The Unbearable Lightness of Being Tony Blair

At some point in the New Year Tony Blair will appear before the Chilcot Inquiry established by the British government to assess the historical ‘lessons’ of the Iraq war. Few individuals bear more responsibility for the invasion and its calamitous aftermath than Blair. Not only was his single-minded determination crucial in bringing his own country into the war, but his close political relationship with the Bush administration, also helped US hawks present the case for war to a sceptical American public.

The consequences of this intervention are well-known; hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths and four million refugees and internally displaced persons; thousands of British and American soldiers killed or wounded; an Iraqi society devastated by war and counterinsurgency, by criminal and terrorist violence, ethnic cleansing and death squads; a neo-colonial occupation marked by torture and brutality and barely-credible levels of financial corruption and incompetence.

All these consequences constitute one of the most extraordinary disasters – and one of the greatest crimes – in British political history. Yet the man who did so much to make this disaster possible has yet to be made accountable. The Chilcot Inquiry is unlikely to make much progress in this direction. Sir John Chilcot has already made it clear that his inquiry does not intend to ‘apportion blame’ and his commission contains two of Blair’s self-professed admirers. Blair himself will undoubtedly be at his slickest and most Teflon-like best, indignant at any suggestion of lowly motives behind his actions or slurs on his ‘reputation’. But accountability is necessary, and not only because of Iraq. As one of the most militaristic prime ministers in British history, Blair is an emblematic symbol of the new imperial violence of the 21st century. More than any other Western leader, he embodies the oxymoronic fantasy of ‘humanitarian’ warfare and the doctrine of liberal interventionism that makes such wars possible.

The Liberal Crusader

Posterity will struggle to unravel the disconcerting combination of evangelical moral fervour, cynicism and narcissism, and duplicity that marks Blair’s trajectory on the world stage. Blair has always attributed his decisions as a leader to a principled determination to ‘do the right thing’. Like Margaret Thatcher before him, he has often presented himself as a conviction politician, but Blair has shown an almost plaintive desire to be admired as a noble and heroic figure, grappling with difficult decisions at the lonely summits of power. At a ‘National Prayer Breakfast’ for Barack Obama earlier this year, he told the incoming president:

When I was Prime Minister I had cause often to reflect on leadership. Courage in leadership is not simply about having the nerve to take difficult decisions or even in doing the right thing, since oftentimes God alone knows what the right thing is. It is to be in our natural state – which is one of nagging doubt, imperfect knowledge, and uncertain prediction – and to be prepared nonetheless to put on the mantle of responsibility and to stand up in full view of the world, to step out when others step back, to assume the loneliness of the final decision-maker, not sure of success but unsure of it.

The mixture of fake humility, narcissism and self-congratulation is vintage Blair. At no time in his premiership did he give any indication that the knowledge that informed his actions might be ‘imperfect’ or incomplete. His speeches and interviews are punctuated with expressions such as ‘I believe that…’ or ‘I have absolutely no doubt that…’ to presage even the most dubious or tendentious claims, as if the mere fact that he believed them was sufficient proof of their truthfulness.

Where George Bush cultivated a more folksy sincerity, Blair was always more eloquent, sure-footed and plausible, with an ability to appeal to very different audiences and constituencies. These qualities already evident during Blair’s first appearance as a principled liberal interventionist during the NATO bombing of Serbia in March 1999 – a war that Blair described in typically Manichean style as ‘a battle between good and evil, between civilisation and barbarism.’ In his famous ‘doctrine of international community’ speech delivered in Chicago in April 1999 he described the NATO campaign as a the product of a new concept of ‘international community’ in which states no longer pursued the selfish national interests of the past but were ‘guided by a more subtle blend of mutual self-interest and moral purpose in defending the values we cherish’. These principles ignored the fact that the war had been launched by NATO in order to bypass the United Nations that represented the ‘international community.’ When Blair evoked ‘the tear stained faces of the hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming across the border’ from Kosovo as a justification for intervention, he did not mention that this exodus had taken place after the war had begun, when the Serbian president Slobodan Milosovic with characteristic ruthlessness ordered the mass expulsion of 800,000 Kosovars in retaliation for the NATO bombings.

