Blair on Iran, Lebanon, and Islam

The Quartet’s envoy for Middle East peace – god help us – has been offering some interesting opinions of late, all of which send a shiver down the spine when you recall he, for a time, had his finger on some important buttons…

Radical Islam, according to Blair, is the biggest threat facing the world today – I don’t know how the world feels about the threat posed by Tony Blair over the last decade or so, but that’s another matter. He rejected out of hand the argument that radical Islamists could be fighting against foreign occupation – they are simply ‘wicked and backward-looking’, and thus ‘in the end they have to know that they’re facing a stronger will than theirs’. It’s clear that this is a shockingly oversimplified view of radical Islam. Once again, the line is drawn between the rational, modern West and the irrational and regressive East; you can see Blair’s Manichaeist righteousness blazing forth from his wide, messianic eyes. To deny that his policies in the Middle East have done nothing to fuel radicalism is disingenuous, and to deny that radicalists have rational thought, and might, at least in part, be following the time-honoured human tradition of resisting invaders, is dangerous. What is even more dangerous is when these ideas make it to the top of government – because the key to tackling radicalism is not to write it off as ‘wicked and backward-looking’, and then try and bomb it into submission, but to try and understand as much about it in all its complexity, and then decide what to do. Which often is not bombing it into submission. The more and more Blair talks about his reasons for going to war, the more you can see this dualism infecting his entire view of the Middle East. Which leads us onto his next pearl of wisdom.

In a perceptive analysis of Blair’s recently-released memoir, A Journey, Chris Phillips takes a look at the ex-PM’s response to the Israel-Hizbullah war of 2006. Blair refused to join other European leaders in calling for a ceasefire as the conflict raged in Lebanon, leaving 1,191 Lebanese and 159 Israelis dead. One might think that this was for practical reasons – like following Bush into Iraq, Blair might have been seeking to retain some leverage and influence in order to guide both sides to a more moderate approach to foreign policy. In A Journey, however, Blair makes clear that the reason for his reticence was explicitly ideological and again is moulded by his dualist good vs. evil view of conflict in the Middle East. “If I had condemned Israel, it would have been more than dishonest; it would have undermined the world view I had come to hold passionately.” As Phillips correctly points out, this is the ‘most alarming’ thing about Blair’s reasoning. “Lebanon was embroiled in something far bigger and more portentous than a temporary fight with Israel,” writes Blair – according to him, a struggle between forces of light and dark in which Hizbullah are on the side of evil, radical Islam and the ‘rest of us,’ including Israel. To delay a ceasefire would thus, in Blair’s mind, allow Israel more time to defeat the forces of darkness and win a victory for ‘us’ in the Middle East. Leaving aside the lack of concern for civilian life and regional stability that this implies, his oversimplified, almost child-like view of such a complex conflict is sobering – especially when you consider the power he held over this country’s foreign policy for so long.

Blair has recently jumped into the bomb-Iran-don’t-bomb-Iran debate – the foreign policy topic du jour that recently led to a regrettable clusterblog over Jeffrey Goldberg’s reprehensible article in The Atlantic, which I decided to ignore, because, let’s face it, no-one’s going to bomb Iran, and they bloody well shouldn’t, but once again I digress – with now-familiar misplaced zeal. He believes that we must use any means necessary to stop Iran developing a nuclear bomb, arguing that he is not advocating military action but that it should not taken off the table (god I hate that phrase, can we find another lazy cliche soon, please?). “We need to give a message to Iran that is very clear – that they cannot have nuclear weapons capability, and we will stop them.” Over at The Race for Iran the Leveretts have quoted and discussed an extract from a recent interview Blair did with Charlie Rose. Their point – which I agree with – is that in his hawkish stance on Iran Blair is aligning himself with US neocons such as John ‘We have to bomb Iran within the niext eight days’ Bolton, and distancing himself from a more ‘European’ position, which generally is in agreement that a diplomatic solution is the only possibility for containing the Iranian nuclear threat. His case for a ‘preventive’ war is again based on his fear of radical Islam – he mentions the possibility that the Iranian goverment may give the technology to terrorist groups who will use it, which is somewhat in contradiction of his view that the Iranians would never actually use it themselves. No matter that an attack on Iran would be, as the Leveretts put it, ‘counter-productive, imprudent—and illegal.’ Once again, it is us and them, and the West must carry on its epic struggle against the forces of terrorist darkness, no matter the costs in terms of lives or geopolitical stability.

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