The Knife has complained in the past about people whose words or actions proclaim that they’re ‘strategic not operational’, particularly as it pertains to the NHS. Operational is tough, strategic can mean almost anything. It’s usually bullshit.
So it comes as no surprise to read that Tony Blair suffers from this malaise. In a perceptive piece in the Mail, these paragraphs stand out:
However, there is little doubt that his predecessor in the job, James Wolfensohn, former head of the World Bank, spent much more time in the region. He told us that to do any good for the peace process, you have to put in a lot of time. ‘It is a full-time job and you cannot do that on a timetable of two or three days. You cannot do anything in a rushed manner in the Arab world.’
Those in the know say Wolfensohn was in non-stop negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, shuttling between Gaza, Jerusalem and Ramallah. He got involved in nitty-gritty issues, such as organising openings at road crossings so there could be free movement of buses for the Arab population and goods between the West Bank and Gaza.
Blair, on the other hand, with his once-over-lightly, butterfly approach to diplomacy, prefers great geopolitical thinking and high-flown rhetoric rather than detailed on-the-ground negotiations.
The considered view is that in one of the most turbulent times for the Middle East, he has done little or nothing to bring Israel and Palestine together through economic and security co-operation, apart from occasionally turning up at the region’s most exotic hotel and consulting with a few local leaders and journalists.
I don’t begrudge Blair a few quid and a nice retirement, it’s just the need to pretend that he’s doing something noble and selfless, tinged with the wisdom of Solomon, that gets me.
The ascent of the ‘strategic’ NHS manager, and numerous gruesome self-appointed health experts like the pompously named Kings Fund neatly parallels the rise of Blair, and his relentless dilution of substance with superficial style. The surprise is how permanent is the damage done to institutions by that ‘once-over-lightly, butterfly approach‘.