Blair is a lifer in the prison of his dark past

By Tom McGurk (for the Sunday Business Post)

It is tempting to speculate whether Tony Blair has been condemned to some Faustian fate. He looks old for his age; physically shrunken beyond his years. His face seems to owe its gauntness to more than just the passing of time. In a word, he looks ghastly.

The boyish barrister-with-political-charisma look of the early years has long gone, to be replaced by that of a shrivelled and introspective man.

However, he is now a very rich man, private-jetting across the globe (commanding fees of up to $25,000 for major speeches and public appearances) and owning nine properties in places as diverse as London, the Bahamas and New York. Indeed, he is now so wealthy that he intends to donate all the earnings from his autobiography, The Journey, to the British Legion, the charity for British servicemen and women.

He may have a personal fortune of anything up to #60 million - the vast bulk of it earned over the three years since his retirement. But there is a price to pay. For the rest of his life, he and his family will have to live with unprecedented levels of security. He can probably never again stroll down a high street and wander into a coffee shop, browse in a book shop or enter any building that has not be screened in advance. Essentially, anywhere and at any time, the public around Blair can’t be trusted.

Fittingly, for a man who presented himself more as a president than a prime minister, he is now condemned to live his life under the security regime a serving US president has to put up with. Blair has become a prisoner of his past - without any hope of remission.

His autobiography gives a comprehensive account of his three terms as prime minister. It is full of anecdotes and is, at times, a deeply self-serving narrative. However, it avoids answering the single most important question of all. It’s the ‘why’ question of course - the only one we really want to hear Blair answer.

Why did he back the US invasion of Iraq? One wonders if, as he circles the globe getting richer and richer in his five-star celebrity cell, he stares at the walls and asks himself the same question.

His attempt to answer it is self-serving garbage about having ‘‘no regrets about taking out Saddam’’; being ‘‘deeply sorry about the loss of our soldiers’ lives’’; and little mantras like ‘‘there’s left and right, but there’s also right and wrong’’.

In a huge volume which comes complete with an extensive array of figures and statistics, one figure is consistently missing: the numbers of Iraq civilians who have died during, and since, the Bush and Blair-led invasion.

Since it was deliberate US policy not to count ‘‘enemy dead’’, as they were termed, the figure now varies from 200,000 to close to a million. What a lot of dead men, women and children an ambitious young barrister from Islington can leave behind if he mixes in the wrong company. That mountain of bodies now overshadows any of Blair’s political achievements. He is doomed to the graveyard shift for the rest of his five-star days.

In the decade since the Blair/ Bush invasion of Iraq, the crisis they created has deepened dangerously. Perhaps the most sinister legacy of their foreign policy is that, what was originally a quasi-nationalist/territorial-inspired conflict across the Middle East - largely about oil and traditional rights - is now, for younger generations in particular, becoming a religious war.

Al-Qaeda, Hamas and the Taliban are the advance guard of a conflict that is now more about religious idealism than about political forces. They want to kill us, not because we are western imperialists, but because we are infidels.

No matter how many times Blair, in his autobiography, denies the notion of a war against ‘‘the Muslims’’, tell that to the villagers of Afghanistan as they creep out to bury the dead and rebuild their houses.

I suspect few copies of the autobiography will find their way to the reading rooms in the madrassas of Pakistan, where an age-old refrain has come to dominate the scholarship.

The bottomless pit that is the war in Afghanistan is radicalising thousands of people across the Muslim world. They have been whipped into a frenzy at the mere mention of the west, with its materialist obsessions and values, its fracturing societies and families; posturing about terrorism and making war against some of the poorest people in the world. Even worse, when Nato forces have had enough and finally withdraw - claiming mission accomplished, as usual - the defeat inflicted on the west will have the same impact as the defeat they inflicted on the Red Army in the 1980s: a huge fillip for the radical cause.

What Blair and Bush began as the ‘War on Terror’ has, for more and more people, become a war of civilisations. In the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, the world has become an infinitely more dangerous place.

Iraq itself cannot create a government and could slip into civil war; Iran continues to assert its nuclear sovereignty; and one wonders whether the new Middle East talks opening in Washington last week are really to allow Israel to get all its ducks in a row, before striking at Iran’s nuclear facilities? Every day, the war in Afghanistan is threatening the security of nuclear-armed Pakistan.

The very publication of this book, and the sight of its author touring the world on the celebrity junket, is bizarre. What does it all say about popular culture? Blair always wanted to be famous. Now he joins a unique western club - among whose other members are Bush Junior and Henry Kissinger - which is reserved for those in whose names thousands across the Third World have died or been maimed in western-inflicted wars. The little players from places like Africa and the Balkans go to court in the Hague, while the really big ones go to the club lounge on the top floor.

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