Tony Blair’s Jesus Christ Sings Edith Piaf performance yesterday at The Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, giving testimony at the Chilcot enquiry into Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War, disappointed a lot of people who hoped he would get nailed – or at least express a few regrets.
I’m not one of them. Now, I enjoy a good scourging as much as the next man, especially in the wake of a war that has cost so many lives, but it seems to me that the expectations of the media and public played into Blair’s (stigmata) hands.
Tone the Catholic convert barrister excels at crucifixions and turned in a performance Mel Gibson would envy yesterday, hanging from the cross of his ‘belief’ that ‘removing Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do’. For all the spears in his side, nothing was made to stick. He won’t need to rise on the third day because unlike Our Lord Jesus Christ he didn’t die – instead he thrived.
Besides, the thing that many if not most people in the UK long to pin on him – personal and complete responsibility for our involvement in a disastrous US war – isn’t something that can be really pinned on any one British politician, however annoying his grin. It has to be pinned on history. The history of the UK’s ‘special relationship’ with the United States.
Blair is more than happy to play the self-aggrandising role he’s been allotted by public opinion and the public is only further infuriated by the evidence of this. Blair of course interprets his role not as The Man Who Invaded Iraq Illegally And Has Blood on His Hands, but as The International Statesman Burdened by Heavy Responsibilities, Special Knowledge and Big Decisions Reluctantly Made to Guarantee Our and An Ungrateful World’s Safety.
But it’s essentially the same role: A bigger one than he deserves. Blair is a much more pitiful figure than most of his enemies are willing to admit.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be offering Blair a vinegar-soaked sponge, but scapegoating him as all sides of the political spectrum want to do – He lied to us! He was sycophantic to Bush! A poodle! A narcissist! – obscures the larger, much more painful issue: that the UK invaded Iraq not because of weapons of mass destruction. Nor Al Qaeda. Nor Saddam’s tyranny. Nor Zionism. Nor even for oil. And certainly not because Tony Blair is a weak man or a strong man. No, in the final analysis there was only one reason why we invaded Iraq. Because the US wanted us to.
Jump is what military satellites of imperial powers do when their master tells them to, and it’s very difficult to imagine that any other British Prime Minister since 1940, with the possible exception of Harold Wilson (and look what happened to him – you can be sure that Blair did) could have said ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to Uncle Sam’s kind invitation, especially after it had been attacked on 9-11. The fact that Saddam had nothing to do with that attack is irrelevant – or at least it was for America’s need for vengeance.
The Tories certainly wouldn’t have said ‘no’, and their attempts now to wriggle out of their enthusiastic support for the war – without which Blair would not have won his Commons war vote – by bleating about being ‘misled’ by Blair is just shameless opportunism.
The former premier that Blair most calls to mind is Anthony Eden, who was forced out of office after the disaster of Suez in 1956. Eden bigged up Nasser as a ‘monster’ threatening his own people and The World – and also famously lied to Parliament to justify invasion, but this isn’t why he ended up shamed and shunned, even more so than Blair. By fatally misjudging America’s wishes, Eden had rubbed the UK’s nose in its post-war subject status. Suez was actually a much more ‘justifiable’ war from the point of view of British interests than Iraq – the canal was British and French owned and the route to (what was left of) the Empire.
But the Americans were not amused: they were competing with the USSR at the time for anti-colonial cred and told us to bog off back home. And we did, pronto. Eden was so reviled at home not for lying as many claimed, or even for losing, but because he succeeded in making it embarrassingly clear to everyone, most especially the French, that the UK no longer had a sovereign foreign policy. He shamed us in the world’s eyes. In our own eyes.
Likewise with Blair. Those loud complaints about Blair’s ‘sycophancy’ to George Bush over Iraq – well, really it’s mostly about how we don’t like to be reminded of our national sycophancy towards US interests, unavoidable as it may very well be. Sometimes its that very unavoidability that makes it so painful.
Blair, ever the actor, decided to make a virtue of what he saw as a political necessity. And in doing so found that like Thatcher before him the US gave him a global stage to preen upon. But this is what the US has done to the UK since the Second World War.
