Thursday, September 2, 2010

Blair's greatest performance was in his own mind

It's often been observed that Tony Blair was more of an actor or a showman than an authentic politician, and in last night's BBC interview to promote his memoirs he seemed surprisingly relaxed about owning up to the tricks of his trade - at least in relation to the one area of his legacy for which he can expect nothing but plaudits, namely the Northern Ireland peace process. With almost carefree abandon, he talked of the 'moral dilemma' he had to grapple with in deliberately using creative ambiguity - sometimes stretching the truth to breaking-point - on the basis that he knew he was 'doing it in a good cause'. It doesn't appear to have occurred to him that, for many people, there is an obvious read-through here to another campaign of deception he hasn't yet come clean about - the one paving the way for the Iraq War. 'Creative ambiguities' and 'truths stretched to breaking-point' in the pursuance of a good cause would seem to sum up Blair's strategy in early 2003 rather well - except that, in this case, the good cause only ever existed in his own mind. I'm inclined to believe it still lives on there, albeit it takes ever more mental effort to maintain the comforting illusion. The greatest testament to Blair's acting ability is that he convinces himself so reliably.

In continuing to justify the war now, he tells us (and himself) : "There isn't a single part of the Middle East that hasn't been touched by the problem we see in Iraq and Afghanistan today." Well, if he's talking about terrorism inspired by Islamic extremism, I can remind him of at least one Middle Eastern country that was relatively untouched by the problem before the Iraq invasion - Iraq. It had every prospect of remaining so but for the military intervention. So Blair's alibi for the invasion is the need to tackle a problem that was created by...the invasion. That's brazen logic, even by his standards.

He goes on to plead that the carnage in Iraq was "more terrifying than anyone could have imagined". Now, that's not quite true, is it Tony? No less a figure than Jacques Chirac gave an astonishingly accurate forecast of the forces that were about to be unleashed to Blair in person, and begged him to reconsider the rush to war. I believe the Prime Minister's reaction was a self-satisfied chuckle, followed by what must surely rank as one of the most un-self-aware observations of recent political history : "God, Jacques really doesn't get it, does he?"


  1. I remember the night before the Security Council were to debate the second resolution.

    I was in France at the time and the speech that Chirac made was shown on television. It was good solid common sense, impressive, statesmanlike, considered, and intelligent. All the things that neither Bush nor Blair could claim in their emotion-charged speeches.

    As I listened, I thought that after hearing this surely Blair couldn't possibly go ahead with this war at least until the final reports from Dr Blix and the inspectors were available “in more than a week but less than a month”.

    Then I watched the horror that was "shock and awe". If that wasn’t a recruiting sergeant for the militants then I can’t imagine what else would ever be. (Whenever I hear people talk about the carnage of 7/7, I always think, with deepest sympathies to the dead and injured, that that was not a patch on what happened to Baghdad.)

    Much is made of the fact that after Chirac refused to take part in their carnage, the Americans, and I suppose British, wanted nothing more to do with France or anything French. But the same thing was felt in France. ‘How could you?’, was a commonly asked question. And I couldn't answer it. For the love of an American president, I suppose....

    I've never been so ashamed to be British; never tried so hard to cover any trace of accent in my speech.

    I couldn't watch the Blair interview, and although I should try to, I can't bring myself to commit to reading his book. I can barely say his name.

  2. I couldn't manage the full hour either, Tris, I switched over to the Channel 4 Labour leadership debate, which was much more fun because they were all queueing up to hurl abuse at Blair! So much for Tom Bradby's theory (or should that be demand) that the party membership still heed Blair's advice, and that the timing of his intervention somehow assists David Miliband.

    Having said that, I'm increasingly resigning myself to the likelihood of a David M victory, but if that happens it'll be in spite of Blair's "help", not because of it.