Friday, August 05, 2005

Blair’s delusions by Mahir Ali

IT was reported the other day in Britain that Tony Blair had told family members and close political allies that he had no intention of contesting another parliamentary election. Unfortunately, the next British general election could be almost five years away, and Blair has offered no indication of when he intends to step down as prime minister.

Last month offered an opportune time to go, as the blowback from Britain’s biggest foreign policy disaster since the Suez crisis hit the streets of London. However, Blair says he does not believe his decision to tag along as a sidekick to cowboy-president George W. Bush as the latter set out to conquer Iraq had anything to do with the terrorism in London.

According to one recent opinion poll, more than 65 per cent of Britons disagree with this assessment. Another survey puts the figure closer to 85 per cent. Then there’s the MI5, various other intelligence networks, think tanks, scores of media analysts. Is it possible that they could all be wrong while Blair spearheads the veracious minority?

Yes it is possible. But in this case it certainly isn’t true. And, in fact, if Blair seriously harbours the delusion that events in Iraq had no bearing whatsoever upon the recent events in Britain, then his precarious grasp of reality ought to disqualify him anyhow from occupying any position of power or responsibility.

There are reasons to suspect, though, that Blair has all along been reasonably well aware of his actions and their possible consequences. In the unlikely event of finding himself in the dock, at some point in the future, before a war crimes tribunal, George Dubya may be able to get away with pleading diminished responsibility. Not so Tony.

In his case, temporary insanity might be a more successful ploy. After all, it was a moment of madness that led him down the slippery slope to aiding and abetting unprovoked aggression against a sovereign state: the moment he decided that legality, morality, compassion and common sense be damned, he was going to follow wherever Bush and the neocons led, because that’s where Britain’s best interests lay. The majority of Britons did not agree, but that did not matter then any more than it does now.

It was, of course, a monumental error, the nature of the enormity laid bare not by of anything that has happened, or may happen, in London, but by all that has occurred in Iraq over the past two years or so. As Andrew Murray, chair of Britain’s Stop The War Coalition, puts it, “Every day is July 7 in occupied Iraq, where Britain has, along with the US, arbitrarily, violently and unlawfully constituted itself the de facto authority.”

No one other than Blair can say for certain whether he is clear in his mind about the consequences of his collaboration with the Bush administration, yet there are subtle indications that he harbours a guilty conscience. There are times when, as Shakespeare might have put it, the (not quite) honourable gentleman doth protest too much.

In recent weeks, for instance, his consternation at suggestions that the London bombings may not have occurred but for Britain’s participation in the aggression against Iraq has taken the shape of remarkably spurious arguments. Those claiming a connection between the two sets of circumstances have been accused of making excuses for the terrorists.

The absurdity of this charge can be illustrated through a historical example. Almost all historians agree that the humiliations Germany was subjected to in the aftermath of the First World War contributed significantly to a national mood that facilitated the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

I seriously doubt whether anyone has ever accused any of these historians of making excuses for Nazism. Not on this account, anyhow. Because no one has ever presumed that an explanation for the genesis of Nazism somehow diminishes the evil inherent in that ideology.

As Michael Moore plainly puts it in one of his highly readable polemics, Tony Blair is not an idiot. He must know the difference between explanations and excuses. It may well be the case, however, that he thinks he has little choice but to go the whole hog in following the lead from Washington. Explanations were scorned or at least sharply frowned upon in the wake of 9/11, as if any attempt to discover causes for the atrocities would somehow legitimize the vicious actions of Mohammed Atta and his gang.

This supremely unintelligent and potentially self-defeating approach is of a piece with the reluctance of governments to acknowledge serious mistakes they or their predecessors may have made in the past. Not a single member of the Bush administration, for instance, has publicly suggested that US support for Saddam Hussein in the Reagan years just might have been an error of judgment. And it took General Pervez Musharraf to point out what the Bush and Blair regimes won’t openly concede: that the international jihadi menace dates back to the crusade against the communist regime in Kabul, when the West encouraged and financed the import of mujahideen from all over the Muslim world, some of whom eventually turned on their erstwhile sponsors. However, Musharraf, too, fails the historical truth test by virtue of his dogged refusal to admit that Pakistan is reaping the Islamist whirlwind primarily as a consequence of the seeds sown by a previous military ruler. Frankly facing up to the sins of the Ziaul Haq years is a necessary (albeit not a sufficient) condition for undoing a decade’s worth of serious damage to the fabric of Pakistani society. The plan to exclude foreign students from madressahs is typical of the present administration’s half-measures.

