Tories want. America has never shared the Conservative Party’s extreme Atlanticism. It believes in ‘Europe’ and always wanted Britain to join the EEC, now the EU. But it certainly does not believe in the European ideal.
In an interview with Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Tony Blair told an audience packed with eastern seaboard celebrities how he is writing his memoirs. 'Instead of doing this as "I met such and such five world leaders on such and such a day and they said such and such,"’ he explained, 'I'm writing it more as, if you like, a personal journey.
Short-term profiteering is one explanation for the banking crisis. Who was among those who warned of the dangers of short-term economic and financial thinking? Gordon Brown, who has begun to resemble Richard Nixon in the way he is clinging to power because that's all there is left to cling to. Twenty years ago, in two pieces he wrote for the LRB, Brown attacked Thatcher for promoting short-term gain at the expense of long-term investment and research. In fact, Brown equated the entire Thatcher project with short-term thinking, blind as he also believed it was to long-term growth.