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

12 thoughts on “Why Shoe-Throwing Hordes Should Back Off Blair”

  1. Thanks, Bjorn. Another excellent piece.

    Lest we forget, he did pretty well on the home front too (inter alia):

    – introducing the minimum wage
    – introducing the winter fuel payments
    – initiating the New Deal to help people into work
    – reducing homelessness to its lowest level since the 1980s and investmented in social housing
    – repealing Section 28 and introduced civil partnerships
    – banning fox hunting
    – tripling the overseas aid budget

  2. I don’t know, man, sometimes you gotta know when to fold ‘em. It seems that Bush gets it. As Bill Clinton runs around the country and globe trying to keep the spotlight, George Bush knows that his time is over. I don’t know if Blair is being like Clinton, but when you say that Blair still cares about progress “even when the spotlight has shifted from him,” it seems that sometimes the motivation for “still caring” is – much like Clinton – precisely because they still want the spotlight.

  3. Thanks Kate, we did need input from an actual Brit:) And I absolutely agree, his progress at home was substantial. It was not just the weakness of the Tories that led to him winning term after term. How are Cameron’s austerity measures working out?

  4. I am sure you are right on the motivations for staying active. Ego has got to be a major driver. But quite frankly, I would rather have Clinton, Blair (even Bush) involved in productive ways than for them to lose what influence they’ve got left as soon as they leave office.

  5. I never liked Kerry or Reid a lot and Iraq doesn’t improve how I think about them. Iraq was a mistake and anyone that supported it has to live with the fact that they contributed to one of the greatest foreign policy disasters of modern times.

    It was nice to see how Boehner jumped up and down all over that CBO news back in May. Nobody is claiming that health care reform is flawless but I have yet to see a coherent case for it increasing the deficit. And it was the right thing to do on a very basic, human level. America needed to catch up with the rest of the west.

  6. So something that was obviously untrue from the beginning is only an unjustified lie if it is used to sell a policy that you don’t support? Government programs almost always get more expensive as time passes. The government rarely underestimates the cost of a program. It has already gone from being a big budget saver to a revenue neutral bill in a matter of a couple month without virtually any of the bill being implemented so far. You don’t think the budget projections are going to get worse?

    I think you are going to owe me a billion dollars if these numbers keep moving in this direction…at least I believe that was my offer when we discussed how much the bill would really cost.

  7. I’ll admit that my bias in support of this law will skew my views in terms of its financial viability long term. But based on the fact that even the dire predictions in your above link, still project some savings and based on the fact that health care will be provided to so many that previously went without, I think I have good reason to stand my ground. Greed and lack of concern for your neighbor can only go so far.

  8. Something’s wrong with the link… who wrote the review? I am at B&N right now and have resisted the urge to page through it… even at 30% off…I know I will eventually.

  9. It isn’t about greed, it is about numbers and economics. It is nice if everyone can have a gold plated watch, but that isn’t how the world works.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703309704575413263344491010.html

    You allowed yourself to be sold something that was pretty easily discerned as being untrue. It isn’t as clear at this point yet. I get that. I just don’t want you to be like the people who are still waiting for WMD to be discovered after 10 years of looking. It won’t happen, and neither will the savings on health care because of Obamacare. They, just like WMD, do not exist.

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