The spectacle of Tony Blair as an apparently sincere penitent – albeit one still laden with his predictable list of hubristic justifications – doesn’t surprise me at all, at this stage. The very first post on this blog, back in 2010 was about Blair’s apparent search for atonement in the truest sense. At that time I was confidently expecting Chilcot to report within the next year. It does surprise even me though, that Blair has ended up in quite such an abject state, when seen from the perspective of 1997.
A little context. Back in the time of John Major’s government in the early 90’s, the UK was doing quite well. After Major’s appallingly selfish and ideological pursuit of the deutschmark (a folly which doubled my mortgage briefly, in 48 hours, not that JM cared about such things), the economy was booming, relatively. It was to be a golden inheritance for Labour, the exact opposite of the scorched earth bequeathed by Brown in 2010.
In about 1993 I began to notice Blair as an unctuous and slightly cocky Shadow Home Secretary, popping up on the TV. I’d seen Gordon Brown in action at the Commons as Shadow Chancellor under John Smith, and for all his faults, he seemed then a far more substantial figure than the glib Blair. After Smith’s death it became rapidly apparent that, under the youthful Blair, Labour were going to win the next election, irrespective of the economy. I remember on election day in 1997 sitting in the operating theatre coffee room saying that Blair appeared to me to be a flighty and unserious chancer, albeit an ambitious one. The uniform response was “you can’t possibly want the Tories back in”. Nobody except me seemed to have any concerns about Blair**.
That election night I stayed up till two watching it unfold, and by then the enormity of Blair’s majority was already apparent. He would clearly be in power for years. The phrase that kept going through my head was “batten down the hatches, this will take a long time to get through”. The next day at work everyone was delighted that the groovy young Tony was in and everything would be fine.
My concerns, which were pretty much completely borne out, related to the very clear message that this administration would intentionally change the social, cultural and moral fabric of the country, and eventually, through the timeless expedient of spending money they didn’t have, they would wreck the economy too.
I usually date the completed initial phase of the first of these malign objectives to the release of the worst film ever made, Love Actually ( I’m serious), in 2003, which was basically a New Labour 90’s zeitgeist epic of the worst kind. The second objective was apparent by the financial crisis of 2008. It took them 11 years to destroy a booming economy, but they managed it. In case anyone is still spinning the line that it was all secondary to American subprime mortgage lending (Brown’s favourite excuse), then I would direct you to a prophetic book by two British hacks – the esteemed Larry Elliot and Dan Atkinson – called Fantasy Island, which was published in 2007. If you don’t believe me, read the synopses (1, 2 and 3). Truly the Blair/Brown government was a disaster on a huge scale, despite their aggressive and largely successful debasement of the government spin apparatus under the enduringly loathsome Alastair Campbell, which subjugated an already enthralled media.
So I wasn’t remotely surprised by all this, it was obvious to me when I first set eyes on Blair, and I took a lot of shit for it. The endless supply of people all willing to slag Blair off now, and over the last few years, are mainly the people who voted for him in three general election victories, a point made eloquently by James Kirkup. What a bunch of hypocrites.
That said, I never thought he’d become the crazy and infantile warmonger, which role has now, finally, skewered him.
Which is why I have to laugh at the endless bleatings (eg: 1, 2,3) from Guardian writers and others now, post-Chilcot, who spent the period from 1997 to 2008 drooling over Blair and Brown. I don’t remember too much genuine opposition from them to the Iraq debacle back then. Jeremy Corbyn, Ming Campbell, the late Charlie Kennedy and Robin Cook all take credit for their stance at the time. A special mention goes to the routinely reviled George Galloway (see below), the only person who predicted in detail the aftermath of the Iraq invasion. Their reasons for opposition varied, but they have the moral high ground today.
Max Hastings neatly outlines the stage on which Blair played out his monumental and ego driven disaster: “What took place was only possible because in 2002-3 Blair was an immensely popular Prime Minister with a personal dominance that enabled him to persuade or conscript the rest of Westminster and Whitehall to support an Iraqi adventure overwhelmingly driven by his own hubris and moral fervour.”