As a military satellite of the US – or unsinkable American aircraft carrier, as the great American anti-imperialist Gore Vidal puts it – we’ve been bigged up by US power as a way of further projecting that power around the world. Like, say, Austria-Hungary was by Germany in the early Twentieth Century, but with slightly less interesting headgear. As a result we have remained far too big for our post-Imperial, post-industrial, post-everything breeches. Though we of course prefer to term it: ‘punching above our weight’. As if punching above your weight was something clever. Even when you’re not teetering as we now are on the verge of bankruptcy.
In hindsight, to save our sensibilities Blair should have made it look like the UK wasn’t so easy. He should have made Bush wine and dine us more – and put up more of a virtuous struggle before giving Bush everything he wanted and was going to get anyway. Instead Tone seems to have gone the whole way on the first date. We feel cheap instead of ‘special’.
True, the way Blair and his minions set about terrorising us and his own party with fairy stories of WMDs was very naughty indeed, but as he now cheerfully admits, if it hadn’t been WMDs it would have been something else. After all, we elect politicians to lie to us. And did anyone, apart from David Aaronovitch, really believe any of it? Something else that shouldn’t be forgotten: Blair would probably still be in power and only hated by a small ‘bitter’ minority of the British public if the US occupation of Iraq hadn’t gone so spectacularly awry – he was remember, like his master Bush, feted by the press and much of the public in the immediate aftermath of the invasion. They only fell out of favour when they seemed like losers rather than winners.
Nailing Blair to the cross of Iraq now won’t change what happened, or even stop something like it happening again. In fact, by obscuring the real nature of our ‘special relationship’ with the US and instead blaming one man’s weakness and mendacity, it may make it easier for it to happen again.
And it is already happening again. In a war that threatens to make Iraq look like a picnic. Despite all the discussion and debate in the UK media about why we’re still in Afghanistan after eight years, what we hope to achieve, and what tactics should be employed, everyone in the media knows – but doesn’t say – there is only one reason why we’re in Afghanistan. Because the Americans are. Everything else is hot air. Or, in the case of Brown’s claims that the war in Afghanistan has to be fought to stop terrorist attacks in London: another 45 Minute WMD lie that no one believes.
Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time of the Iraq Invasion and now Prime Minister in large part because of Blair’s unpopularity over Iraq, is very fortunate to have US imperial interests represented these days by someone much more appealing and persuasive than George W Bush. Someone who gets handed plaudits and Nobel Peace Prizes just for being elected. But however nice his smile is, the Emperor is the Emperor and our troops must still die for him. Why are we sending even more soldiers to Afghanistan? To liberate women, build power plants, and stop people being blown up on London buses? No. They’re going because Barack ‘I-didn’t-vote-for-that-war!’ Obama says so.
Blair should be held to account for his actions of course, but we shouldn’t fall for his self-aggrandising view of himself and history. Even if it takes our mind off the rather vulgar details of the ‘special relationship’ and how embarrassingly, vanishingly small our influence is over our transatlantic boss.
Mark S:I’m sure that Wilson had considerably more principles than Blair knew were possible in a politician; and he was crucified for them. The fact about degree of contribution is that it’s not the number of troops that counts in Iraq and Afganistan , but that the U.K can be listed amongst the agust ‘Coalition of the wiling”; notice that anyone else who joined in could possibly be called a significant nation. Moldovia only sent 24 troops; Estonia 40; Indeed there were hardly enough non-American troups to hold a cookie baking party. Except the U.K .did send 46,000, which is a lot more than anyone else. Notably if Bush had his way he would have each contributor ship their entire populations over en mass.
The fact is that most of these countries were clearly under America’s thumb, and the entire concoction had notion to do with anything but to convince mindless Americans that there was a popular cause: to simulate the prospect of ” WW2 allies, that we were not being fooled, as we were.
Blair literally gave Bush the jewel in that taudry crown which has prevented any Americans to revolt and riot as we did over Vietnam. I dare say that if Britain had staunchly refused-told Bush to shove it- his efforts to promote the war would have been stimied. The so called “Multinational force” without the help of the U.K and Australia would have been a publiciy joke.
We must never forget that America is not like other countries in having a free Press (all Media). Nonetheless, it’s hard to make a mousse out of cow dung, even for Rupert Murdoch.