The proposed registration of all madressahs by the end of the year may prove largely meaningless. The question that needs to be asked is: Does Pakistan need madressahs at all? Beyond obscurantist indoctrination, is there anything they offer that cannot be provided at regular schools and in university faculties dedicated to religious knowledge and inquiry?

Intriguingly, among the various notions Tony Blair has liberally been spouting of late is his determination to spread the “true message” of Islam. The idea of a western stamp of authentication for any particular brand of their religion is unlikely to find favour among many Muslims. However, should he find himself at a loose end whenever he decides to conclude his tenure as prime minister, might it not be prudent for Pakistan to offer him gainful employment as comptroller-in-chief of madressahs? Such a posting would, after all, go a long way towards allaying western suspicions about the aims and curriculums of these institutions. Blair, after all, is a pious man whose enthusiasm for single-faith schools in Britain would translate well to the new setting.

In the event, it would be best not to allow him to recruit any of his mates from Washington, because that would only unleash dogmatism all over again. That unendearing trait has manifested itself this week in Bush’s decision to appoint UN-hater John Bolton as his ambassador to the United Nations without Senate approval. That’s not entirely unlike sending Jack the Ripper to a convent (or even to a bordello). With nearly five years of White House experience behind him, the US president could write the textbook on how to win enemies and infuriate people. The trouble is, he’s virtually illiterate. Perhaps Condi Rice could ghost it for him.

Blair might not require a ghost-writer when he eventually gets down to the task of penning his memoirs. But will he be honest enough to acknowledge his grievous errors and offer a mea culpa? I somehow doubt it. It won’t matter much, though. His flaws as a veritable heir to Margaret Thatcher’s neo-liberal legacy would have damned him anyhow.

The massive miscalculation that led to British troops revisiting Iraq more or less guarantees a Macmillan-like reputation for Blair. He will probably try to claim more than his fair share of the credit for the peace process in Northern Ireland that led to the last week’s announcement by the Irish Republican Army that it was ending its armed campaign. But even in that context, chances are that he’ll draw the wrong conclusions.

The fact that the IRA’s goal of a united Ireland was always defensible never justified its terrorist tactics — even though, as it has frequently been pointed out in recent weeks, the risk to civilian lives was usually minimized via phoned-in warnings. That goal has not been achieved, but former Labour deputy leader Roy Hattersley pointed out in The Guardian on Monday that the effective dissolution of the border between Ulster and the Republic of Ireland was only a matter of time because of economic compulsions.

That may seem like a rose-tinted vision, and it is not inconceivable that a degree of unrest may lie ahead before the partition of 85 years ago is undone. The fact remains, however, that Northern Ireland no longer appears to be under British military occupation, and the peace that prevails today — notwithstanding misgivings among Catholic and Protestant communities — is the consequence of negotiations. With former terrorists. And prospects for a settlement only manifested themselves once the British government recognized that no military solution to the conflict was possible.

A comparable strategy cannot be expected to work with those wedded to the idea of a universal Islamic caliphate or some such claptrap, but, somewhat like the unrepentant Real IRA, they can be sidelined by pursuing a sensible course that includes ending the occupation of Iraq.

Unfortunately, sensible courses and Tony Blair no longer have anything in common. His place in history will be determined not by any achievements he may have to his credit but by his relationship with the Bush doctrinists. In other words, there’s more ignominy to come.

1 comment:

MPH said...

“Let us be realistic about the U.N. It has served our purposes from time to time; and it is worth keeping alive for future service. But it is not worth the sacrifice of American troops, American freedom of action, or American national interests.”
– John Bolton, from the 1997 Cato Institute Tract Delusions of Grandeur.