Blair’s statement of principle also ignored the fact that the war was essentially a gamble – even a reckless one – that was relatively cost-free to those who launched it. Both Blair and Clinton had assumed that air power would force Milosovic into an early surrender without the need to commit troops on the ground. When this did not happen, NATO began to escalate its bombing raids and air strikes on Serbian cities and economic ‘infrastructure’. Had Milosovic not capitulated on 11 June, NATO would have been forced to intensify the bombing of Serbian cities and carry out a ground invasion, and the notion of a humanitarian war might have looked even more threadbare.

Coming at the end of a grim decade punctuated by bloody catastrophes in the Balkans and Rwanda, the war was nevertheless widely supported across the British political spectrum. Kosovo crystallised an emerging consensus amongst conservative and liberal writers alike, which argued that Western – and more specifically American – military power could be used for moral and humanitarian purposes.

Few people were more seduced by what he called the ‘imperfect instrument’ of military power than Blair. It was in this period that Blair’s self-belief began to mutate into something more messianic, and his sense of his own greatness was matched by equally grandiose aspirations for his country. In December 1999, he called for Britain to become a ‘beacon’ to the rest of the world that would ‘stand up for justice and carry the torch of freedom everywhere where there is injustice and conflict, whether in Kosovo or East Timor.’

Even then, there were contradictions in this agenda. In 1997, Blair overruled an attempt by his Foreign Secretary Robin Cook to ban the sale of Hawk fighter jets to Indonesia as part of an ‘ethical foreign policy’ limiting arms sales to regimes with poor human rights records. Few countries had records as bad as Indonesia, but Cook’s interpretation of ‘ethical’ was at odds with Blair’s commitment to British Aerospace (BAE) – a commitment that would later lead him to block an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into alleged malfeasance in the company’s dealings with Saudi Arabia. In 2000, BAE sold Hawks to Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe. Two years later, Blair personally helped persuade India to buy sixty Hawk jets at a time when India and Pakistan were on the brink of full-scale war. Nor did Blair’s moral commitment to human rights prevent him from supporting Vladimir Putin’s brutal assault on Chechnya, as a quid pro quo for Russian acquiescence in NATO’s war in Kosovo.

Blair himself had always qualified the idealistic component of his ‘doctrine of international community’ by arguing that the decision over whether to take military action should be dependent not just on whether force was morally desirable, but on whether it was practically feasible and in the national interest. Both conditions appeared to be present in the fortuitous British intervention in the Sierra Leone civil war in May 2000, when a small contingent of 1,000 troops was sent to evacuate British nationals and inadvertently helped to stabilise the country and bring its deposed president back to power.

The Road to Iraq

Blair’s sense of what was possible and desirable was radically altered by the 11 September attacks on the United States. The attacks brought all Blair’s messianic instincts to the fore, so that he seemed to see himself as an indispensable figure in a world-historic drama. In the weeks after 9/11, he briefly became the Pied Piper of the war on terror, travelling back and forth across the world in an attempt to rally international support behind US military action against what he called the ‘new evil’ of ‘mass terrorism’.

This urgency was not accompanied by any evidence of original or independent insight into the phenomenon that he described. In a speech to the Labour Party conference on 2 October 2001, with NATO only days away from a military assault on Afghanistan to topple the Taliban, Blair raised the question of whether an attempt should be made to ‘understand the causes of terror’. He immediately rejected the ‘moral ambiguity’ that such an effort might involve, since ‘nothing could ever justify the events of September 11 and it is to turn justice on its head to pretend it could.’

Very few people were attempting to ‘justify’ the attacks, but not everyone was prepared to attribute them to metaphysical evil. Some of Blair’s own party had reservations about the impact of NATO bombings on Afghan civilians. Blair insisted, ‘The action we take will be proportionate; targeted; we will do all we humanly can to avoid civilian casualties.’ His rhetoric then reached visionary heights, with the promise that

The starving, the wretched, the dispossessed, the ignorant, those living in want and squalor from the deserts of North Africa to the slums of Gaza, to the mountains of Afghanistan: they too are our cause. This is a moment to seize. The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us reorder this world around us.