I hate to bring it down from the intelligent observation that is the above piece, but – y’know, Mark.S… I didn’t particularly want to fuck you before, but… now, I have bone my friend.
Because of Wilson’s wiliness, or perhaps his principles, we didn’t send any troops to Vietnam – the only time we didn’t do as we were told by the American Caesar. MI5 and the CIA almost certainly conspired against him as a result, spreading smear stories. Ironically though, if Wilson had given the Americans the troops they asked for in Vietnam, we might have, like you, long since lost our appetite for rendering to Caesar anything more than the most superficial observances…
Oh, and most Americans have already forgotten the UK’s role as largest non-US contributor of troops to both Iraq and Afghanistan, if they ever noticed.
Jeez, didn’t you guys learn anything from Vietnam? In Australia we got screwed by the incompetent U.S military during that war. Since then we have been a little,ah, diplomatic with military matters concerning America. That is we sign up for the war, send the smallest amount of troops possible (mostly in support roles) and get out as soon as we can. Anything more and you are just flushing troops and money down the drain. Five years after the war the Hollywood romancing of it will have begun and your involvement will be forgotten in the U.S.
Why is the homosexual fascination with personality, style, charisma and surreptitious perversion and freedom so taken aback and flattened by Realpolitik?
Every issue in easy times is about personality: elections, ideology, art … always sex appeal and personal poise. But whenever a glossy, well marketed personally like blair or obama don’t live up to their gimmicks and stage show, everything is INEVITABLE.
If blair has such a narcissism and a martyrdom complex, why couldn’t he have thrown british national interests to the wind and refuse the million little advantages that the american protectorate, mysteriously still called a “kingdom” instead of a principality or vassal, and stand like Wilson, or even more glamourously, Zedekiah against Nebuchadnezzar.
The punishment, were it to be as vile as the putting out of eyes like Zedekiah, would only feed his own fantasy of being a real personality in history.
Yet they never do, when it comes down to the wire. These “personalities” in the west, like blair and obama, always seem to chicken out and follow comfort and money.
Surely no one would argue that Dubya, without the entire US economy and military behind him, was ever any kind of a stronger personality than a poodle like blair. If ever there were an emperor without clothes, W. was it.
Don’t anyone get tired of being suckered?
Your prognosis for the U.S. is tragically coming to full manifestation far to rapidly for much of anyone to see that we’re careening off a cliff. Obama didn’t change much-indeed he just enlarged Bushes military action –committing another trillion dollars to soldiery in Afghanistan.
As this relates to Blair and Britain, just a cursory examination of British newspaper reports(from Corporate Watch) makes it clear that the British Corporate structure took flight in Iraq– 61 large Corporations were engaged, including a major security firm with 20-30,000 employees; mercenaries which did more than British troops and even contributed to the high jinks in Abu Garib. The British Council also approved the use of cluster bombs on Iraqi civilians.
As of 2006, these companies had grossed several billions of pounds. I couldn’t ascertain how much payment came from the U.S. Treasury or from British taxpayers. It wouldn’t matter to Blair since he would be filling private pockets at someone’s expense. But rest assured none of it was used for any good purpose.
It seems that while the U.S. had snakes in wolves clothing for leaders, the British had a pit viper done up like a brain damaged poodle.
As in America, what matters is who pays for campaigns, not the dummies who vote that matter.
Well Mark U did it again with your common sense,and somewhat cheeky perceptions of the real cause of our maladies. Being a 73 yr old american who as a teenager worked during President Eisenhowers 2nd term renomination bid, there was a time when bipartisanism, (as meager as it was,) truly existed. The Republican Party is dead, what you see now is a weak party structure taken over by right wing extremists. It is now officially the Obstructionist Party even though Scott whats his name from Massachusetts is in the news for now. I agree with the pundits that when it gets closer to the more important elections, Mass voters are going to find out that Scott isn’t as moderate as his public image. Lets face it with the current supreme court decision on corporate giving to political causes,it’s just the icing on the cake for these corporate welfare queens. You don’t try to raise moral issues with amoral people. Maybe the future of the USA is with a 3rd world style taliban government with a christian veneer Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin style of puppet rule with the nations infrastructure run by the wonderfully inept corporate “contractors.” By the way i’m a christian believer who feels that much of what passes for “christianity” in this country isn’t! Mark you hit the nail on the head when you identified the real problem of our woes is the usa failing to understand we are the major part of the problem.