I doubt that there will be any article written in the aftermath of Chilcot that expresses the tortuous hypocrisy of the British public and media in all this, than Brendan O’Neill’s, in Spiked. As he rightly puts it:
The important, humane task of understanding the history and politics of that calamity in 2003 has been sacrificed at the altar of allowing a needy elite the space in which to say: ‘Blair is evil, and I am good.’
I can already sense a neat dividing line developing when considering Blair’s legacy: Iraq bad/all else good. For the purpose of clarity – and going back to where I began this post – I would refine that to: Iraq bad (Blair sort of penitent)/most of his other stuff also bad (Blair unrepentant).
The criticism rightly heaped on him for Iraq, and on his many, many aiders and abetters should be spread around on most of his other endeavours too. A messiah complex unburdened by caution and intelligent reflection is unlikely to come good at any point. This was a truly awful government, lead by a figure who since then has become more and more unhinged.
I should leave the last word to the hated yet prescient George Galloway, confirming what Chilcot meant when he pointedly said “We do not agree that hindsight is required.”
** as Stephen Glover puts it ” Only a hard core of widely disbelieved critics saw him as an untrustworthy fraud”
Labour were in power for 13 years: 1997 to 2010, mostly under Tone, of course.
I used to argue with friends on the topic: what genuinely good things did Labour actually achieve, with the massive power to be wielded after their landslide? Bear in mind we can agree on most of the bad things, Iraq being no 1, and we probably can, however grudgingly, agree on what Maggie achieved in many key areas, as a handy comparison.
Happily, Labour Uncut, in the course of considering a Corbyn leadership, have offered their own carefully considered list. Remember, they all voted for Blair etc, and they still keep the Labour flame burning. Here is their list, with my comments. I’m pretty sure they haven’t missed any opportunities to big up the New Labour legacy:
…all the time Jeremy has been in parliament he has had a Labour party that either was in government or acted like it wanted to be in government. So his, and other constituents benefited from the minimum wage, 78,000 more nurses, devolved power in Scotland, a Welsh assembly, the overseas aid budget doubled, 30,000 more teachers, winter fuel payments to pensioners, halved waiting times in the NHS, free school milk and fruit, the Disability Rights Commission, free entry to museums and galleries, the Good Friday agreement, paternity leave, civil partnerships, to name but a few.
Hmm. Is that it?
the minimum wage
OK, not bad in principle, as a safety net. But it does distort market forces, which can be very damaging. Already Osborne has been fiddling with it, to his peril. as the FT says “As for working people, many will thank the chancellor as their wages rise. Others will become unaffordable and will lose their jobs”. A mixed blessing, at best.
78,000 more nurses
Well, as a full time NHS worker, I would say firstly, it’s not that many, and secondly, putting nurses in non-jobs, which is a lot of it, is of no use. The problem, if there is one with hospital nursing, is attitudinal, and the changed nature of the job.
devolved power in Scotland
Tam Dalyell would have been proven right, if the oil price (and industry) hadn’t started collapsing. Basically a short term bit of meddling with terrible consequences. The only plus point is that despite the extremely low calibre of Holyrood MSP’s, the devolved chamber means that public spending is protected in Scotland by a nervy Westminster, whatever the Nat morons claim to the contrary. See Chokkablogon all this.
Like the minimum wage, in theory it’s a humane approach. The reality is a bit different, and being in government really shouldn’t be primarily gesture politics. It’s also spending money we don’t have.
30,000 more teachers
Another numbers game. What did the OECD find when it assessed Labour’s legacy on this? Try visiting any country in Europe, even crisis hit Spain and Greece, they seem pretty well educated and mostly fluent in English.
winter fuel payments to pensioners
Another blunt instrument, does it actually work in practice?
halved waiting times in the NHS
Ah yes, waiting times. I am part of this one. Fine concept for cancer, good for A&E, but very difficult in that service due to Labour’s destruction of GP out of hours services. However, the politicians are obsessed with waiting times for non-urgent elective surgery, over almost anything else. This distorts NHS provision, damages staff, wastes money and creates unmeetable expectations. There is no evidence that it gains votes, and all this when huge swathes of elective surgical practice are, embarrassingly, of uncertain value and unknown outcomes. Not everything is as good as a cataract op or a hip replacement.
