Tag Archives: Tony Blair

Why Shoe-Throwing Hordes Should Back Off Blair

I was against the Iraq war from the very start.  Back in college a friend and I won a debate arguing against the war (see page 6 of the link).   As a European transplant in the United States, I protested the war as it began.  I remember waving a provocative anti-war sign in heavily Republican St Joseph, Mich. I counted a personal victory the time a driver gave me and my friends the finger as well as when one incensed local decided to make a countering “Saddam’s Convenient Idiots” sign and drive slowly past my band of protesters.  The decision to invade Iraq cemented my dislike for and lack of confidence in George Bush.  But the same could not be said about my feelings towards Tony Blair. To me, Blair had made a horrible mistake but was not the war criminal and failed leader that he was accused of being.

With the exception of the Iraq debacle, however monumental, Blair was an absolutely brilliant politician. I was in the UK and had just finished high school when he came into power in ’97.  I remember the jubilation and his undisputed popularity.  He was hot stuff. He oversaw a very prosperous near-decade in the UK; the sun-setting of the worst of IRA violence in Northern Ireland and had the powers of leadership and communication that saw Presidents Clinton (Monica Lewinsky) and Bush (any time he needed to sound coherent) scrambling to have him at their side, adding credibility to their voices as only he could.

Electorates, no matter where they are, are very fickle and Blair’s merits were lost sight of as the Iraq war dominated conversation for much of the last decade.  The latest evidence that the public cannot bring itself to focus on anything Blair-related but the war is the drama surrounding the release of his memoirs “A Journey:  My Political Life”.  His released his book in Ireland to a reception that included shoe and egg throwing.  The latest fad?  If you want to declare Blair a war criminal and are simply missing the political fire power to pull it off, you can join the Subversively move Tony Blair’s memoirs to the crime section in book shops group on Facebook.  The group has over 12000 members and if you are bored and narrow-minded enough, you too can join its blinkered, army of Facebook crusaders.

Here’s why it is ridiculous to be so hard on Blair though:  In stark contrast with Bush’s record that resulted in few achievements of any importance other than the war, Blair not only brought peace to Northern Ireland but is also focused on – and actively involved in shaping – the future in the Middle East.  Look at the way he talked about the 2008 election:  “Barack [Obama] was the supreme master of realism, cautioning an approach based on reaching out, arriving at compromises and striking deals to reduce tension.” (Christiane Amanpour – ABC)  Blair has been very supportive of Obama’s Middle East policies, especially praising him for, right from the very start or his presidency, seeking resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Blair’s work in the Middle East since stepping down as British Prime Minister is evidence of his ability to put the past behind him and make progress in the most tumultuous region on the planet.   Bush so far has stuck to Texas-ranch-bound work on his memoir.  Blair’s work as Middle East quartet representative (for USA, the UN, Russia and the EU) shows that he cares about progress even when the spotlight has shifted from him.  What worked in Northern Ireland was a consistent, purposeful approach to tackling the terror, the violence and the underlying politics.  Blair’s focus on the Middle East and the partner he has in the Obama administration present some of the best chances yet for successful mediation in the region.  The recently renewed talks between Israel and Palestine are a good sign, as is the fact that Israel is hinting that it is entertaining the idea of ceding control of parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority.  Blair’s interest in and involvement in this process may well ease the overly harsh view the public currently has of him.

Blair is remarkably honest in how he looks at his years in power (despite the fact that there was that time when a Google search on the word “liar” would turn up his name as the first result).  As he talked about his new autobiography he said: “The whole point about the book is that it’s a journey. The journey is that I started as a politician that wanted to please all of the people all of the time… By the end I was wondering if I was pleasing any of the people any of the time.”  And that is politics.  It trashes even the brightest of stars.  But Blair is back, he’s staying relevant and he knows the journey isn’t over.

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Bjorn Karlman

Running On Empty: New Information on Post-Iraq Invasion Blair

Empty Gas Tank 2

Tony Blair was going to resign as UK Prime Minister back in 2004. After inciting the biggest culture clash in modern UK history by supporting Bush’s invasion of Iraq, Blair was a very depressed man. The End of the Party, a new book to be published March 1, 2010 by the The Observer‘s Andrew Rawnsley says (according to The Guardian), “Tony Blair descended into such a deep depression after the Iraq war that he told Gordon Brown and John Prescott (both key figures in his administration) that he would quit No. 10 [the PM’s office] the following summer.”