These pronouncements were partly intended to legitimize an American-led military operation whose objectives were not nearly as ambitious or utopian as he described. Blair’s invocation of a new 21st century white man’s burden was strongly influenced by the more hard-headed ‘defensive imperialism’ propounded by the Foreign Office intellectual Robert Cooper, one of the few British foreign office officials in Blair’s inner circle. Cooper first came to public attention in April 2002, when he published an article in The Observer newspaper in which he argued that ‘post imperial, postmodern states’ were obliged to use ‘double standards’ in dealing with rogue or failed states in ‘zones of chaos’ such as Afghanistan, which might require ‘the rougher methods of an earlier era – force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary to deal with those who still live in the nineteenth century world of every state for itself.’

This was a fairly exact description of Blair’s own worldview. In a speech to the Lord Mayor’s banquet in London in November 2002, he argued that the war on terror was a ‘new kind of war’ that could be directed against specific states as well as terrorist groups, since ‘States which are failed, which repress their people brutally, in which notions of democracy and the rule of law are alien, share the same absence of rational boundaries to their actions as the terrorist.’ Stripped of its contemporary references to terrorists, rogue states and WMD, Blair was reprising an old trope from British imperial history – that of the ‘mad’ foreigner who can only be subdued by civilising violence. One of the states where Blair observed an ‘absence of rational boundaries’ was Iraq, in an early indication of his willingness to comply with the new agenda that was beginning to take shape in Washington.

There is no space here to analyse in detail the devious and duplicitous strategies through which Blair manoeuvred his country into the Iraq war, but it is worth recalling the broad contours of this process. Blair’s support for American military action in Iraq was already evident as early as March 2002, according to the leaked memo by his special foreign policy adviser David Manning on a recent visit to the White House. In it Manning informed Blair that he had assured the Bush administration that ‘you would not budge in your support for regime change, but you had to manage a press, a Parliament and a public opinion that was very different from anything in the United States’.

These differences are crucial to understanding Blair’s political strategy in the long build-up to war. For more than a year, he repeatedly denied that military action in Iraq was inevitable and insisted that he was merely trying to get the United Nations to pressure Saddam to disarm. Subsequent leaked documents, such as the ‘Downing Street memo’ make it clear that the ‘UN route’ was not intended to avert war, but to create the conditions in which war became inevitable. To ensure this outcome, Iraq policy was directed by Blair and a small coterie of special advisers, who systematically and relentlessly set out to terrify the British public and present Iraqi as a clear and present danger to British national security. In the September 2003 ‘dodgy dossier’ entitled “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: the Assessment of the British Government,” Blair declared:

What I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued in his efforts to produce chemical and biological weapons, that he continues in his efforts to produce nuclear weapons, and that he has been able to extend the range of his ballistic missile programme… I am in no doubt that the threat is serious and current.

It is impossible to know if Blair really believed these declarations, partly because it is difficult to disentangle what he actually believed from what was politically convenient, and also because his own slippery and often contradictory explanations often shifted once it became apparent that these claims were false. Carne Ross, a diplomat with the UN with long experience of Iraq who resigned in protest at the war, later told a parliamentary committee ‘I knew that evidence they were presenting for WMD was totally implausible… All my colleagues knew that too.’ Blair’s disenchanted Secretary of State for International Development Clare Short also claimed that she was told by Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) officials that any chemical or biological material that Iraq possessed ‘almost certainly wasn’t weaponised’. In his resignation speech in protest at the war, Robin Cook declared emphatically that no intelligence information he had ever seen had claimed that Saddam possessed WMD.

Why was Blair so certain when others so doubtful? Why was his government forced to draw on intelligence material of dubious and even laughable quality, from crude forgeries to an outdated Phd thesis plagiarised from the Internet to prove its case? Why did it control the flow of information to the point when Blair’s own cabinet was barely informed on a range of crucial issues, such as the 13-page opinion piece by the Attorney General on the legality of the war that was whittled down to a 300-word summary?