Well, I have to admit that peace in Northern Ireland – for the most part – is better than the bad old days. I’m of the view however, that letting unrepetentant thugs like Adams and McGuinness swan around in government and being lauded has its down side. A lot of crimes have now gone unpunished, a lot of people feel very bitter, but powerless. A genuinely tricky one. Read this
Otherwise known as extended annual leave. A nightmare for small businesses and running essential public sector services. Of no proven advantage, as compared to the old days, when we just took annual leave. Actually, a pathetic development in the true sense of that word.
Fair enough. Not to be confused with ‘gay marriage’.
I note that they didn’t include banning fox hunting. Is this a secret pleasure for the Labour Uncut staff? In any event, does the thin gruel outlined above even come close to outweighing the Iraq War, the institutionalisation of lying to voters, the destruction of the economy, the issues with immigration, the bizarre relationship with the worst of the EU, the explosion in unaffordable freebies by abusing Bevan’s concept of the welfare state, the subtle and not so subtle attacks on the teachers, the doctors and religion, the witless nurturing of violent Islamism in the UK?
I think the answer is no. And remember, the above is the Labour supporters‘ list of achievements, not mine. Also, bear in mind their indirect responsibility for the worst film ever made, Love Actually.
In keeping with my previous thoughts that the foot soldiers of ISIS are inept teenage misogynists, here is a real Middle East expert, Justin Marozzi, on the inadequacies of what he correctly calls Daesh (they don’t like the name):
…there is an important point to be made about the caliphate, a word we keep hearing from the homoerotic death cult of Daesh (known by the BBC as Islamic State, see below). The Abbasid caliphate, the Islamic empire at its most resplendent, was cosmopolitan, tolerant, progressive, intellectually inquisitive, dynamic and prosperous. Wine-drinking and naughty poetry were hugely popular. The dreary puritanism of these latest jihadists is way off the mark. One of the most depressing things about Daesh, apart from the beheadings (which pale into insignificance when you recall the 90,000 heads Tamerlane lopped off in Baghdad in 1401), is that they are complete bores.
…well, in reality they kidnap them, rape them and sell them, as the first order effect, but the secondary consequence is more unwelcome to these jihadi misogynists, whose behaviour is uncannily mirrored by Boko Haram in Africa.
‘I find them indescribably disgusting. How would you feel if it was women living near you who were being married off by force by ISIS? How would you feel? They are doing the most disgusting things I have ever seen in my life.’…
…‘I have told all my frontline soldiers to keep one bullet in their pocket in case they are captured. I never want any of them to be captured by ISIS.’
They’re not a last minute reaction to being under the threat of ISIS slaughter, the Kurds have been giving women equal status as fighters for years. To add to their value, although the claim is disputed, there seems to be something in the story that if you’re a jihadi killed by a woman, don’t expect the legendary (and in itself, more than a bit strange) reward of 72 virgins, or as the Al-Arabiya network called it, their “virgin-fuelled utopian rest”.
So good for the Kurds. The Iraqi Kurd who sells me kebabs had his peshmerga brother killed a month ago, fighting ISIS. The ramifications of this brutal pseudo-caliphate reach our streets quickly, one way or another.
Then along comes this remarkable old lady, who confronts a couple of the thugs in the street in Syria, in this now famous video. She doesn’t let them off the hook, and they have no answer to her. Brilliant:
Lastly there are the journalists. The Sunday Times’ superb Hala Jaber (@HalaJaber) completely understands the mentality of ISIS, and indeed the rest of the Middle East, and her Twitter feed is quite brilliant, attracting the enmity of what she refers to as ‘ISIS fanboys’. The Kurdish journalist Shler Bapiri (@shlerbapiri) is another tireless advocate for the truth against Islamic female genital mutilation, and the fight to the death with ISIS. These fearless women – who are not remote from danger themselves – are very much in the noble tradition of people like the superb Veena Malik and the legendary Oriana Fallaci, both previously featured in this blog. Here is Veena eloquently putting the boot into an absurd imam on Pakistani TV:
Her confident outspokenness has just earned her a 26 year jail sentence in Pakistan. Luckily she lives in Dubai. The late Oriana Fallaci was the Italian powerhouse who famously gave the Ayatollah Khomeini a lesson in practical feminism. As it turns out, she was something of a prophet herself, and her best-selling post 9/11 polemic The Rage and the Pride remains a much needed counterblast to the situation we find ourselves in today.
