Byline: PETER OBORNE
NOW that the war in Iraq is over, Tony Blair and his friends are setting out to win the peace. But their main concern is not the peace in Iraq, where the trajectory of events still looks all too perilous and unstable. Their real preoccupation is now to milk every last ounce of political advantage back home.
Thousands of human beings died as a result of the conflict, including 31 heroic British soldiers. But you would hardly guess the fact from the long series of self-obsessed interviews given by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues in Britain.
Supporters speak of his 'darkest hour', when Blair gathered his family round him to warn them he might lose his job as a result of the Commons vote on the war.
Yesterday, bang on cue, loyalist Cabinet ministers David Blunkett and Jack Straw stepped forward and emotionally declared that they, too, were ready to quit.
At the same time, 'friends' of Blair have been authorised to speak to the pro-Government Financial Times in a long, laudatory profile which stopped only just short of comparing him to John the Baptist.
But even more important than the sycophantic words from the FT political editor were the photographs Blair posed for in the magazine. Few supermodels have ever made love to the camera as professionally as Blair in these new FT shots. In one, he drapes himself across a chair in a manner that self-consciously recalls Jean Shrimpton at her Sixties peak. The only difference is that our Premier has his fist raised in the air, a vainglorious show of defiance.
None of the interviews or photos have come about by chance. All have been choreographed. No10's Press machine has precision bombed the British media with stories, just as Baghdad was targeted by computer-aimed cruise missiles.
Blair's spin-doctors and strategists are determined to use the war - and his upcoming 50th birthday - to repackage him.
They know now there is no choice but to jettison the boyish, jejeune figure who stepped across the threshold of Downing Street for the first time six years ago.
They are recasting him as the wizened, grey-haired statesman who has been to hell and back. To look at him, you would think that Blair had personally spent the past six weeks risking his life at the front.
RIGHT from the start, Downing Street strategists have been obsessed with the Margaret Thatcher myth - or, as New Labour strategists fashionably like to call it, 'narrative'. They are now, quite deliberately, out to create a myth for Blair, and to turn the Iraq campaign into an event as compelling as the Falklands.
They are doing so by brilliantly mingling fact and fiction to create a plausible story.
Take the claim that Blair stood on the edge of resignation. The only event that could have forced his resignation was defeat in the Commons. There was never even the faintest chance that could happen, since the Conservative opposition supported the war. …