These questions have yet to be conclusively answered. On 30 September 2003, amid mounting criticism of the post-invasion chaos in Iraq, Blair attempted to explain his decision to support military action by asking the Labour Party conference to imagine the dilemma in which he found himself after 9/11:

I believe the security threat of the 21st century is not countries waging conventional war. I believe that in today’s interdependent world the threat is chaos. It is fanaticism defeating reason. Suppose the terrorists repeated September 11 or worse. Suppose they got hold of a chemical or nuclear dirty bomb; and if they could, they would. What then? And if this is the threat of the 21st century, Britain should be in there helping confront it, not because we are America’s poodle, but because dealing with it will make Britain safer.

It is impossible to know how much this explanation really described his state of mind before the war. But it did not explain why military action was necessary against a regime that did not have the weapons he described. Even as Blair’s inner circle talked up the threat of Iraq publicly, they often struggled to understand the urgency themselves. In a diary entry on 3 September 2002, Blair’s pugnacious press officer Alastair Campbell records a discussion about Iraq which raised the questions ‘Why now? What was it that we knew now that we didn’t before that made us believe we had to do it now?’ The answer comes from Blair, who says that ‘dealing with Saddam was the right thing to do’ and was ‘definitely worth doing.’

According to Campbell, Blair was convinced that ‘it would be folly for Britain to go against the US on a fundamental policy, and he really believed in getting rid of bad people like Saddam’. Blair may have been sincere in his detestation of Saddam’s regime. But such loathing was not matched by any awareness of the politics and history that made his regime possible – or the potential consequences of its downfall. The Guardian correspondent Jonathan Steele describes how Blair was visited at Downing Street shortly before the war by three leading British Middle East experts, who tried to impress on Blair that Iraq was a ‘very complicated country’ with ‘tremendous inter-communal resentments’ that might not be containable if Saddam was overthrown. According to Steele, these arguments made little impact on Blair, who merely replied, ‘But the man’s uniquely evil, isn’t he?’

The three academics were reportedly dumbfounded by this simplistic response. One later described Blair as ‘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’. Another recalled his ‘weird mixture of total cynicism and moral fervour.’ This was not the only occasion when Blair was warned of the potentially negative consequences of military intervention, but they did not affect his belief that regime change was ‘right’ or that it would be successful.


In The March of Folly, a collection of essays on disastrous historical decisions from the Trojan horse to the Vietnam war, the historian Barbara Tuchman noted a recurring tendency to ‘wooden-headedness’ on the part of governments and rulers – a phenomenon she defined as ‘assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs.’ These observations can certainly be applied to the Iraq war – and to Blair’s contribution to it. His diplomacy was partially successful in persuading the Bush administration to override its more unilateralist instincts and accept the return of the UN inspectors to Iraq. But things went awry when the other members of the security council refused to accept that Iraq was in breach of its resolutions and asked for the inspectors to be given more time – an objective that clashed with the US military timetable.

At this point Blair was forced at last to declare his hand. Blaming the pusillanimity of the French and Germans in not committing themselves to military action, he argued that Iraq was now in breach of the security council’s resolutions and that war had become unavoidable. While millions of people marched against the war worldwide, Blair prepared to ‘liberate’ a country he knew almost nothing about, a country that was not a real place but a fantasy onto which he and his acolytes projected their dim sense of moral purpose. In a speech in November 2002 announcing the beginning of NATO’s war in Afghanistan, he insisted that ‘no country lightly commits forces to military action and the inevitable risks involved.’

But few wars have ever been undertaken with such a serene and blissful disregard for the consequences than the Iraq invasion. Blair’s supporters have described the British participation in the war as a noble and principled intervention, but there is little evidence of nobility or principle amongst the coterie of special advisers and officials who made it possible. The Times editor Peter Stothard’s fly-on-the-wall portrait of Blair and his circle before and immediately after the war reveals men and women with no obvious motives at all, beyond an unquestioning loyalty to their superiors and to ‘Tony’ in particular. They are minions and war flies, floating in the slipstream of American military power, whose excitement at the drama of vicarious warfare is matched by a pervasive cynicism that reveals itself their own in-house jargon, such as the verb ‘to Kofi’ – a semantic device based on the UN Secretary-General which Stothard translates as meaning ‘we had better obscure this bit of military planning with a good coat of humanitarian waffle.’

