Trudging through the reams of commentary on Blair's departure, several themes become apparent. Immediately obvious is the disdain and ridicule poured upon those principled enough to have opposed the invasion of Iraq, and to have continued to oppose the occupation and demand that Blair be held accountable ever since. Thus, in The Guardian, Polly Toynbee described how the "protesting furies pursued [Blair] with klaxons and placards" (The Guardian, 11/5/07). Writing in the same paper, Timothy Garton Ash was similarly derisive:
"A fortnight ago I used this column to let Blair give, in his own words, his own balance sheet of his foreign policy over the last decade. To judge by some of the furious responses I received, even to offer the outgoing prime minister a courteous hearing is a kind of intellectual treason. The sole duty of any self-respecting commentator is to interrogate and then indict Blair - sorry, "Bliar" - as if he were a cross between Radovan Karadzic, Augusto Pinochet and Adolf Eichmann. That bloodied hand must never be shaken, that smile wiped off his face once and for all. As at many a London dinner table, one's own superior virtue, and one's belonging to the tribe, is demonstrated by the unbounded vehemence of one's denunciation of him. "Not in my name" is all that needs to be said, or rather shouted." (The Guardian, 10/5/07)
This kind of elitist scorn recalls The Observer's September 2002 account of, as Media Lens describes it, "London's greatest anti-war march in a generation":
"It was back to the old days, too, in terms of types. All the oldies and goodies were there. The Socialist Workers' Party, leafleting outside Temple Tube station by 11 am. ('In this edition: Noam Chomsky in Socialist Worker!'). CND, and ex-Services CND. The Scottish Socialist Party. `Scarborough Against War and Globalisation', which has a lovely ring of optimism to it, recalling the famous Irish provincial leader column in 1939: `Let Herr Hitler be warned, the eyes of the Skibereen Eagle are upon him.' Many, many Muslim groups, and most containing women and children, although some uneasy thoughts pass through your mind when you see a line of pretty six-year-old black-clad Muslim toddlers walking ahead of the megaphone chanting `George Bush, we know you/Daddy was a killer too,' and singing about Sharon and Hitler." (The Observer, 29/11/02)
As Media Lens concluded, and as media coverage of Blair's departure demonstrates yet again, "pouring scorn on popular movements is an absolute must for mainstream journalism".
Another recurring theme evident in much of the coverage of Blair's departure is the perverse focus on minor details like his talent for public speaking, or his political wizardry. In The Guardian, Jonathan Freedland describes as Blair as "the master of British politics", "the best communicator to dominate British politics since Churchill", an "electoral magician" who will be remembered for his "panache". Blair was somehow "more than a mere politician. He was the leader of the nation." This is just pure, unadulterated hagiography. Polly Toynbee is equally in thrall to Blair's theatrics - "no other politician in living memory could deliver a performance like it", she writes. For her, Blair is the "the supreme political interpreter of modern times". His final speech, she enthuses, showcased "the very quintessence of [his] political being": "[e]motion at full throttle, sincerity and showmanship balanced on a knife-edge", the "great political crooner" delivered a "tour de force". Pravda would've been proud. In The Times, Alice Miles waxes lyrical about Blair's "adept[ness] at enunciating the national mood" - he just has an "instinct" for what to say - whilst The Independent's John Rentoul concludes,
"We will be sorry when Blair is gone, because we have forgotten what politics used to be like. On 27 June, welcome to the era of the second-rate."
It is important to remember that we are here talking about a man who lied the nation into a war that was both illegal and immoral (oh no, says Rentoul, who is evidently vying with Polly Toynbee for the title of `Blair Apologist of the Year' - Blair was merely "not entirely sincere or open"). We are talking about a major war criminal, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, and all the press can do is talk about Blair's `political prowess'. Hitler made the trains run on time, but, strangely enough, that isn't what he's primarily remembered for. Similarly, you didn't see Guardian journalists passionately arguing that Saddam Hussein's "legacy" would be his excellent food distribution system. The sense of perspective mainstream journalists seem to have when official enemies perpetrate monstrous crimes is utterly lost when the criminals happen to be members of our own government (or, to lesser extent, the government of a client state). You certainly didn't see The Guardian devote a whole article to analysing Saddam Hussein's fashion sense (neither would The Times have offered an online slide-show of Saddam Hussein's greatest "fashion faux pas").