When the British idea of feminism seems often to revolve around a privileged pink bus idiot like Harriet Harman wearing an inane sweat shop produced T shirt in parliament, you can only stand in awe of these women who are out there, in the real world, dealing with unimaginable problems that men don’t have to suffer. As the reliably funny and controversial Gavin McInnes writes, Harman’s kind of feminism is basically “women doing what they’re told”.
The ISIS people would like you to think that they are motivated by intense religious belief. It adds a certain integrity to their monstrous antics, I suppose, however alien it seems to us effete Westerners.
No doubt that is true of a number of them, foot soldiers, suicide bombers etc, however misguided they are. They are the mugs who will die, and who aren’tliving it up. Like nearly everyone, I have no time for Islamic militants, for whom Nazi comparisons are not far-fetched, but I don’t for one moment think that the real bad guys, including the moronic mumbler Jihadi John, are motivated by religious belief. They are simply indulging an appetite for violence, sadism, misogyny and notoriety without, as yet, personal risk to themselves. Islam does provide a very handy cloak for their actions, though.
More accurately, there is another neat comparison with the Nazis, and that is in the form of Oskar Dirlewanger.
Dirlewanger was an intelligent and educated man, with a very impressive record for bravery in WW1. He was also a violent psychopathic rapist and paedophile, who eventually got locked up in the interwar years. He ended up joining the SS and leading something akin to the penal battalion described in Sven Hassel’s entertaining, if historically confused novels. These were battalions composed of convicts, unstable people, criminals on the run and seeking a way out etc. They got the most unpleasant and dangerous jobs much of the time.
He ended up mainly in Poland and Byelorussia, with his zenith of evil in Warsaw in 1944. For Dirlewanger things couldn’t have been better. He got to murder, rape, torture and profiteer as much as he liked, with exceptional brutality. Exceptional that is by Nazi standards, to the point where his own bosses, all the way up to Himmler, were uneasy with his behaviour, useful to them though he was. One extended quote gives you the idea:
In Warsaw, Dirlewanger participated in the Wola massacre, together with police units rounding up and shooting some 40,000 civilians, most of them in just two days. In the same Wola district, Dirlewanger burned three hospitals with patients inside, while the nurses were “whipped, gang-raped and finally hanged naked, together with the doctors” to the accompaniment of music. Later, “they drank, raped and murdered their way through the Old Town, slaughtering civilians and fighters alike without distinction of age or sex.”In the Old Town – where about 30,000 civilians were killed – several thousand wounded in field hospitals overrun by the Germans were shot and set on fire with flamethrowers. Reportedly, “the Dirlewanger brigade burned prisoners alive with gasoline, impaled babies on bayonets and stuck them out of windows and hung women upside down from balconies.” SS-Obergruppenführer Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, overall commander of the forces pacifying Warsaw – and Dirlewanger’s former boss in Belarus – described Dirlewanger as having “a typical mercenary nature”; von dem Bach’s staff officer sent to summon Dirlewanger before him was driven off at gunpoint.
Not much different in nature to what these Yazidi girls reported. Or here, though don’t follow the link if you’re easily upset. It is the unvarnished truth however. As General Guderian, an able commander, said of the Dirlewanger Brigade:
“What I learnt…was so appalling that I felt myself bound to inform Hitler about it that same evening and to demand the removal of the two brigades from the Eastern Front.”
There is no moral to this, really, except that all this evil, including the methodology, is nothing new. However, just as you couldn’t negotiate with men like Dirlewanger, you shouldn’t bother trying with the current incarnation of irredeemable badness. Even ‘routine’ bad guys think it’s beyond reasoning.
It’s Santayana redux: “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it”, or as Edmund Burke said before him: “People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors”
If there are really 500 IS jihadis of British origin roaming around Iraq being supertough, then I think I’ve met some of the prototypes.