For Blair and his acolytes the moral uplift of humanitarian war cannot be disturbed by dead and wounded bodies, destruction, grief and terror. Their war is a war of memos, emails, and press briefings by mobile phones fought by bureaucrats, spin doctors, and apparatchiks obsessed with avoiding negative newspaper headlines and dictating the news agenda. At the same time these carpeted combat zones are dominated by male officials intoxicated by the long-distance drama of bloodless telegenic conflict. Blair himself demonstrates an almost boyish enthusiasm for the war. When he asks for ‘bigger maps’ of Iraq to be pinned up in his Downing Street ‘den’, even the faithful Sally Morgan observes that ‘he would really have liked a sandpit with tanks.’ Asked by Stothard how he feels about the ‘deaths of children’ caused by the ‘avoidable act’ of the Iraq invasion, Blair once again manages to turn other peoples’ tragedies into a testament to his own moral grandeur:

He puts down the fountain pen. Behind his gaze there is a momentary blankness. Aides have spoken of how much he has felt the responsibility of shedding blood. He speaks of being ready ‘to meet my maker’ and answer for ‘those who have died or have been horribly maimed as a result of my decisions’. He accepts that others who share a belief in his maker, who believe in “the same God”, assess that the last judgement will be against him…. He talks of how he has to isolate himself when people are dying from what he has decided he must do. He talks of how he has to put barriers in his mind.

These ‘barriers’ were also evident in the aftermath of the invasion. In January 2004, with Iraq slipping into a vortex of chaotic violence and insurgency, the British ambassador to Iraq Jeremy Greenstock later recalled how Blair ‘didn’t want to understand the full horror of what he was hearing from us.’ When the horror became unavoidable, Blair refused to accept any responsibility for it and blamed anyone else, whether it was al Qaeda, local terrorists or neighbouring countries such as Syria and Iran. In April 2004 fifty-two former British ambassadors wrote an unprecedented open letter to the prime minister in April 2004, which pointed out that

The conduct of the war in Iraq has made it clear that there was no effective plan for the post-Saddam settlement. All those with experience of the area predicted that the occupation of Iraq by the Coalition forces would meet serious and stubborn resistance, as has proved to be the case. To describe the resistance as led by terrorists, fanatics and foreigners is neither convincing nor helpful.

Blair has never accepted such criticisms. Year after year, he continued to reiterate the same refrain that ‘he was not sorry for getting rid of Saddam ’ while ignoring or downplaying the consequences that followed. He showed a similar dishonesty as the repercussions of the Iraq war began to reach Britain. In 2004, a Home Office and Foreign Office report concluded that the risk of terrorist attacks in the UK had significantly increased as a result of the Iraq war and that many British Muslims had become disillusioned by ‘a perceived “double standard” in the foreign policy of western governments, in particular Britain and the US’.

These conclusions were echoed by both mainstream security analysts and intelligence agencies – but routinely rejected by Blair himself. On 7 July 2005, these predictions were proven brutally accurate by the suicide bombings on the London Underground during the G8 Summit in Gleneagles. At a press conference that day, Blair delivered his ritual interpretation of such events:

Our determination to defend our values and our way of life is greater than their determination to cause death and destruction to innocent people in a desire to impose extremism on the world. Whatever they do, it is our determination that they will never succeed in destroying what we hold dear in this country and in other civilised nations throughout the world.

The ‘martyrdom videos’ released by the 7/7 attackers left no doubt that their actions were intended as a response to western military action in the Muslim world and Iraq in particular. Whatever else can be said about this ‘justification’, it had nothing to do with Blair’s sonorous platitudes. His refusal to accept that his own actions may not have made his country ‘safe’ may have been due to genuine conviction, but there was always a suggestion of something more cunning and devious behind Blair’s description of himself as ‘a pretty straight guy’.

