Springtime For Blair

“It was in the springtime of his premiership that he became a pioneer for a foreign policy which did not see championing liberal values as incompatible with prosecuting the national interest, but as complementary to an enlightened version of it.” (Rawnsley, ‘The ideals worth rescuing from the deserts of Iraq,’ The Observer, May 28, 2006;,,1784772,00.html)

So writes the Observer’s Andrew Rawnsley in his latest article on Tony Blair. Despite everything we now know, there is not a caveat in sight. Blair did not merely claim to pioneer an “enlightened” foreign policy, he really +was+ a pioneer. A less ’nuanced’ account might read:

“It was in the springtime of his premiership that Blair became a pioneer for foreign policy propaganda which +claimed+ not to see championing ‘liberal values’ as incompatible with prosecuting the national interest, but as complementary to an ‘enlightened’ version of it.”

Blair’s “enlightened version” was always pure Machiavelli – an ugly lie best told with rosy-cheeked charm and a big smile. Tory leader David Cameron is now reproducing the entire package, right down to the boyish good looks, “Dave’s babes”, and a “Vote blue go green” counterpart to Blair’s “ethical foreign policy”. The Tory political machine, red in corporate tooth and claw, is even using green luminaries like Zac Goldsmith to disarm the doubters, much as New Labour used Robin Cook. Rawnsley continues:

“In the late autumn of his premiership, Mr Blair is especially obsessed with trying to retrieve this part of his legacy from the stigma of Iraq. He gave a new label to it in Washington. He recast it as ‘progressive pre-emption’.”

Notice that the issue for Rawnsley is this one individual, Blair – his vision, his dreams, his values. The state-corporate machine, an entrenched system of power that has devastated an entire nation – with the killing and mutilation of hundreds of thousands of people – is a mere backdrop to this one person. Iraq is a “stigma” – not a catastrophe, not a crime, not an ocean of suffering, but a taint on this one man’s career. Thus:

“The Prime Minister has to accept that the war is now widely seen as the ‘wreckage’ of his world view.”

In the real world, Iraq is seen as the “wreckage” of Blair’s credibility and legitimacy as a leader – his “world view“ is therefore a matter of complete irrelevance.

Rawnsley, however, remains a believer: “there is still a compelling case for interventionism and Tony Blair remains its most eloquent advocate”.

He confronts the issue that matters:

“Whatever the motives of George W Bush, for Tony Blair, the war against Saddam was supposed to be another demonstration that military force could be applied to produce good outcomes by removing one of the worst tyrannies on the planet…”

Blair meant well, then – these were his “blundering efforts to do good“. Indeed this is the famous ‘moral case’ for war – Saddam tyrannised his people like no other; he had to go. So, for Blair, it was “supposed to be” just one more benevolent dose of medicinal bombing, although the plan originated in Washington, although it was rooted in neocon hunger for oil (and control of oil), although Blair secretly told Bush he would support war regardless of international legitimacy and progress in weapons inspections. The title of Michael Smith’s Sunday Times article on the leaked 2002 Downing Street memos said it all: “Blair planned Iraq war from start.” (Smith, May 1, 2005)

Compare and contrast Rawnsley in September 2002, when a different story mattered:

“In Mr Blair’s mind, the person whose judgment matters most is already totally convinced that Saddam is a lethal menace, and has been so for a long time. According to Paddy Ashdown’s diaries, Saddam was gnawing at the Prime Minister as long ago as November 1997. The former Lib Dem leader quotes Blair saying: ‘I have seen some of the stuff on this. It really is pretty scary. He is very close to some appalling weapons of mass destruction. I don’t understand why the French and others don’t understand this. We cannot let him get away with it. The world thinks this is just gamesmanship. But it’s deadly serious.’“ (Rawnsley, ‘Why war stirs the blood of Tony Blair,’ The Observer, September 8, 2002)

Earlier that year, Rawnsley had written:

“The intelligence material that the Prime Minister sees makes him genuinely disturbed – it would not be going too far to say petrified – about Saddam Hussein’s potential ability to use weapons of mass destruction.” (Rawnsley, ‘How to deal with the American goliath,’ The Observer, February 24, 2002)

According to Rawnsley, at that time, the problem was not Saddam’s murderous regime, but his threat to the West. This was also Blair’s view as late as February 2003:

“I hope, even now, Iraq can be disarmed peacefully, with or without Saddam.” (‘Blair speech – key quotes,’ February 15, 2003;

With Saddam! Clearly, then, “removing one of the worst tyrannies on the planet” was not the primary concern for either Blair or Rawnsley in 2002-2003.

Towards the end of his piece, Rawnsley concludes:

“Gordon Brown’s supporters will tell you that when he gets into Number 10 he has no intention of replicating Tony Blair’s military activism. The Chancellor will raise funds for the starving, but he is much less keen on mobilising battalions for the oppressed.”

At a stroke, Blair’s “military activism” has become “mobilising battalions for the oppressed”.

Blair could do with mobilising a few more battalions. An April 2006 IRIN report quoted Dr Haydar Salah, a paediatrician at the Basra Children’s Hospital:

“The mortality of children in Basra has increased by nearly 30 percent compared to the Saddam Hussein era. Children are dying daily, and no one is doing anything to help them.” (IRIN, ‘Doctors, NGOs warn of high infant mortality in Basra,’ April 11, 2006;

No one is doing anything. Indeed Dr Salah’s cry for help – like the fate of his tiny patients in Basra – has not been reported by any newspaper.

Another “stigma” tainting Blair’s “enlightened version” of foreign policy.


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Write to Andrew Rawnsley
Email: [email protected]

Write to Observer editor Roger Alton
Email: [email protected]