More than three years ago I did a post highlighting the problems women can face in the Islamic world ( nothing too original, beyond the still incredible fact that Jack Straw was correct for once in his political career). It included the lines:
The Muslim lads, mostly Pakistani, but not exclusively so, all tended to hang around together. Very few had girlfriends, and conversation – without the excuse of booze – would often revolve around women. The discussions would have rapidly turned Polly Toynbee and Germaine Greer to violence.
Women were routinely referred to as ‘slags’ and the like, with their main function being sexual. Insight into female psychology was absent, and was often along the lines of “she’s gagging for it” etc etc. The men very rarely had friendly chat with women, it just didn’t happen. When I asked a muslim friend why they all went on like this, he candidly explained that they were all expecting arranged marriages, dating was frowned upon, and because they were medics, they knew that they’d be offered physically attractive intelligent wives. They couldn’t be bothered getting to know the women as friends, and it was all “a bit of fun”.
Porn was popular though. One of The Knife’s acquaintances worked in Quetta, Pakistan in a Red Cross hospital in the nineties. He routinely treated badly injured Taliban from Afghanistan civil conflicts. Many of them, young lads, who’d been closing down girls schools etc the week before, would head into the bazaar as soon as they could, to catch up on hardcore porn. Once they had fully recovered, off they went on their religious mission.
That was true then, and I suspect it’s true now, though shaking off the shackles of a culture** which intentionally separates men and women is one of the ways forward in our multicultural society.
Similarly, I had a Libyan colleague who made disastrous attempts, in his mid thirties, to talk to women staff in a romantic way. One week he went off to Libya and secretly got married. It lasted a week (divorce being relatively easy in that society), and the bride’s family declared their intention to kill him for the dishonour. When he reappeared he became a wannabe jihadi, assuring me of Bin Laden’s greatness, and in a typically confused way, conceded that the victims of 9/11 were innocent, but still deserved to die “because they were Americans”. As is usually the case, he wanted to stay here, Libya wasn’t for him.
The hopelessly crap Glasgow Airport medical bombers were cut from the same cloth. So is this guy (worth reading as it pretty much backs up the above).
So, when you’ve been brought up in this stifling misogynistic way, when you’re a bit hormonal, when the groomers at the mosque begin to turn their attention to you, a possibly one way trip to Syria and Iraq is your ticket to being a man.
Holding a severed head is not too difficult – I’ve done it a few times myself – but sawing it off a struggling victim requires a previously unplumbed depth of amorality and a deliberate suppression of humanity that is what makes these idiots dangerous. They have little physical prowess, their martial feats are based on the fact that they have thus far encountered almost no resistance, and normal people in any society find the thought of being beheaded, stoned and crucified terrifying.
All this will change if the confused wimpiness of Obama and Dave begins to coalesce into something more than ASBO’s, as it will. No doubt there is a huge amount of intelligence, planning and so on going on right now, but it frequently seems that certain journalists are way ahead of politicians in this sphere. I quoted in full Brendan O’Neill’s magnificent overview of the problem of Islamic terrorism last year, and that was before the rise of the current ISIS lot. O’Neill, and his colleague at Spiked, Frank Furedi, continue to provide a lot of sensible analysis on these issues.
In the meantime, no-one should think of these British jihadis as tough, fearless or principled.
Most bloggers and Tweeters like to claim that they were right all along, and have the solipsistic habit of linking to their previous pearls of wisdom. I’m no different.
Here is my first ever post, written at the tail end of the Blair/Brown Terror, more than four years ago. I quote:
Blair is a man carrying heavy baggage, and it’s beginning to show. His conversion to Catholicism is well known, the timing seemed almost cowardly, but there’s no rules to these things, and nobody does it lightly. It’s not possible for it to take place on the spur of the moment. All those churlish catholics who questioned the move do so at their peril – it’s between Blair, God and his confessor.
I think he is genuinely seeking atonement. What else can he realistically do to make amends for his colossal hubris and misjudgement in the Iraq war, as well as numerous other nightmares, not least his role, however peripheral in David Kelly’s death? He’s not going to ‘fess up on Oprah, start squealing to Chilcot or write an honest memoir, not at this stage.
He can however start to make things right within himself. Perhaps his ludicrous role as an utterly ineffective mini-Kissinger in the Middle East is the acceptable public face of this attempt to do the right thing, but the real action is taking place inside him.