The invasion of Iraq was a crime against peace, defined at Nuremberg as the "supreme international crime" for which Nazis were hanged. That is not mere hyperbole. If history teaches us anything, it is that even the worst monsters cloak their crimes in flowery language about "humanitarian intervention", "progress", "civilization", "spreading freedom", and so on. The obvious conclusion is to simply ignore it and concentrate on the facts. That, sadly, is too much to ask from the corporate press. As Tony Blair made his farewell speech last week, a mixture of pathetic appeals to "belief" and "conviction" and outright BNP-style nationalism, he implored,
"I ask you to accept one thing. Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right."
He needn't have bothered - our "free press" is only too willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Thus, The Independent concludes that the invasion of Iraq was the result of "liberal interventionism...born, perhaps, of a sense that the West had failed Rwanda", whilst in the same paper Steve Richards assures us that Blair was "a well-intentioned leader". As usual, no evidence is provided - we are expected to assume it as a matter of faith. In The Guardian, Jonathan Freedland writes that Blair invaded Iraq out of the "conviction", nay, the "self-belief verging on the messianic", that foreign policy is "an arena of moral purpose". The Guardian's editorial went further, declaring,
"The scope of his [Tony Blair's] self-belief is unquestionable."
Again, no evidence is provided to support the claim. It is, after all, "unquestionable". In fact, not only is no evidence provided, but important evidence to the contrary is ignored. Surely the fact that in 1997, the very same year Robin Cook made his famous "ethical foreign policy" speech, Blair used the Official Secrets Act to approve 11 arms deals with Indonesia, which was involved in heavy repression and human rights abuses against the people of Aceh and West Papua, casts some doubt on this vision of a policy guided by morality? During the first three years of the Labour Government, 83% of Indonesia's arms imports were from the UK. In 2003, the government approved a 20-fold increase in arms sales to Indonesia, despite guidelines preventing weapons sales to countries where they could be used for internal repression. Baroness Royall outlined Britain's policy towards the people of West Papua in a recent House of Lords debate:
"the UK does not support independence for Papua. Like the vast majority of other international players, we respect Indonesia's territorial integrity and have never supported Papuan independence."
This consistent and sustained support for continued Indonesian occupation and repression of the West Papuans is surely at odds with Blair's proclaimed concern for the right to democracy and freedom for Iraqis.
What about Blair's support for and facilitation of Israel's illegal and bloody aggression against Lebanon last year? In what way was allowing U.S.-made bombs to be delivered to Israel during the conflict through British airports consistent with these alleged "humanitarian values"?
The excellent British historian, Mark Curtis, summarised a few of Blair's other "well-intentioned" efforts abroad in a letter to The Guardian:
"Britain illegally bombed Iraq in 1998, was the chief apologist for Russia's bloody onslaught against Chechnya in 1999, increased the export of military equipment to Israel as it reinvaded the West Bank in 2001, armed Indonesia as it attacked Aceh province in 2003, took legal action to prevent the Chagossians returning to their homeland on Diego Garcia and continued to support some of the world's most brutal governments in Colombia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere - to name some of Labour's shocking policies that could fill this page."
In a recent interview for UK Watch, Curtis provided an honest answer to the question of Blair's "legacy":
"I've no doubt that Blair will be seen in the mainstream as a `liberal interventionist' who started well (in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan) and then overstepped the mark with Iraq, to the extent that he `mislead' the British public, but who was genuinely committed to the cause of Africa. This view is totally absurd and therefore can be expected to dominate discussions in the mainstream. It doesn't matter how much evidence emerges as to the reality of Kosovo in 1999 and the bombing of Yugoslavia to counter the mainstream view that Kosovo was all about defending human rights; I dealt with more plausible explanations in Web of Deceit and there are various other analyses.
Remember, though, we are dealing here with a very primitive mainstream political culture: it doesn't and cannot recognize obvious policies such as the extraordinary British support provided to the brutal regime in Colombia, the total backing of Russia bloody onslaught against Chechnya (including the flattening of its capital city in 1999/2000) and of support for Indonesia's attacks on Aceh and West Papua (with British arms), to name but some, while it remains incapable of recognizing British support under Blair (fairly unequivocal, actually) for Israel. One day, you never know, the BBC might mention Britain's extraordinary abuse of the legal system to prevent the Chagos islanders returning to even the outlying islands in the archipelago, let alone Diego Garcia - but this is admittedly very unlikely. Or perhaps mention might be made that while Blair and Brown profess their support for `democracy' in the Middle East, their closest ally is Oman - whose despot was installed in a British coup 37 years ago! The official theology has it that Zimbabwe is the only repressive regime in Africa - since it is an official enemy, it is the subject of endless media articles while Mugabe is (correctly) seen as a total despot. Nigeria, on the other hand, is a key ally and oil-rich state which our companies benefit from - therefore it wouldn't be right to mention obvious facts such as that the military in Nigeria is complicit in far more deaths in recent years than even Zimbabwe's.
