Sunday, 27 October 2013

In praise of Blair the Peacemaker

What a disappointment it would be to meet one of the great figures of our time and find they didn’t live up to their reputation.

Imagine meeting George W. Bush (Bush the lesser, that is, or perhaps I should say, even lesser) and find him suave, witty, insightful?

Meeting Robert Mugabe and finding him gentle, cordial and sensitive?

Meeting Maggie Thatcher and finding her self-effacing, diffident and open to the ideas of others?

Equally, it would be horrible to discover a Tony Blair unafraid to admit his errors, happy to share credit for his achievements and prepared to atone for, or at least admit to, his untruths.

Tony Blair showing how foreign self-satisfaction is to him
So it was wonderful to see Blair writing in the Guardian about his ‘pain, passion and empathy’ and what he’s learned about peacemaking. His article is a fine tribute to his efforts as a peacemaker, making it quite unnecessary for me to sing his praises. It is also a glorious example of the use of the truth to deceive. 

It’s true that the Good Friday agreement which brought a measure of peace to Northern Ireland, was Tony Blair’s greatest achievement. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t celebrate it, and in this article he does little else. It’s also true that he speaks highly of the Irish players in the drama, including the then Prime Minister of the Republic, Bertie Ahern. He even gives credit to the Americans, Bill Clinton and George Mitchell, but then he never suffered from any failure to behave obsequiously towards leaders from the United States.

What he doesn’t mention is any of the British involved in the process. Mo Mowlam, for instance, gets no mention, but then she was an independent-minded woman not unwilling to tell Blair when she disagreed with him. Nor does he mention John Major, his predecessor as Prime Minister.

Now I don’t think anyone can accuse me of knowingly giving a Conservative credit for anything unless I absolutely have to, but the Good Friday agreement didn’t leap from Blair’s brain fully-fledged, like Pallas Athene springing fully-armed from the head of Zeus. It took years of careful preparation, rather longer than the eleven months Blair had between his election and the signing ceremony.

After years of mishandling of the province by Margaret Thatcher, descending to its most ludicrous when she had actors voicing over the words of Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams in TV interviews (so we weren’t hiding his words, just his voice), John Major put in some serious spadework. It involved both judicious use of intelligence operations and early, secret negotiations. It prepared the ground for Blair’s triumph.

See what I mean? Blair’s right to claim the success, wrong to hide the contribution of others to making his breakthrough possible.

But, of course, Blair’s worst silence in the article doesn’t concern Northern Ireland at all.

When we think of Blair, what is the first issue that comes to mind? Is it really Northern Ireland? Is it indeed peacemaking?

Surely the name of Blair will be forever associated with a another part of the world, and with war far more than with peace. And not any old war: a probably illegal war, waged in Iraq for no better reason than one of the worst American presidents of all time, Dubya, wanted to. It was a war, furthermore, which threw the region into even worse turmoil than before while costing an obscene number of lives.

That’s Blair’s real legacy. And it has given him the reputation for duplicity that haunts him still – deservedly: we
’ve discovered from the Snowden revelations that the intelligence services know a great deal more than they should, not a great deal less. A secondary effect of those disclosures must be that they had a good idea there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and so Blair was either unforgivably ignorant of the truth, or recklessly economical with it.

Yet of that he had nothing to say in his article.

Perhaps a second article, a sequel, in which he admits his lying and his errors. Wouldn’t that be a refreshing change? Perhaps a shock though, as completely out of character.

And I certainly won’t be holding my breath.


Anonymous said...

I share everything you say here; put very clearly and with passion.


David Beeson said...

Thanks, San. It was infuriating seeing him being so sanctimonious, wasn't it?