Well, maybe I was wrong, because his latest weird self-exculpatory message suggests that he thinks he was right, though I still doubt that he really thinks that.
I have come to the conclusion that Tony Blair has finally gone mad. He wrote an essay on his website on Sunday that struck me as unhinged in its refusal to face facts. In discussing the disaster of modern Iraq he made assertions that are so jaw-droppingly and breathtakingly at variance with reality that he surely needs professional psychiatric help.
He said that the allied invasion of 2003 was in no way responsible for the present nightmare – in which al-Qaeda has taken control of a huge chunk of the country and is beheading and torturing Shias, women, Christians and anyone else who falls foul of its ghastly medieval agenda. Tony Blair now believes that all this was “always, repeat always” going to happen.
He tells us that Saddam was inevitably going to be toppled in a revolution, to be followed by a protracted and vicious religious civil war, and that therefore we (and more especially he) do not need to blame ourselves for our role in the catastrophe. As an attempt to rewrite history, this is frankly emetic….
He (not Blair, but a CIA man who Boris met in Iraq) was hoping to find someone to carry on the business of government – law and order, infrastructure, tax collection, that kind of thing. The days were passing; the city was being looted; no one was showing up for work. We had utterly blitzed the power centres of Iraq with no credible plan for the next stage – and frankly, yes, I do blame Bush and Blair for their unbelievable arrogance in thinking it would work……
The Iraq war was a tragic mistake; and by refusing to accept this, Blair is now undermining the very cause he advocates – the possibility of serious and effective intervention. Blair’s argument (if that is the word for his chain of bonkers assertions) is that we were right in 2003, and that we would be right to intervene again…
Somebody needs to get on to Tony Blair and tell him to put a sock in it – or at least to accept the reality of the disaster he helped to engender. Then he might be worth hearing. The truth shall set you free, Tony.
Well, perhaps he is in need of the psychiatrist’s couch. Ian Birrell, in a very fine piece in the Independent is less kind:
Please forgive me. I know we should ignore his latest attention-seeking outburst, like a kind parent might turn their back on a child prone to temper tantrums. But it is hard when he pops up to pollute the airwaves and defile acres of newsprint with silly statements. So, once again, we must focus on our former prime minister Tony Blair, who has moved far beyond the point of parody with his latest attempt to absolve himself of guilt over the terrifying events in Iraq.
As a group that even al-Qa’ida thinks too violent runs rampage through Iraq, exploiting the region’s chaos in its drive to recreate a repressive medieval caliphate, Blair pens a 2,848-word essay, claiming it is “bizarre” to blame the crisis on his 2003 invasion. Incredibly, he still argues that Saddam Hussein might have used weapons of mass destruction, despite the crushing evidence he had given up such devices. As Blair blames everyone but himself for the current carnage and bloodshed, he even claims to speak “with humility”.
These are the delusional and self-serving ravings of a man who just a year ago bragged that Iraq was a better place for the removal of Saddam. As he flits around the world giving speeches on democracy, while receiving huge cheques from despots, the former Labour leader seems to have lost touch with reality. No doubt, he sees himself as some kind of Churchillian figure whom history will prove right, yet experts and former diplomats were not short of evidence yesterday as they tore apart his arguments….
Never an apology. Never any sign of awareness, trapped on his self-harming journey to wealth and global vilification. Never any reflection on the blood spilled, nor the struggle of those really fighting for human rights. Blair is a messiah in his own mind, reviled by most others.
Perhaps it would be kinder if the media did ignore his strange desire to shred the little that is left of his reputation
General Sir Michael Rose very effectively ‘fisks’ Blair’s oddball essay in the Mail, concluding with:
“But Blair, all to clearly, cannot face this brutal truth. He once said that war is an imperfect instrument for righting human distress. He should pay more heed to his own words”.
Well, the latin title of this post, often attributed to Euripides, is (of course) translated as Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.
Even better is Sophocles’ variant:
evil sometimes seems good
to a man whose mind
a god leads to destruction.
Hmm…let me see…I want to kill someone with a chemical weapon: lead, trinitrophenol, copper and zinc! That should do it. My own chemical weapon.
