The former prime minister still will not take responsibility for going to war in Iraq, and the awful consequences, writes Hugh Reilly
In 1996, Hillary Clinton landed at Tuzla airbase in war-torn Bosnia. According to the allegedly more truthful half of the Clinton political dynasty, the scene that met her on exiting the plane was more chaotic and dangerous than a horde of intoxicated, Benidorm-bound, easyJet passengers stampeding across the tarmac towards the airport baggage hall. “I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles,” she said, with the required amount of awe.
Unfortunately, video footage emerged showing the woman who could be America’s next president egress from the aeroplane with understated elegance, accompanied by her daughter, Chelsea, then 16. Somewhat contradicting her version of running to give the killer behind the crosshairs a moving target, the clip revealed she’d chatted to an eight-year-old Bosnian girl and accepted her gift of a poem.
When she was confronted with this irrefutable evidence of what actually occurred, she laughed it off. “I say a lot of things – millions of words a day – so if I mis-spoke, that was just a mis-statement,” she teased. Clearly, Bill had signally failed to make an honest woman of his wife.
Last weekend, Tony Blair denied any culpability for the sadistic bloodletting in modern-day Iraq. I had hoped he’d uttered his imbecilic words wearing outsized headphones from inside the same glass cage in The Hague that had been home to Slobodan Milosevic, the crystal cube where Radovan Karadzic is the current genocidal-maniac-in-residence.
Instead, I watched breathlessly as the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show gave the UK’s most notorious war criminal the oxygen of publicity. It is Anthony Charles Lynton Blair’s good fortune that his name contains too many vowels for him to be of Serbian ancestry, the essential criterion, it seems, for prosecution. No wonder Ratko Mladic – also rotting away in Holland’s Big Brother House – rails against the injustice of it all; Blair has the blood of more innocents on his hands than Milosevic, Karadzic and Mladic combined.
Blair’s continued strolling of the global stage highlights the hypocrisy of the major world powers. Rather than being indicted for his decision to initiate a war of aggression against Iraq, he was handed the title of Middle East peace envoy by the quartet – that is, the US, Russia, the EU and the UN. In this role, dripping with heavy irony, Blair has sided with the occupier rather than the occupied in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This comes as no surprise to those who have followed the career of one of Fettes’ finest. When prime minister, he appointed his friend, a Jewish businessman, Lord Levy, to be his special envoy to the region, hardly a sign of British impartiality. One can only but imagine the outcry had he chosen an Arab or Muslim acquaintance to be his representative.
His pro-Israel bias is boundless. When Mahmoud Abbas, a leader opposed to an armed liberation struggle, proposed to take a diplomatic, pacifist route to ending colonial rule by asking the UN to recognise Palestine as an independent state, one might have expected a Middle East “peace” envoy to support such a move. However, much to no-one’s surprise, Blair acted like a Jerusalem bag-man for Netanyahu, lobbying EU leaders to oppose the initiative, calling it “deeply confrontational”. Thankfully, the UN General Assembly chose overwhelmingly to give the Palestinian people a semblance of dignity, voting 138-9.
Perhaps the shallowness of his standing is best reflected by the fact that, in the latest round of fruitless efforts to end Israel’s iron-fist rule over four million people, it was Martin Indyk, the US special envoy, sitting in the adjoining room, waiting to nudge negotiations along. This begs the question – exactly what is the point of Tony Blair?
Blair is a man who champions democracy in the Middle East, except in those countries where the electorate dares to unhelpfully choose a politician who is not pro-West. When Mohamed Morsi, the first ever president of Egypt elected via the ballot box, was overthrown by a military coup, Blair rejoiced. “The army have intervened, at the will of the people. In order to take the country to the next stage of its development, which should be democratic, we should be supporting the new government in doing that.”
He complains that the dictator Bashar al-Assad of Syria should have been ousted by western intervention but handily omits to mention that this would have been achieved by arming rebels such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis). The Syrian president’s claim in 2012 that he was fighting terrorists, foreign-backed Islamists and groups linked to al-Qaeda were ridiculed in the UK press – the present situation in northern and eastern Syria and, most frighteningly in Sunni parts of Iraq, vindicates his words, I’d suggest.
Blair is a man who demands we assist loyal allies “in Jordan and the Gulf”. That would be the same Jordan used as an outsourced torture facility by the CIA, their planes being refuelled on 39 occasions at Prestwick airport en route to the Hashemite kingdom; the same Jordan where the king appoints 75 members of the senate, where elections have been boycotted on grounds of systematic fraud. And our nice friends in the Gulf? That would include Saudi Arabia, birthplace to 15 of the 19 terrorists behind the 11 September 2001 attacks and, of course, Bahrain, where protesting against autocratic rule results in years of hard labour or death.
To be fair, I’d argue that Tony Blair is something of a scapegoat, a stooge for others. He couldn’t have led us to war in Iraq without useful idiots in his party who supported their messianic saviour. Blair takes the bullets, acting like a Kevlar® vest for those who cheer-led his path to ingloriousness.
In my view, Blair should be mumbling his pronouncements from behind prison bars. I haven’t mis-spoken.