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Tony Blair + liberal interventionism « Previous | |Next »
March 26, 2006

I see that Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, has arrived in Australia. Blair, who is walking into the political twilight, should be included in this image:

Steve Bell

Blair has been fatally wounded by the continuing and deepening unpopularity of the Iraq war and is now despised by two-thirds of Labour voters, three quarters of Conservatives, and a clear majority of independents. He is in the process of giving series of three detailed speeches in defense of the Iraq war and the broader struggle against Islamist extremismin the context of liberal interventionism. Blair says:

Over the next few weeks, I will outline the implication of this agenda in three speeches, including this one. In this, the first, I will describe how I believe we can defeat global terrorism and why I believe victory for democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan is a vital element of doing that. In the second, I shall outline the importance of a broad global alliance to achieve our common goals. In the third, in America, I shall say how the international institutions need radical reform to make them capable of implementing such an agenda, in a strong and effective multilateral way. But throughout all three, I want to stress why this concept of an international community, based on core, shared values, prepared actively to intervene and resolve problems, is an essential pre-condition of our future prosperity and stability.

Blair gives thoughtful speeches to be sure. He gives the second speech to the Australian Parliament today. He does have a lot of ground to makeup, since his conception of an international community, based on core, shared values, actively to intervening and resolving problems has gone off the rails in Iraq.

In the first speech; he lays out the principles of his foreign policy: the doctrine of liberal interventionism - the view that democratic countries can no longer stand by while dictators commit hideous crimes against their own peoples. He offers a new ethical, rather than realpolitik, ethos in foreign policy, one that would no longer see the principle of state sovereignty trump all other moral considerations.

Has not Blair savaged this principle with Iraq? Did not Blair invent a threat that was not there? Blair is damaged goods, and responsible for a large foreign-policy disaster. Blair characterises his critics as adhering to a view:

"...which sees the world as not without challenge but basically calm, with a few nasty things lurking in deep waters, which it is best to avoid; but no major currents that inevitably threaten its placid surface. It believes the storms have been largely self-created....This world view - which I would characterise as a doctrine of benign inactivity - sits in the commentator's seat, almost as a matter of principle."

It is 'benign inactivity' as its basic posture is not to provoke, to keep all as settled as it can be, and to cause no tectonic plates to move. Blair says that it has its soft face in dealing with issues like global warming or Africa; and reserves its hard face only if directly attacked by another state, which is unlikely. Blair, in contrast, is for action and intervention with a moral imperative.Liberal interventionism worked well in 1999, when NATO planes were dispatched to bomb Belgrade in an effort to stop Serbs from "cleansing" Kosovo.

It is Blair's thesis, that the struggle in Iraq is pivotal to the defeat of global terrorism, where things unravel. On Iraq he says:

This is not a clash between civilisations. It is a clash about civilisation. It is the age-old battle between progress and reaction, between those who embrace and see opportunity in the modern world and those who reject its existence; between optimism and hope on the one hand; and pessimism and fear on the other...We can no more opt out of this struggle than we can opt out of the climate changing around us. Inaction, pushing the responsibility on to America, deluding ourselves that this terrorism is an isolated series of individual incidents rather than a global movement and would go away if only we were more sensitive to its pretensions; this too is a policy. It is just that; it is a policy that is profoundly, fundamentally wrong.

Persuasive huh. Then I remember the images of torture in Abu Ghraib:--that is progress? That is civilization? That stands for optimism and hope?

It gives another meaning to Blair's claim that in the era of globalisation where nations depend on each other and where our security is held in common or not at all, the outcome of this clash between extremism and progress is utterly determinative of our future here in Britain. Blair has too much Iraqi blood on his hands to be credible about the "battle for modernity".

It is true that the Iraqi people want their government decided by the people. But the US and the UK have failed to deliver securityand basic services such as health, electricity, sanitation and infrastructure. Nor can I see Blair fostering this democratic desire with his support for systematic torture in Abu Ghraib and the actions being blamed on a few lower-level grunts. Blair's credibility is shot. Look at how defends himself:

Of course, and wholly wrongly, there are abuses of human rights, mistakes made, things done that should not be done. There always were. But at least this time, someone demands redress; people are free to complain.

That shrug--'people are free to complain'--- is made worse by the fact that Saddam Hussein had no link with al-Qaida and its terrorism before the invasion--something Blair well knows. It is thanks to Blair's policies that Iraq has become a fertile recruiting ground for jihadists.

Blair is skewered by the gap between between his rhetoric and the reality on the ground. His view that Islamist extremism should be fought through intervention would be more credible if Blair acknowledged that extremism and hatred has been fuelled by the disastrous war in Iraq. This is a necessary admission by those responsible for the war; and a good place to start is when Blair addresses the Australian Parliament tomorrow morning. Don't hold your breath. My guess is that he will portray the Iraq war as part of a global struggle between "democracy and terrorism ", which warrants the continued US-led interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 3:32 PM | | Comments (0)