Blair has always been an unwavering supporter of Israel. Throughout Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon in July-August 2006 he publicly deplored what he called the humanitarian ‘catastrophe’ caused by the war, while refusing to support a ceasefire that might have brought this catastrophe to an end, in order to give Israel more time to achieve its war aims and crush Hezbollah.

On 18 July 2006 a microphone at the G8 Summit inadvertently recorded a conversation between Blair and George Bush, in Lebanon, in which the two men criticized Kofi Annan’s attempts to broker a ceasefire. When Bush tells Blair that his Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice will shortly be going to Lebanon to discuss ways of bringing the war to an end, Blair offers to go himself to ‘prepare the ground’ and argues that ‘if she goes she might have to succeed, as it were, whereas if I went I could just talk.’

It is worth pausing to consider the implications of this astounding statement Here is Blair the great humanitarian crusader, offering himself as a peace envoy, not to secure a peace agreement, but so that he can ‘just talk’ – and prolong the war. The same devious duplicity has been evident in his role as the Quartet Envoy to the Middle East. Though Blair has presented himself as an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he has remained as supportive of Israeli interests as he was during his time in office.

Given the task of ‘strengthening Palestinian institutions’ he colluded in the American-Israeli-EU blockade imposed on Hamas in Gaza. The man who had once hailed the ‘slums of Gaza’ as ‘our cause’ often expressed his concern at the impact of Israeli restrictions on the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, but his few public pronouncements on this issue made it clear that he believed that Hamas, not Israel, was ultimately responsible for them. In December 2008 he gave an interview to the newspaper Ha’aretz which made it clear that he was aware that a major Israeli military action in Gaza was being planned. When Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in January the following year, his silence was broken only by the usual expressions of humanitarian concern, which studiously avoided any criticism of the military action itself.

Such behaviour may explain why Blair was awarded a £1million award from Israel’s Dan David Foundation in 2009 for ‘his exceptional leadership and steadfast determination in helping to engineer agreements and forge lasting solutions to areas in conflict’. In January that same year, he received a presidential medal of freedom from the departing George Bush in recognition of his efforts to promote “democracy, human rights and peace abroad”, together with a Congressional Gold Medal bearing his own slogan ‘our real weapons are not our guns but our beliefs.’ Blair has also accrued less symbolic rewards for his advocacy of the former. Within months of leaving office he was recruited as an advisor to JP Morgan Chase, with an annual salary of £1m, followed by a similar appointment at the Zurich Financial Service that netted another £500,000. That same year he was appointed special envoy for the UN- US-Russian-EU Quartet to the Middle East. Today he is reportedly the highest-paid public speaker in the world, charging up to £400,000 for half hour speeches on the international lecture circuit.

In addition to appearing on tv chatshows and radio programs and delivering lectures on various continents, Blair has maintained a frenetic international schedule that at times seems to make him a ubiquitous presence. Blair also has a cyber-presence on MySpace and also on Facebook, where visitors can buy copies of an imprint of his hand to raise money for charity (‘an awesome item for fans of Tony’). His two charitable institutions, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and the Tony Blair Sports Foundation have been associated with a range of issues, from climate change and malaria to child obesity and interfaith dialogue.

Faith has become a dominant theme in the new career of a politician who famously did not ‘do God’ while in office. Shortly after his resignation, Blair converted to Catholicism – a conversion that has dovetailed seamlessly with his relentless acquisition of wealth. In April 2009, he explained the purpose of his Faith Foundation to the Toronto Star in the following terms:

It is true there are two faces of faith: one reactionary, extreme, occasionally violent; the other, compassion, love, fellowship and solidarity. So the task for the foundation is: first, to help people understand different faiths better so they can understand different cultures more fully; and, second, to promote faith as part of progress and reconciliation, not a focus for conflict and sectarian divisions.