Otherwise known as a…um….a bullet.
It might not be a poison gas, but it’s still made of chemicals, and it’ll still kill you. Quite possibly in a horrible prolonged way.
So why on earth is the use of only one kind of chemical weapon a “red line” for the armchair warriors of the White House and Downing St? Who really cares about the exact means of being bumped off by an evil dictator? It’s stupidity in extremis.
It wouldn’t matter if this bizarre and arbitrary distinction between good and bad kinds of weapons didn’t lead to consequences, but right now, it clearly does, and very unappetising open-ended ones at that.
You would have thought that after recent outcomes in Egypt (Sharia obsessed Muslim Brotherhood), Libya (militias and Al Qaeda v ‘government’), Tunisia (wobbly authoritarian coalition) and of course the Big Ones – uberviolent Iraq and Aghanistan – then cash-strapped Western powers might just want to sit Syria out.
Bizarrely, the political left are once again the most warlike. John Kampfner was able to write a whole book, Blair’s Wars, because he had four to choose from: Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq. The otherwise normal and likeable Blairite Dan Hodges recently wrote an extended blog on why we should intervene in Syria. The many comments in response are actually pretty eloquent, by and large, about why we should not be doing so.
There aren’t many things that the Labour Party has got right. Single figures, undoubtedly. One of the best decisions though, is not particularly well known – that in the 1960’s PM Harold Wilson very specifically declined to get involved with the Vietnam War. The Knife happens to think that Vietnam was a noble cause, and by no means the failure that it is often alleged to be. However, Wilson was right:
“The president [Johnson] raised the question, without excessive enthusiasm, of our co-operation with him in South Vietnam, even if only on a limited – even a token – basis. I made it clear that we could not enter into any such commitments. We… would have a role to play in seeking a way to peace”
Wilson took a lot of crap for that from President Johnson, but so what? It soon blew over.
The strangest thing perhaps is: where else in life would you normally commit everything you have – wealth, health, prosperity, life – to an utterly unknowable outcome, unless you absolutely had to ? Nowhere else of course, yet that is exactly what Obama and (this week) numerous commentators are heading, despite Iraq, Aghanistan etc. Perhaps a year ago the Syrian ‘rebels’ were mostly good guys. My Syrian friends tell me that those men are now mostly dead, it’s the gangsters and the terrorists who have moved in, just like in Iraq.
Without wishing to come over like a weird hybrid of George Galloway and Nick Griffin, I would simplify it and ask an easy question: what’s in it for us?
This is nothing to do with oil. The ramifications with respect to Middle East stability of Assad surviving or not, are way too complex and unpredictable to call, despite the dazzling array of experts willing to do so. I would offer the following: the deposed dictators so far all protected the Christians, and to some extent the Jews, in their countries. Their Islamic replacements are attempting to exterminate these communities, who were there before Islam even existed. For that reason alone I would take the devil I know.
A good article in the FT today, by David Gardner, narrowly seemed to favour some sort of intervention. Gardner begins:
President Barack Obama’s decision to send unspecified “direct military support” to Syria’s rebels may have as its proximate cause the now firm US conviction that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against them. But it will be seen across the Middle East as a choice by America to throw its weight behind a Sunni alliance against Iran-led Shia forces across the region – a conflict in which Syria is the frontline….How could it be otherwise when, after two years of dither, the White House moved on the same day as a conclave of Sunni clerics meeting in Cairo declared a jihad against what it called a “declaration of war on Islam” by “the Iranian regime, Hizbollah and its sectarian allies”?
Supporting the rebels means supporting the Sunni’s: a very high risk strategy. Gardner goes on:
There is a certain school of realism that believes it is better to let the Shia Islamists of Hizbollah and al-Qaeda sympathisers such as the rebel al-Nusra front fight it out, like scorpions in a bottle.
One of The Knife’s favourite themes, beginning with the very first post on this blog, is that Tony Blair knows that he has cocked up dreadfully, not only in terms of flagrantly wasted opportunities, destroying the economy via the obsessions of Gordon Brown, committing us to EU madness, and wrecking the social fabric of Britain in all sorts of ways (not least unfettered immigration), but also in acts that could fairly be described as evil, whether by intent, default or a mix of the two. The big one there is obviously lying to the electorate to force the country into a pointless, unwinnable and almost wholly negative war. That really is pretty bad, and it doesn’t look better over time.
