||Gamal Nkrumah pays tribute to the killjoy PM who craved presidential power
Let sleeping dogs lie low. The resignation of the British premier yesterday was cause for celebration in the Arab world. During his decade at the top, he assiduously maintained the Thatcher legacy at home and abroad, consecrating the status quo, the unjust world equilibrium dominated by pax americana. He is out of a job, and most people in the region pray that he will not metamorphose into some other beastly guise to plague us further.
So why does Blair get shoved down the dustbin of history as a particularly crawly creep? His successor, Gordon Brown, has already begun to stake out his own positions. We can only hope he will come through on his promise to restore the primacy of parliament and to give MPs more opportunities to hold the government to account, including allowing them the right to vote on any future military action. Future British premiers should not be permitted to emasculate the world's oldest parliament. It is also hoped that Brown will order an immediate withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.
What is this man's legacy? As Simon Jenkins so aptly pointed out in the Sunday Times, having turned the Labour Party into "the hedonistic party of excess, Blair let Britain live and breathe the new Thatcherism". Is this, however, the entire explanation? And is this something you would want as your epitaph?
"Hand on heart, I did what I thought right," Blair crooned at the end. But his catalogue of shortcomings and overseas misadventures was without end. He once regreted to Roy Jenkins that he had never studied history, and it most definitely showed. Iraq was his great undoing, but on many fronts, he lacked the political will and the moral courage, despite his incessant moralising, to overcome his shortcomings and admit his mistakes.
Blair never conceded the evil done by past and present exploitation of Africa's people and vast agricultural and mineral resources in an unjust world economic system. He was comfortable with Britain's role on the world stage as a neocolonial power. He took full advantage of the fact that the governments of the former colonies in Africa and the Arab world were susceptible to pressure from Western powers.
So what was the reason for Blair's obstinate refusal to publicly acknowledge his gross errors of judgement? Astoundingly, he learnt no lessons from the Iraq war, adamantly dismissing any idea of backtracking on his Iraq policy. The Blair government had absolutely no democratic mandate to go ahead with the aggression against Iraq, but that seems to make not the slightest dent in his smile, even today.
In his emotional 17-minute swan song speech he outdid the most demagogic populist leaders of the national socialist yesteryear. "This is a blessed country. The British are special. The world knows it, we know it, this is the greatest country on earth," he had the gall to say with a straight face, for once dropping his ubiquitous smile for dramatic effect. This certainly is not the speech of a frank politician. This particular kind of nationalistic political posturing quite naturally provokes only hostility from the underdogs of this world.
Jingoism in its worst form appealed to Blair and flared up periodically during his 10-year leadership. However, his mistaken presumptions went deeper than wild jingoistic sentiments. He deliberately cultivated a false image of himself as some kind of a saint. This holier-than-thou public image fits well with his current very public intention to embrace Catholicism as soon as he resigns -- as PM he was effectively head of the Anglican Church and had to restrain his martyr complex. God forbid.
"I think most people who have dealt with me think I am a pretty straight sort of guy, and I am," Blair was quoted as saying back in 1997. He insisted on being called Tony, cultivating a man-of-the-people image. But he proved to be anything but straightforward. Indeed, he has become the very embodiment of knavery and deceit in the eyes of most people in the Arab and Muslim worlds. His jocularity masks a dark Machiavelli every bit as ruthless as his beloved Catholic mentor. This moral imperialism dressed up as compassion for the poor of the world is what really accounts for Blair's obstinate refusal to acknowledge his gross errors of judgement. Oh, and his overriding egotism.
Nothing that either Bush or Blair say is credible. The more Bush sings Blair's praises, the more tarnished Blair's image is in the Arab world. "When Tony Blair tells you something -- as we say in Texas -- you can take it to the bank," United States President George W Bush said in a farewell speech. Bush called Blair a "long-term thinker". Blair saw America as the superpower he had to influence if he was to progress. His greatest desire seems to have been to influence decision- makers in Washington. By sticking so close to the US, for a brief period after 9/11 he could fantasise that he ruled the world. In the final analysis, Blair simply ended up taking orders directly from the hawkish clique within the Bush administration. Indeed, Bush publicly acknowledged that Blair served American interests well. The "special relationship" between America and Britain with its roots in the days of WWII continued to thrive under very different circumstances which could only elicit disgust and have left the world with an ever growing crisis of epic proportions in the Muslim world.
But even as he resigns, Blair is being touted as the great hope for mediating the Middle East peace process. Pardon me? He launched the war in Iraq. He is an outspoken supporter of Israel. He is widely derided as a lapdog of Bush, and Washington is completely discredited in the Arab world. Both Bush and Blair disregarded the democratically-elected Hamas government in Palestine, exposing the hollowness of their yearning for "democratisation" of the Middle East. Public opinion in Arab countries is totally against the Bush-Blair duo. Is this so hard to see? His latest diplomatic mission is doomed from the start, even if Russian President Vladimir Putin's lack of enthusiasm is overcome and Blair gets the "Quartet's" green light -- the Quartet consisting of the US, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia.
And in his own backyard, Blair worked hard to wreck the European Union. "I have no truck with a European superstate. If there are moves to create such a dragon I will slay it," Blair trumpeted recently. Despite his sugary demeanour, he is deeply anti-Europe, and will go down in history as one of the chief architects of an incapacitated Europe, a Europe that could have played a prominent role in international affairs, including the future of the Middle East, if it only had the courage.
Blair never understood why he accomplished so little during his premiership, despite all the fanfare about reforms in education, health, the House of Lords, reshaping the world order, and on and on. "Blair adopted Thatcherism with the fanaticism of an uncritical convert," noted Jenkins, but what he lacked was her "capacity to make things happen". Is there a silver lining there? What if he had made things happen?
© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly