| ‘Sphinx without a riddle’ Tony Blair: When ignorance is Bliss!

Tony Blair: when ignorance is bliss ~ Matt Carr’s Infernal Machine.

Every time I write about Tony Blair, I tell myself that it will be the last time.  But then I find myself coming back, time and again, like a dog to its vomit.   It isn’t because Blair is so interesting in himself.  On the contrary, the more he appears in the media and utters his banal and narcissistic pronouncements, the more he reminds me of a cross between the gardener Chance in Being There and Bismarck’s depiction of Napoleon III as a ‘sphinx without a riddle.’

For me Blair’s interest, such as it is, derives from his political role, and particularly his role in the Iraq war and a dangerous and fervid promoter of the new 21st century militarism.   Last week, there was a sharp and disturbing article by Chris Doyle , the director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU), which drew attention to an aspect of the Blair phenomenon that I have always found striking and inexplicable; the often breathtaking shallowness that underpins so many of his judgements and positions – particularly when they have anything to do with the Middle East.

Doyle’s piece contains the following anecdote:

‘Shortly after Tony Blair set up shop as the Quartet Representative in the luxurious American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem he met a group of former Parliamentary colleagues. To the jangle of jaws dropping on the floor, he confessed that before he had come out there, he had not realised just how little he really understood about the Israel-Palestine conflict as Prime Minister. The reality on the ground was so much worse then he had ever imagined.’

This is the man who the ‘Quartet’ sent to bring peace to the Middle East, who once told the Labour Party Conference in 2001 of his determination to ‘re-order’ the post-9/11 world ‘from the deserts of northern Africa to the slums of Gaza, to the mountain ranges of Afghanistan’.

This is not the first time Blair has made grandiose pronouncements on subjects he knows nothing about.  In his book on the Iraq war, the Guardian journalist Jonathan Steele once described how Blair met three academic experts on Iraq at 10 Downing Street during the build-up to the Iraq war to discuss what might happen after the invasion.

You might think that consulting established experts such as Toby Dodge, Charles Tripp and George Joffe when you are about to go to war was  the mark of a wise politician, willing to recognize the gaps in his own knowledge and keen to remedy them through consultation.

According to Steele,  the three academics each made short presentations in an attempt to give Blair some insight into the complexities of Iraqi society and politics and the possible consequences of military action, but the would-be liberator was not interested in such trivia.

Charles Tripp told Steele that Blair ‘wasn’t focussed. I felt he wanted us to reinforce his gut instinct that Saddam was a monster. It was a weird mixture of total cynicism and moral fervour.’

Tripp later recalled how

‘At one point, Blair said something like: “Isn’t Saddam Hussein uniquely evil?”There was a muttering from this group of 21st-century academics as if to say: “What’s this man on about?” I thought, no, Saddam’s not unique, and as for evil, well, that’s his statecraft!’

George Joffe told Steele that he came away with the impression of  ‘someone with a very shallow mind, who’s not interested in issues other than the personalities of the top people, no interest in social forces, political trends, etc’.

Once again,  the most disturbing aspect of Blair’s ignorance is not just what it says about Blair himself.   Since 2008 Blair has been giving a course at Yale University on ‘faith and globalisation’; governments pay millions for his advice; he picks up vast fees for speaking engagements to elite gatherings across the world; he continues to be regarded by the British and American media as the go-to man on anything to do with the Middle East; banks pay him huge salaries as a consultant.

Despite his disastrous record in Iraq, he continues to be taken seriously when he calls for new ‘interventions’ in Syria and Iran; when Newsnight commemorated the Iraq anniversary, he was given a twenty-minute respectful interview by Kirsty Walk; both Cameron and Miliband treat him like some wise elder statesman; according to Doyle ‘One politician visiting the US State department last year came away stunned at the high regard Blair was held in.’

All this for a man who again and again has demonstrated that he has no idea what he is talking about, whose record in Iraq – leaving aside the question of the criminality of the war – is one of gross negligence and recklessness.   Yet the political and media elites continue to consider him an expert and an authority, as though nothing ever happened.

All of which suggests that Blair’s cliches and ill-informed assumptions and delusions about terrorism, Islam, the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict  are actually useful in some way – at least to some people and institutions, and that the reputation that he has acquired in certain circles was not achieved in spite of his shallowness and ignorance – but because of it.


Blair Innocent

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| ‘Useless, useless, useless!’: the Palestinian verdict on Tony Blair!

‘Useless, useless, useless’: the Palestinian verdict on Tony Blair ~ MATTHEW KALMAN, JERUSALEM, The Independent.

Palestinian officials say Tony Blair shouldn’t take it personally, but he should pack up his desk at the Office of the Quartet Representative in Jerusalem and go home. They say his job, and the body he represents, are “useless, useless, useless”.

Mr Blair became the representative of the Middle East Quartet – the UN, EU, US and Russia – a few weeks after leaving Downing Street. Last week, he visited the region for what he said was the 90th time since being appointed in June 2007. He spends one week a month based in Jerusalem or globetrotting on behalf of the Quartet. His office is funded by the Quartet members and his 24-hour security detail is on secondment from Scotland Yard but he receives no direct salary.

After four years of renting 15 rooms at the American Colony Hotel for his full-time staff, Mr Blair put down more permanent roots in 2011 by renting the penthouse of a new office building in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem.

But senior Palestinian officials and analysts told The Independent the move was unnecessary – his sojourn in the region should be cut short. “The Quartet has been useless, useless, useless,” Mohammed Shtayyeh, an aide to the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said last week. He suggested that its constant need to reach internal consensus among its warring participants had rendered it ineffective.

“Always the statement of the Quartet really means nothing because it was always full of what they call constructive ambiguity that really took us to nowhere,” said Mr Shtayyeh, who had just ended a meeting with Mr Blair. “You need a mediator who is ready to engage and who is ready to say to the party who is destroying the peace process ‘You are responsible for it’,” he said.

Mr Shtayyeh is not alone. Last February, the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy at The Brookings Institution pronounced the body already dead in a report bluntly entitled The Middle East Quartet: A Post-Mortem.

“The Quartet has little to show for its decade-long involvement in the peace process. Israelis and Palestinians are no closer to resolving the conflict, and in the few instances in which political negotiations did take place, the Quartet’s role was usually relegated to that of a political bystander,” said the report. “Having spent most of the last three years in a state of near paralysis, and having failed to dissuade the Palestinians from seeking UN membership and recognition in September 2011, the Quartet has finally reached the limits of its utility.

“The current mechanism is too outdated, dysfunctional, and discredited to be reformed. Instead of undertaking another vain attempt to ‘reactivate’ the Quartet, the United States, the European Union, United Nations, and Russia should simply allow the existing mechanism to go quietly into the night,” the report concluded.

Mr Blair rarely travels to Gaza, citing security reasons. The Quartet website features a number of achievements in the West Bank, including the removal of Israeli army checkpoints and upgraded facilities for exports. Palestinian and Israeli officials told The Independent that the Quartet appeared to be taking credit for other people’s work.

“I think in general Palestinians are disappointed by the performance of the Quartet,” said Ghassan Khatib, vice-president of Birzeit University near Ramallah and a former Palestinian Authority cabinet minister. “I cannot think of any serious thing that the Quartet succeeded to help us in.

“Sometimes Tony Blair speaks about removing checkpoints, but I think Israel was going to remove these checkpoints with or without the Quartet,” said Dr Khatib. He said the Quartet’s announcements about assisting the Palestinian economy were as hollow as their political achievements, but he stressed that his attitude wasn’t personal. “It has nothing to do with Tony Blair … I think it’s the Quartet that failed to deliver.”

Mr Blair’s Jerusalem office did not respond to a request for a comment.

Timeline: Blair’s peace-making

June 2007

Tony Blair appointed Middle East envoy on behalf of the EU, US, UN and Russia.

May 2008

Launches peace plan for Israel-Palestinian conflict based on improving economic co-operation.

March 2009

On a visit to Gaza, Mr Blair calls on Israel to ease its blockade.

September 2011

Mr Blair warns that a bid for statehood at the United Nations by the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would be “deeply confrontational”.

October 2011

Nabil Shaath, one of the senior aides to President Abbas, has harsh words for the Palestinian leader, accusing him of talking “like an Israeli diplomat”.