Which of these two ‘faces’ belongs to Blair himself is open to question. In April 2009, he delivered an unrepentant speech in Chicago that revisited his ‘doctrine of international community’ and accused Iran of sponsoring or ideologically supporting terrorism across the world, from Mumbai to Somalia. Blair insisted that the West should continue to use hard and soft power against a terrorist enemy that ‘kills the innocent’ and ‘creates chaos in a world which increasingly works through confidence and stability.’ Nowhere in Blair’s speech was there any recognition of the chaos generated by the ‘interventions’ that he had promoted so avidly and continued to insist on. There were only the same simplistic binary formulations, the same sanctimonious paeans to ‘our’ values, the same ability to harness grand moral principles to current American propaganda tropes.

Blair’s sense of his own greatness is clearly impervious to self-doubt and he now appears to believe that he is God’s instrument on earth. Others appear to see him in the same way. In August 2009, he took time off from a holiday on the software millionaire Larry Ellison’s yacht to deliver a speech to the prestigious Communion and Liberation conference at Rimini in which he condemned ‘the restless search for short-term material gain in a globalised economic system’. Incredibly, in October 2009, Blair was proposed by the British government as a candidate for the first president of the European Council. His supporters claimed that Blair’s star quality would create a ‘motorcade effect’ that would be beneficial to Europe. Many of Blair’s compatriots breathed a sigh of relief when European leaders took a different view, but his supporters are clearly as besotted with their hero as they ever were. And whatever conclusions the Chilcot Inquiry reaches, the triumph of this vain, hollow and dangerous man is a bleak reflection of his times, in which as Yeats once wrote in a different context:

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Matthew Carr is an English writer, journalist, and the author of three books, two of which have been published in the US: The Infernal Machine: a History of Terrorism from the Assassination of al-Qaeda and the just-released Blood and Faith: the Purging of Muslim Spain, both published by New Press. Read other articles by Matthew.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Leslie Ann Jones said on December 3rd, 2009 at 10:22am #

    I appreciate reading something that focuses on the power of Blair in the mistakes made. His eloquence and “airs” of greater respectability certainly made it harder to calm the terrified knee jerk free reactions fter 9/11. You can’t really blame the populations who were feeling so afraid and turning to leaders like children, but you can certainly blame those who made the irrational and murderous seem completely rational through their Cult of Personalities.
    On the postive…

    the aftermath and losses of of soldiers lives, economic devastations, and how the effects of war will ripple through their families a few genarations (with PSTD problems) and bleed into society(back on home soil worse than 9/11 or the terrorism in the UK) is creating a growing louder wake up call which will make it harder for a Narcassist to rise to the top again cloaked like saving Messiah figure.

    Amen to that.

  2. Michael Kenny said on December 3rd, 2009 at 12:37pm #

    Re “President” Blair: I’ve always thought that his candidacy for President of the European Council (NOT the Union!) was hyped into existence by anti-EU elements in the British media, knowing perfectly well that he had no chance of getting the job. Idem for Milliband. They knew he wouldn’t accept the job of High Representative. The point was to hype up a “defeat” for Britain: “Brown returns empty-handed”, “Slap in the face for Britain in Brussels”. The stories were probably already written! The Member States beautifully turned the tables, of course, by appointing a man largely unknown to the British public, thus killing off all the howling about a European “superstate”, but then appointing a British High Representative who was herself largely unknown outside Britain. A beautiful example of why the EU functions so well: something for everybody and nothing that anybody cannot live with.

  3. onecansay said on December 3rd, 2009 at 7:28pm #

    From Chaos comes (NW)Order.:

    “The starving, the wretched, the dispossessed, the ignorant, those living in want and squalor from the deserts of North Africa to the slums of Gaza, to the mountains of Afghanistan: they too are our cause. This is a moment to seize. The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us reorder this world around us.”

    Referring to America on behalf of the Crown? Maybe!:

    “This was a fairly exact description of Blair’s own worldview. In a speech to the Lord Mayor’s banquet in London in November 2002, he argued that the war on terror was a ‘new kind of war’ that could be directed against specific states as well as terrorist groups, since ‘States which are failed, which repress their people brutally, in which notions of democracy and the rule of law are alien, share the same absence of rational boundaries to their actions as the terrorist.’ Stripped of its contemporary references to terrorists, rogue states and WMD, Blair was reprising an old trope from British imperial history – that of the ‘mad’ foreigner who can only be subdued by civilising violence.”

