Blair's essay something to retch over

CHRIS TROTTER
Last updated 06:56 20/06/2014

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Chris Trotter

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OPINION: For nearly a week the world has been retching over Tony Blair's essay on Iraq. Having read it, even London's Tory mayor, Boris Johnson, curtly instructed him to "put a sock in it".

This global revulsion is not solely attributable to the fact that Blair, the second-most-culpable person associated with the bloody Iraqi omnishambles, is still presuming to tell the world how to fix it - though that would be reason enough. It's because his recipe for peace and progress in the Middle East is exactly the same as it was back in 2003. Invasion, occupation and the imposition of Western values. The formula that worked so tremendously well the first time!

According to Blair, the Islamic world, being "inherently unstable", cannot actually be damaged by anything "we" (by which he presumably means the Anglo-American imperium and its assorted hangers-on) do to it. Iraq, Libya, Syria: they'd all have gone bad regardless of "our" actions. None of it is down to "us".

"The problems of the Middle East are the product of bad systems of politics mixed with a bad abuse of religion going back over a long time. Poor governance, weak institutions, oppressive rule and a failure within parts of Islam to work out a sensible relationship between religion and government have combined to create countries which are simply unprepared for the modern world. Put into that mix, young populations with no effective job opportunities and education systems that do not correspond to the requirements of the future economy, and you have a toxic, inherently unstable matrix of factors that was always - repeat always - going to lead to a revolution."

So, you see, the "international community" has nothing to reproach itself for when it comes to the Middle East. Those fine fellows Sykes and Picot, drawing lines all over the maps of the dying Ottoman Empire back in 1916, were entirely blameless.

War, after all, is war. And if you're foolish enough to throw in with the losing side, then you can hardly complain when your territory is carved up like a (ahem) Turkey.

Yes, yes, yes - alright! His Majesty's Government may have encouraged Colonel T E Lawrence to stir up the Arabs against the Turks by promising them their own independent kingdom if they threw in with the winning side. But that was a wartime promise - and everyone knows (or should know) what a wartime promise is worth.

And, no, on balance, Blair clearly does not agree that the Royal Air Force's deployment of poison gas bombs against rebellious Iraqi tribespeople in the 1920s and 30s is in any way evidence of "poor governance" or "oppressive rule" on the part of the British Empire. Any more than the 1918 Balfour Declaration, which, by promising the Jewish people their own homeland in Palestine laid the foundations for the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, could be described as the product of "bad systems of politics mixed with a bad abuse of religion".

Blair's essay is not burdened with such irrelevant historical detail. "We have to put aside the differences of the past", he warns, "and act now to save the future."

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Brave words. And yet, among the 2833 words of Blair's bilious essay two very important words are missing - Saudi Arabia.

Which is really rather odd, because it is the Wahhabism of the Saudis, coupled with the kingdom's extraordinary oil wealth, which is inspiring, resourcing and providing diplomatic cover for terrorist militia all over the Middle East.

If "saving the future" does not involve imposing UN sanctions upon the Saudis; if it does not include the "international community" stepping away from the feudal potentates and military dictators it has been pleased to call "moderate Arab opinion"; if it is not about openly sponsoring comprehensive democratic reforms, then, Blair's self- righteous and self-serving exhortations notwithstanding, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and its shimmering mirage of a borderless caliphate of the righteous will never lack for followers.

- The Dominion Post

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