Oh, BTW, there is areal Western interest in Afghanistan: The Oil Pipeline from Azerbaijan and Central Asia to the West. All of our Fortresses are interestingly built pricisely along that route. Strange.
I feel a little at a loss trying to assess the British involvement in American imperialistic wars. It is a queer reversal given Europe’s withdrawal from Empire craving after Hitler’s example. America just took the torch from the Nazis in promoting World domination::”The Wolfowitz Doctrine” written during Clinton’s administration.
It has to be kept clearly in mind that Americas adventure as publicly fraudulent as it turned out, did have a clearcut and well executed business agenda–after the failure of dot coms in our economy , the next best business focus was too pillage the Treasury of the many trillions of dollars that were paid to the many (no bid) profiteers who were lined up before the war for destruction, mercenary armies, armaments and then the very high priced reconstruction & fraud which cost the U.S .people 250-400 billion /year in tax money. ( Total cost approximately 9 trillion! ) That excludes Oil of course, which is an ancilary benefit: 4 companies werelined up with contracts before the War.
(BTW one was British)
What the British have to ask, inevitably, is: what kind of pay off did the British business sector get? The people of the UK have to be very naive, if in the light of the outrageous crimes committed against the American people for immense Corporate profits, who gained on your end? I can’t imagine that Blair was just being an innocent albeit stupid play dog for a pit of vipers like Bush, Cheney , et. al. He was brought up in the same kennel as bloodless criminals like Thatcher, after al.
The silly thing About Afghanistan, is that on close examination, none of the goals are even remotely realistic. First, the people they are fighting against are perhaps the greatest resistance fighters in history; when they were occupied by literally over a million Soviet fighters, they whipped their asses. There is not the remotest chance of winning . The more we send troops in the more miserable everyone’s lives become.
Secondly, and more important, Al Queda, who are the World terrorists, who we were supposedly rooting out aren’t there any more. Even the U.S General Franks, admits that they moved on : they’re a world organization. More in our cities than anywhere. We are fighting the Taliban, who are local warlords, with no interest in World terrorism, but only local control of villages. As several experts put it ‘The West is punishing a bunch of hotel keepers, whose residents(al Queda) have long gone, for the guests they had ”
Three, as far as women go , they have more than reaped the harvest of torture and death from being liberated and would rather get back in their Burkhas and live in peace. The men are throwing acid on their faces, condemning them to prostitution, and leaving only a very few women with influential seats in government. They can’t have jobs otherwise.
uroskin: I’m sorry, I coudn’t watch the whole thing it was too tedious. But I did notice that Cherie Blair’s raincoat in that doc when she visits the First World War graveyard has a fussy bit of cloth going down the back that looks like angel’s wings. Cherie: the angel with a gargoyle’s face.
Brilliant writing Mark; a refreshingly clear-eyed and direct critique of Blair’s mendacity. It’s not often I’ve read something like this that really made me laugh too but “Tone seems to have gone the whole way on the first date. We feel cheap instead of ’special’” is priceless.
Blair´s martyr complex is def one for future historians
“I bear the scars on my back after just two years in Government … so heaven knows what it will be like after a bit longer.” 6 July 1999
I think you’re underplaying the role of religion in Tony Blair’s political framework. And especially the role of Cherie Blair in that regard. I just watched a Channel 4 documentary series on the history of Christianity, one epsiode of which was hosted (and presumably scripted) by Cherie lamenting the loss of Christendom in Europe and how much better it is in America where all those mega-churches are the way of the future (even if they never feature a crucifix or religious symbol in their mall-like structures): if the Arndale Shopping Centre somehow could be converted into a religious mall, all should be well with Europe, she basically implied. Her little cosy chat with Laura Bush was creepy, and you really have to ask what the powers behind the thrones in the USA and Britain were during most of the last decade.
Watch here: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/christianity-a-history/4od#2934277