Global Failure

By Davis, Douglas | The Spectator, November 19, 2005 | Go to article overview

Global Failure


Davis, Douglas, The Spectator


It took just 49 bloody-minded Labour backbenchers to demonstrate that Tony Blair cannot, after all, walk on water. Many are now ready to defy his 'legacy' reforms. His position is becoming untenable. And this at a time when he should have been at the top of his game -- president of the G8, president of the European Union, leader of the world.

Blair might see his legacy in domestic reforms -- devolution, the Lords, pensions, health, welfare and, of course, education, education, education -- but he seems most at ease when pouring his energy and enthusiasm into the big global issues; perhaps because Gordon Brown has effectively cornered the domestic agenda, perhaps because he finds the international community more forgiving and the business of international diplomacy more congenial.

So strong is Blair's commitment to world affairs that the subtext of much of his foreign diplomacy has become conflated with the domestic agenda: the war against terror is helping to keep Britain's streets safe; the war against Saddam is protecting Britain from an existential (albeit phantom) strategic threat;

the war against African poverty is cleansing Britain's soiled colonial soul.

History will remember Blair above all for the Iraq war; its messy politics, its muddled prelude and its chaotic aftermath. Like it or not, Iraq will be his legacy. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the debate, that is where he staked the credibility of his leadership, and that is where it all went wrong.

Blair might have survived, might even have been forgiven, if it had worked -- if Iraqis had welcomed the conquering coalition with flowers and rice, if internal security had somehow survived the dismantling of Iraq's security apparatus, if the insurgents had decided to sleep in and not report for duty.

There were always too many ifs, not enough certainties. The Pentagon, and Downing Street, should have known better.

Iraq is not Blair's only Middle East initiative that has crumbled. He staked much of his personal and political prestige on attempting to tame Syria's President, the British-educated Bashar al-Assad, who provides logistical support for the Islamist Hezbollah movement and house-room in Damascus for a slew of Palestinian extremist groups which reject peace with Israel under any circumstances.

His hard work with Bashar was rewarded with public humiliation at the hands of the Syrian President himself. When Blair visited Damascus, he was forced to bite his tongue as Bashar compared Palestinian suicide bombers to French Resistance fighters. And when Bashar visited London, he made Blair squirm again when he disingenuously described the plethora of Palestinian terrorist headquarters in Damascus as 'press offices'.

Attempts to civilise the young Bashar and prepare him for polite society failed. The upshot of Blair's diplomacy is that Bashar not only allowed his country to become the principal conduit for foreign mujahedin who were clamouring for British and American throats in Iraq, but also facilitated their 'martyrdom operations' with fake passports and other documents.

Then there's Iran. When Blair led the European pack in their 'critical dialogue' with Tehran, the objectives were to encourage the moderates and attempt to talk the mullahs down from their nuclear tree. After years of fawning, including more trips by Jack Straw to Tehran than to any other foreign capital, where are the moderates now? And where are Iran's nuclear ambitions? Take two steps back.

Nuclear negotiations are in deep-freeze after the Iranians reneged on a deal with the EU3 -- Britain, France and Germany -- to suspend the conversion of their uranium stocks, a prelude to enrichment and nuclear weapons. …

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