Blair should be remembered as a war criminal who has made the world a more dangerous place. I can think of no other British prime minister who has been so contemptuous of human rights as Blair, the one possible exception being Harold Wilson's government of 1964-70, which covertly supported the bloodbath in Indonesia in 1965, removed the Chagos islanders, provided a mountain of weaponry to the Nigerian government to wipe out three million people in Biafra, armed Baghdad as began major operations against the Kurds and offered significant private support to the US attack on Vietnam."
It is, of course, correct to say that under Blair, Britain has become more socially liberal, particularly with respect to gay rights (although to what extent this should be attributed to Blair as opposed to societal pressure from below is debatable). Undoubtedly, too, he has achieved truly impressive things in Northern Ireland. But, as I say, there can surely be no debate whatsoever about what his legacy will be: the answer, plain and simple, is Iraq, as 69% of the British public recognise. Today, as a direct consequence of our illegal invasion four years ago, Iraq is suffering the worst refugee crisis on the planet. According to the UN, the external and internal displacement of millions of Iraqis represents `the biggest population exodus since the displacement of the Palestinians following the creation of Israel in 1948′. It is a common sight now to see over 100 Iraqis killed in a single day. According to Dr. Jaffer Ali, a senior official and paediatrician in Iraq's Ministry of Health, "[n]ever in Iraq's history have so many children died because of diseases and violence."
When Iraq is discussed in the coverage of Blair's `legacy', two important features about the way it is presented can be discerned. Firstly, the invasion is never referred to as what it actually was: an illegal war of aggression, defined at Nuremberg as the supreme war crime. Instead, it was a "military intervention", a "tragically needless war", a "tragedy", a "humanitarian intervention", a "dark folly", a "mistake", a "blunder" and so on. Consequently, Blair is never branded what he is, a major war criminal, since without a crime there can be no criminal.
Secondly, the catastrophic humanitarian suffering now widespread throughout Iraq is described solely in terms of its political effects on Tony Blair. So, for example, Polly Toynbee writes that "Iraq was [Blair's] nemesis, the reason why Labour's great winner crashes out of the sky still in his prime". "For Iraq" Toynbee concludes, "Tony Blair has paid with his political life". Never mind all those Iraqis who have paid with their actual lives, eh?
Julian Borger, also writing in The Guardian, notes that "Blair's legacy is being held hostage in Iraq." Presumably, Saddam Hussein's legacy was also being "held hostage" by his attempted genocide of the Kurds. For The Guardian's editorial, the problem with the invasion of Iraq is that it "will poison" the way Blair is remembered. Peter Riddell comments in The Times that "[a]ssessments of the Blair years are dominated, even distorted, by Iraq. For many, it is the prism through which everything else is seen." Outrageous, naturally. Why can't people just get over it already? (Oh yeah.)
In The Independent, John Rentoul lays prostrate before power once more, bemoaning the fact that "because the occupation of Iraq has gone so badly, Blair cannot shake off the unfair association which denies him the credit for the better, fairer country Britain now is". The sheer audacity of these people, treating the mass killing of hundreds of thousands of people as a mere inconvenience standing in the way of recognition for Blair's true legacy, is astonishing.
In another article for the same paper (Blair's biographer has been very busy recently), Rentoul writes,
"The Iraq war is a tragedy, above all, because of the damage it is inflicting on that cause of liberal interventionism".
One suspects that a reduced ability on the part of the UK or the U.S. to carry out future illegal aggressions against Third-World countries is probably not at the top of most Iraqis' lists of "tragedies" resulting from the invasion.
It is telling that, in The Independent's list of "key figures" from the past ten years, the number `655,000` is conspicuous by its absence.
As Mark Curtis notes, in terms of policy, we can expect more of the same under Gordon Brown:
"There have been no public signs that foreign policy is likely to change. Brown has been four-square behind Blair on foreign policy, including, of course, Iraq, which he has financed as Chancellor and publicly defended when required."
The appalling media whitewash of Blair's atrocities consequently serves two purposes - it wipes from history the recent crimes of the establishment, and the media's role in facilitating them, and it paves the way for Brown to continue down the same, bloody path (as per George Orwell's famous warning). With a possible war on Iran around the corner, preserving the truth about the past has never been so important.
Cross-posted at The Heathlander and UK Watch.
(Source for the photomontage: Socialist Worker)