Like many other bloggers and writers though, I possibly come across as a little obsessive. After all, it’s now SIX years this month (the 27th) since Tone stepped down as Prime Minister.
The trouble is, he won’t shut up. None of them will really, Campbell with his lousy neutered memoirs, Mandelson telling us where Mili-E is going wrong (not a tricky question), but it’s more annoying when it’s Blair himself. Perhaps supporting my view that Tone knows he’s cocked up, is this accurate claim :
There is a problem within Islam – from the adherents of an ideology which is a strain within Islam…We have to put it on the table and be honest about it. Of course there are Christian extremists and Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu ones. But I am afraid this strain is not the province of a few extremists. It has at its heart a view about religion and about the interaction between religion and politics that is not compatible with pluralistic, liberal, open-minded societies’
Nicely put, Tony, though we could have told you that. The fact that the Washington Post disagrees with you suggests that you’re actually right, for once. However, lots of commenters have pointed out that, being honest, Tone is really part of the problem. He goes on:
At the extreme end of the spectrum are terrorists, but the world view goes deeper and wider than it is comfortable for us to admit. So by and large we don’t admit it. This has two effects. First, those with that view think we are weak and that gives them strength. Second, those within Islam – and the good news is there are many – who actually know this problem exists and want to do something about it, lose heart. All over the Middle East and beyond there is a struggle being played out.
I emphasised “we don’t admit it” as that’s the problem, WE do admit it. Tony and his successors didn’t, until now. Interestingly, in the same article, allegedly written by Blair himself, he goes on to state that Saddam Hussein was “responsible for two major wars”, by which I take it he means Gulf 1 (invading Kuwait) and the Iran-Iraq bloodbath. Which raises the obvious question, is he blaming himself for starting Gulf 2?
Anyway, perhaps we should welcome the penitent sinner, if that’s what he is, but there’s another, related, problem.
One year in, the Labour government in 1998 passed the Human Rights Act. This enshrined the theoretically admirable European Convention on Human Rights in British law. Two years later, Tone’s wife Cherie teamed up with some legal buddies to found Matrix Chambers, by a remarkable coincidence just before the new law came into being. Matrix specialise in ECHR cases, and as they put it themselves:
Matrix is proud to be recognised as the “go-to set” for “cases which really push the boundaries of the law.” Our strengths lie in our commitment to providing “a progressive, forward-thinking service which caters to the needs of the modern-day client”…..With a strong history of innovation and commitment to our Core Values, Matrix continues to work in a modern environment where diversity and accessibility are widely championed, and out-dated practice is challenged.
All of which has helped make Cherie a millionaire, before Tony got there, and to become one of the “go-to set” of hypocritical bossy lawyers who decide what we should do, say and think.
So, set up as a result of her husband’s largesse and use of untrammeled power, what has this admirable altruistic body turned its laserlike legal eye upon now? Er...lads mags.
“Displaying these publications in workplaces, and/or requiring staff to handle them in the course of their jobs, may amount to sex discrimination and sexual harassment contrary to the Equality Act 2010. Similarly, exposing customers to these publications in the process of displaying them is capable of giving rise to breaches of the Equality Act.”
To be fair, it’s not just Matrix who are agitating here, Abu Qatada’s wealthy lawyers are also co-signatories of this blatant attempt to drum up business over a non-crime. Even the New Statesman thought it was barmy. As Toby Young accurately remarked:
…this campaign has nothing to do with defending the rights of those less fortunate than themselves. If it was, they’d be campaigning to stop the widespread abuse of women in the Middle East or against female genital mutilation in this country. No, this is simply about preventing men – predominantly working-class men – from buying magazines that they consider vulgar and in poor taste
I realise that this is a slightly disjointed post, but it’s really to point out that as Blair publicly agonises and begins to acknowledge, rather obliquely, the damage that he’s done, his real tangible legacy here in the UK is seen most typically in the ignoble pursuit by lawyers of taxpayers’ money, using issues of no importance.
The Iraq War, and bullying newsagents. Good work everyone.