    Everything the British do is “noble and principled”:

    “Blair’s supporters have described the British participation in the war as a noble and principled intervention, but there is little evidence of nobility or principle amongst the coterie of special advisers and officials who made it possible.”

    Blair makes more than Bush on tour”?! Say it ain’t so Martha.

    B&B both say that “God”(read Satan) told them to do it. No wonder both have that blank stare of “where the fuck am I”.

  4. Annie Ladysmith said on December 4th, 2009 at 12:31am #

    TO: MATTHEW CARR, YES, WELL DONE, GREAT SPEACH on these militarised little assholes who are O! SO QUICK to spill other peoples blood. CATHOLIC, YEAH, well, he could be a Dominican and he’s heading to HELL with those terrors of the Inquisition.

    Where do they find these people? What depths of soil must be dug up to find something like Toni Blair? Yes, he does have ‘barriers’ in his brain. Honestly, he must have alter-personality parts, it does seem likely that he has been ‘artificially’ created to be so full of cliches, inappropriate dialog, and insane bullheaded determination to causes he hasn’t the foggiest notion about.

    Clinton definitely had alters. I think they manufacture these anti-leaders in order to do whatever they want in the world, very clever. Iraq didn’t have a central bank, they were outside the ‘matrix’. Also the boxes of chemical and biological weapons they blew up in situ, outside of Fallugia, had US, UK, and Russia stamped all over them according to eyewitnesses.

    These guys are BAD NEWS!

  5. Mary said on December 4th, 2009 at 5:20am #

    Psychopathy is a personality disorder whose hallmark is a lack of empathy. Robert Hare, a researcher in the field describes psychopaths as “intraspecies predators who use charm, manipulation, intimidation, sex and violence to control others and to satisfy their own selfish needs. Lacking in conscience and empathy, they take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without guilt or remorse”. “What is missing, in other words, are the very qualities that allow a human being to live in social harmony.”

    Psychopaths are glib and superficially charming, and many psychopaths are excellent mimics of normal human emotion; some psychopaths can blend in, undetected, in a variety of surroundings, including corporate environments. There is neither a cure nor any effective treatment for psychopathy; there are no medications or other techniques which can instill empathy, and psychopaths who undergo traditional talk therapy only become more adept at manipulating others. The consensus among researchers is that psychopathy stems from a specific neurological disorder which is biological in origin and present from birth. It is estimated that one percent of the general population are psychopaths.
    The above is from wikipedia. I think it fits here. No apparent shame, contrition or conscience.

    His greed is immense. With the aid of his equally greedy and clever wife, he has been salting away these £millions. A tangled web and as the author asks, why? His children have Irish passports which is another mystery.

    PS I like the clever title of this article! I always liked Kundera’s novel but never saw the film version.

  6. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 6th, 2009 at 11:13am #

    mary, very apt, but I disagree with the observation that ‘..psychopaths can blend in, undetected, in…corporate environments’. In fact, in my opinion, corporate capitalism is the natural habitat of psychopaths and the market capitalist system was created by, for and of psychopaths. A curious case of co-dependent wvolution, where the malignant species creates the environment that benefits them to the detriment of the vast majority of humanity and the rest of existence, and the requirements of the system ‘sift out’ all those with scruples over exploiting others and with any vestigial human empathy. Blair, like Obama, is the most dangerous type of psychopath, the charming dissembler. Obama’s charms are still fresh, although his betrayals already exceed Blair’s after his election in 1997, but they too will fade. Blair long ago began to represent nothing more than the ‘unbearable triteness of being ‘in his banal and grasping cupidity and risible self-regard.I pray every night that Blair might face justice. It’s enough to make you wish for a benign, just God.

  7. Matt McLaughlin said on December 12th, 2009 at 11:32pm #

    Ominous put-together Mr. Carr.
    Bottomline; Blair is W’s lapdog, a lazy leader as much as he is bloody.