The End of the Party describes how Blair’s special envoy in Iraq briefed Blair at the end of his time in Iraq that the conditions were “unbelievably bad” and would deteriorate further. ” ‘What can we do?’ pleaded Blair. ‘We have told them [the Americans] again and again what we think is necessary. If it doesn’t happen, what can we do?’ Greenstock was left with the image of the prime minister ‘tearing his hair’ over Iraq and ‘throwing his hands in the air’.” (The Guardian)

In supporting what was seen by the British public as an oil-greedy mistake by a blood-thirsty dimwit with Daddy’s agenda, Blair committed the unpardonable sin.  The British public was much more skeptical about the war than the American public. While American reactions to Bush’s actions were often divided along party lines, British disdain for Blair was overwhelming.  Blair was openly referred to as Bush’s poodle, a sell-out willing to compromise his integrity to preserve Britain’s then-coveted “special relationship” with the US.

“He was very low, he was very lonely and he was very tired,” Rawnsley quotes Blair’s friend and colleague, Tessa Jowell, as saying about Blair at the depth of his misery.  Blair’s stress level was so high that he says he “spaced out” several times during the time-honored British tradition of Prime Minister’s Questions and would frequently wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.

As if the extreme disapproval with his decision was not enough, Gordon Brown (favored as Blair’s successor), was furious when Blair regained some self-confidence and reneged on his decision to resign. An eyewitness of one conversation (quoted in The End of the Party) says, “Gordon was just losing it. He was behaving like a belligerent teenager. Just standing in the office shouting: ‘When are you going to f*****g go?’ ”

It took Blair’s wife and several close allies to get him through the worst of his anguish.  “Come on. Buck up. Buck up. Think of what you’ve got to achieve. You’re the best politician in this country by a mile,” said his friend Peter Mandelson, who himself had survived many a political storm.

Eventually, the embattled Blair did pick himself up but the damage had been done.  One of the most popular politicians in recent UK history had been forever sullied by allying himself with the trigger-happy Texan who permanently marred not just Middle East relations but the foreseeable future of Anglo-American partnerships.

Bjorn Karlman

European America Bashing Going Out of Vogue?

USA world dominationIn most of the countries I’ve lived in (including the United States), there is always a group of people that is hellbent on some quality America-bashing.  America’s global policing, its economic bullying, it’s worldwide export of popculture, George W. Bush – the list seems endless when it comes to beef with the United States.  Before living in the US, I would gladly participate in these bashing sessions.  It just felt right somehow –  a way to get back at the country equivalent of the chubby playground bully with too many toys.

After moving to the the United States for college, my views started to change.  Part of it was having American friends.  Instead of seeing America as summed up in the ideology of a certain political leader, I saw real people.  While l thought of Bush’s post 9/11 foreign policy in the Middle East as sheer lunacy, I was able to separate my thoughts on this very polarizing leader from the many conversations that I had enjoyed with American friends of mine that seemed very balanced in their views regarding America and its place in the world.

As I began to identify myself more and more closely with the United States, a sense of loyalty to my adopted country emerged and I caught myself defending the United States abroad.  When fellow Europeans would point out the death penalty and the huge economic disparities in America as evidence that the United States was a backward playground for cowboys, I would counter with the fact that huge parts of the American population are very vocal in their opposition to these very same things.

In a May 13, 2007 article from The Washington Post titled “4 Myths About America-Bashing in Europe”, William Drozdiak talks about what he calls the “love-hate melange” between Europe and the United States.  He asks: “Why has U.S. stature in the world eroded?  Opinion polls cite widespread dismay with the Iraq war, our dog-eat-dog social model and the arrogance of an imperial superpower that places itself above international law.”  Despite all this, Drozdiak claims that there is a “reservoir of goodwill waiting to be tapped among foreigners who would prefer to see the United States succeed rather than fail.”

He makes the point that European political leaders are actually fairly pro-American.  France’s Sarkozy is very supportive of the United States.  Angela Merkel in Germany has made a number of high-profile visits to America. Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and the current PM Gordon Brown are both good friends of the US.  Also, especially young Europeans seem to want to study and work in the US.

As for social models, Europe is learning the pitfalls of running welfare states and is looking to the United States for ideas on possible reforms.  Of course, American popculture is all the rage.  Finally, Europe is not limited to liking only American Democrats.  Although most hated George W. Bush, nobody wants flimsiness in foreign policy à la Clinton’s early 90s policy that allowed the Balkan attrocities to take place more or less unchecked.

Since Drozdiak’s 2007 article and despite the ongoing strife in the Middle East, Barack Obama’s outreach to this part of the world does not go unnoticed in Europe.  Obama’s diplomatic overtures won him the Nobel Peace Prize.  The dramatic facelift he has given the United States in terms of international diplomacy and goodwill has made this one of the easiest times to travel as an American in Europe for decades.  So there’s hope for a warming of relations in the next decade.  Especially if baby boomer American tourists leave their ghastly white sneakers stateside when they hop the pond.

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Bjorn Karlman