/ 17 June 2011

Blair’s breathtaking humbug

Blair's Breathtaking Humbug

The BBC Today programme last week was an unwelcome blast from the past. There was Tony Blair, that familiar mixture of evangelical fervour and earnest sincerity, putting the world to rights on the British coalition, Europe and the Middle East.

Money, of course, lay behind the former British prime minister’s appearance — he was promoting the paperback edition of his biography — just as money lay behind his decision to take free holidays at the expense of the Egyptian people while in power, ignoring complaints from the families of torture victims in that country’s notorious jails. At least he supported his old friend, Hosni Mubarak, when Egyptians rose up to shake off the shackles of despotism. As blood began to run in Tahrir Square, Blair hailed Mubarak as “immensely courageous and a force for good”.

Recall how he cosied up to Muammar Gaddafi, whom he now wants overthrown, going far beyond what was needed to bring the maverick Libyan autocrat in from the cold as he brokered oil deals and oversaw prisoner-transfer agreements that led to the release of the Lockerbie bomber. Little wonder the dictator’s son saw him as “a personal family friend”.

Even worse was Blair’s appeasement of the Saudi royal family in perhaps the most disgraceful episode of his premiership, when his pressure led to the halting of the landmark BAE Systems bribery case. The incident usurped Britain’s legal process to avoid upsetting a repressive and — to use his own phrase — reactionary regime.

Indeed, it is hard to think of a more reactionary regime. Saudi Arabia is stopping women from driving cars and supplying the troops who so brutally crushed the protests in Bahrain. It has used oil wealth to export a hardline and corrosive creed around the globe, one that flies in the face of Blair’s sanctimonious statements on faith and harmony.

The BAE move sent a signal round the world that Britain turns a blind eye to corruption, ensuring autocrats can feel safe laundering their stolen money with the help of pin-striped pimps in British finance houses, law firms and estate agencies. Large-scale larceny by the Mubarak, Gaddafi and the Assad family in Syria was one of the primary sparks for the explosion of protest — and all had substantial holdings in Britain.

Shameless corruption is one of the primary causes of poor governance across Africa. Now Blair proclaims it as part of his mission to heal the continent he once called “a scar on the conscience of the world”. But this does not stop him advising the president of Rwanda, who heads a regime accused of atrocities in its invasions of the Congo, growing despotism at home and sending hit squads to murder exiles living in Britain.

After last year’s sham election, during which rivals were jailed, newspapers shut down and dissidents shot, Blair sent the president a smarmy message of congratulation, hailing his “popular mandate” after Paul Kagame won 93% of the vote. Now he has the effrontery to speak about the importance of freedom of expression in North Africa.

You can almost admire the brazen way Blair ploughs on, ignoring his past and brushing aside uncomfortable facts as he seeks to help shape the future. But then you remember how he backed an ethical foreign policy — and then ended up as an apologist for torture. And how he promulgated the need for a moral dimension to statecraft before embarking on a war of doubtful legality.

This week, the man whose lack of foresight played such a key role in strengthening the hand of Iran did a round of interviews demanding a clear Western strategy on the Arab Spring.

As well as promoting his book, it is part of a desperate bid to promote himself as a future elected president of Europe. Someone should tell him that the journey is over. —