Blair’s hypocrisy remains unmitigated

Published by The i paper (23rd August, 2021)

Ten years ago, I stood in the ransacked residence of the British ambassador to Libya, staring through a hole blasted in the wall of the secure room and surrounded by a sea of papers strewn around the floor.  As I flicked through the letters from Downing Street, diplomatic notes and intelligence documents, I saw the disturbing extent to which Tony Blair  prostrated the British government to appease Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. This included assisting the brutal dictatorship’s security goons, colluding in the torture of terror suspects, and sending over dozens of questions for his foes returned to Libya in an illicit rendition operation mounted with aid of MI6.

Now Blair is back on the warpath, avowedly in defence of democracy. He has broken his silence on the Afghanistan debacle with an essay pontificating in his usual sanctimonious style about leadership, jihadism and the need for “rediscovery” of Western values worth defending. As ever, the former Labour leader is applauded by a devoted army of armchair interventionists, his latest invasion of the political discourse cheered on by arrogant folk who think we can remake the world in our image with arms and floods of aid. Yet once again this self-serving figure – who has become very rich while assisting some of the world’s most repressive regimes – displays the most shameless hypocrisy. 

The former prime minister, who has done so much to undermine democracy and inflame jihadism with his bungling policies, starts his article by asking if we can learn from our experiences before using 2,751 words to demonstrate that he has learned absolutely nothing. This is the man who went into Afghanistan saying it was our duty to build the nation into a prosperous and stable democracy then pumped vast sums of aid cash into the pockets of crooks and gangsters running the country – thus driving up corruption, corroding support for democracy and leaving a country scarred by surging poverty. He justified invasion to destroy the opium trade, yet production soared during our intervention. The West even turned a blind eye to trafficking of boys for sex by some supposed allies.

But if he really cared about building a better Afghanistan, why did he back the disastrous pivot to Iraq that proved so devastating for both nations? This foolish incursion – allied to the humiliation of prisoners, the torture and illegal rendition of terror suspects, and pathetically naive attempts at nation-building – has done more than any other action by Western leaders this century to assist the cause of what he calls Radical Islam. “‘We did it with every jihadist group around the world cheering,” he says now – yet he turns out to be speaking of the latest Afghan withdrawal rather than his own misadventures in the Middle East.

Never forget that the emergence of Islamic State was a direct consequence of his sordid actions that stained the British flag – as was the strengthening of Iran that he complains about in his article. Blair even argues that “Radical Islam” is fuelled by the sense that Muslim people are “oppressed by outside powers and their own corrupt leadership”, yet seems incapable of joining the dots between this sense of injustice and his own blundering policies. He is the person, after all, who not only helped fuel corruption in Afghanistan but also assists cruel despots in places such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, a feudal nation that represses women, murders journalists and has used massive oil wealth to promote an ultra-conservative brand of Islam with dire consequences around the world.

Blair has always been a man who loves to spew out hollow words about democracy and freedom while pursuing policies and deeds that damage the cause he claims to espouse. Foreign policy advisers in his government told me of their frustration at his realpolitik, focused on money and power while they tried to fight for human rights. This led to incidents such as the disgusting appeasement of the Saudis by terminating the landmark BAE bribery case, which subverted both the integrity of our justice system and the critical fight against global corruption. Now he advises Paul Kagame, the bloodstained Rwanda dictator, and gushes about this “visionary leader” who kills dissidents and has created carnage in a neighbouring nation.

The former New Labour prime minister is a tragic figure. He arrived in Downing Street proclaiming an ethical foreign policy but became a warmonger who shattered the Middle East. Then he went off to take fat cheques from autocrats, grubbing his way around the world while trying to still be a major player. Still a messiah in his own mind, Blair offers discomforting contrast to his pal George W Bush, who also left office with a badly stained image and low satisfaction ratings. The former US president, for all his many faults a more compassionate character than you might suspect, has spent subsequent years seeking some kind of atonement through his support for military veterans, especially those left with mental or physical wounds.

Blair is right that Britain needs to reflect on its global role and the West needs to rediscover values and interests that are worth defending. Democracy is in crisis in many places where it seemed most firmly established, even as people risk their lives and freedom in other parts of the planet for the noble cause. Yet this politician, who came to office offering such shiny hope and left amid swirling despair due to his failures, is a symbol of much that has gone wrong with our leadership. He dares end his article with a call for humility, an attribute he has never shown. He is simply a brazen hypocrite, spouting shallow platitudes and writing disingenuous essays while ignoring his culpability for carnage in foreign countries, the damage done to democracy and his own starring role in the destruction of support for liberal values.

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