Blair’s legacy in Middle East is peace poor
Published by The Sun (29th May, 2015)
Once he promised to transform Britain. Instead Tony Blair became a despised figure around the world. And now what is probably the final act in Tony Blair’s political career has ended in abject failure as he leaves his job as Middle East peace envoy.
Given his dismal record, there is little surprise the former Labour prime minister is departing from the role he took upon leaving Downing Street eight years ago.
Allies insist he is standing down of his own accord – but many others believe he is an ammoral character who has been forced out after becoming an impediment to stalled negotiations.
This is the latest installment in the tragedy of Tony Blair as he flits around the world making millions giving speeches for those who many see as despots, aiding dictators and advising feudal monarchies.
He has become a perma-tanned parody of that passionate young politician who once captivated his country by preaching his New Labour gospel at home and pledging to spread democracy around the planet.
But from the moment Blair was appointed in June 2007 as envoy for ‘The Quartet’ – comprising the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia – there were fears they had picked the wrong man for the job.
Diplomats said he lacked credibility in the region, despite his efforts in Northern Ireland.
Blair is, after all, the politician who kept changing the terms of his war in Afghanistan and then promoted the 2003 invasion of Iraq on false grounds. This bungled intervention and its botched aftermath led to the explosion of sectarian divisions scarring the region, symbolised most starkly by the blood-stained rise of the Islamic State zealots.
Many key figures with IS are battle-hardened veterans of Saddam Hussein’s regime; only last month his former deputy was shot dead fighting with the fanatics. Meanwhile Iran has become steadily stronger across the region.
Blair blames everyone apart from himself for the carnage and chaos.
Incredibly, he was still claiming the world to be a better place for Saddam’s removal and banging on about weapons of mass destruction just a couple of years ago.
No wonder the Palestinians did not trust this delusional character, declaring him ‘personna non grata’ and branding the Quartet ‘useless, useless, useless.’
Blair faced accusations he was absent much of the time, spending barely three days a month in his Jerusalem office.
Boasts of bringing economic development led to little more than a mild boost for tourism while unemployment remains rampant in battered Gaza.
He was slowly sidelined by his beloved EU, which stopped funding his office in 2012 and became increasingly exasperated by his limp efforts, and then by the Americans.
Even Israel, which twice attacked Iranian-backed Hamas in Gaza during his tenure, came to see him as largely irrelevant. ‘What came as a shock wasn’t him leaving, it was that he was still in office,’ said analyst Meron Rapoport.
Meanwhile there were deep concerns Blair was blurring divisions between his charitable, commercial and philanthropic roles. Suspicions grew that his primary motivation was self-enrichment as his wealth swelled to join the ranks of the super-rich he so admires.
Such fears were highlighted two months ago when The Sunday Times obtained a contract in which Blair proposed a £30m deal to advise the United Arab Emirates while working as Middle East peace envoy. His diplomatic role ensured unfettered access to leading players in the region.
But at the same time he has made millions advising countries such as Kuwait alongside corporate clients such as US banking giant JP Morgan and an oil group linked to the Saudi royals.
Six years ago he met the Emir of Kuwait in his capacity as peace envoy. He took along his former Downing Street chief of staff Jonathan Powell, then adviser to Tony Blair Associates – which later won a contract reported to be worth £27m to advise the Emir’s government.
Blair totally denies any conflict of interest throughout his time as envoy.
Meanwhile he lends fig-leaf respectability to tyrants such as the loathsome Paul Kagame in Rwanda, whose private jet he has borrowed, and Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev, to whom he offered public relations advice after the massacre of unarmed protesters.
In Egypt he even praised an army coup for putting the country on the path to democracy, ignoring the plight of hundreds killed and thousands of dissidents stuffed into jails.
Yet still Blair talks in that familiar pious style about his faith, his focus on doing good works and his fervent desire to spread peace and prosperity around the planet.
Certainly he has boosted his own prosperity – but peace in the Middle East looks more remote than ever as Blair departs from a diplomatic posting that seemed so dubious from the very start.