In May 1997 Tony Blair was swept into power on an enormous wave of optimism. Britain’s youngest prime minister since 1812, his approval ratings were the highest of any postwar British leader. He won three elections, two of which, prior to the Iraq war, were landslides. Yet tomorrow, 10 years on, Blair will leave office, pushed out against his will and carried out on the political equivalent of a dust cart: unwanted by his party, unloved by the public. Blair’s demise dates from the day he made the ill-fated decision to support US President George W. Bush in his quest to oust Saddam Hussein. Blair, who famously said “mine is the first generation able to contemplate the possibility that we may live our entire lives without going to war or sending our children to war, became the leader who put more British soldiers in harm’s way than any post-World War II prime minister. And many, along with millions of fathers, mothers, daughters and sons in the Middle East, are set to remain in harm’s way long after he has gone. Of course, it was all to make the world a better, safer place. But Blair’s foreign policy legacy, as he heads off to justify his actions and hit the lucrative lecture circuit, is a Middle East close to meltdown and a world facing a more uncertain and dangerous future. Ironically, The Financial Times reported yesterday that Blair might be named as the new Middle East envoy of the Quartet. Less than two years ago Blair joined Bush in taking credit for free elections in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Palestinian Authority, and Lebanon. Today they must take the lion’s share of the blame for the current turmoil and instability in each of these countries. Recently, Hamas militants seized control of Gaza in the latest escalation of its civil war with Fatah for control of the Palestinian territories. In Lebanon, Walid Eido became the latest anti-Syrian figure to be assassinated as the government propelled to power by the 2005 “Cedar Revolution continues to totter while an emboldened Hizbullah and Syria plot to bring it down. Iraq’s bloody civil war goes from bad to worse while the United Kingdom beats a hasty retreat and America starts looking beyond Bush and toward the exits. And last week Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, warned the UK might have to remain in the country for decades to protect Afghans from the Taliban. Meanwhile, the influence of the Middle East states who defied Blair and Bush – Iran and Syria – is increasing to such an extent that they are now being increasingly courted by the West to solve the problems Blair’s policies helped create. While Blair could not have prevented Bush from invading Iraq, he could have used his influence to make the US president more flexible on Palestine. Instead Blair made Britain’s foreign policy subservient to Washington’s, earning his sobriquet of “Bush’s poodle. Hamas won a clear election victory in the Palestinian Authority that Blair and Bush chose to ignore, preferring instead to negotiate and fund a corrupt Fatah under President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas could not deliver the gunmen, nor as the parliamentary elections conclusively proved, the wider public. Bush and Blair weakened Abbas further by ignoring his pleas to end Western sanctions imposed on the Palestinian Authority in the wake of Hamas’ election victory. The resumption of aid last week was too little too late. Abbas needed a meaningful peace process. Blair and Bush delivered neither and, as such, bolstered the standing of Hamas. The result is the West Bank and Gaza are now divided by ideology as well as geography and another Middle East powder keg has been ignited. In Lebanon, Blair’s refusal to condemn Israel’s bombing of Lebanese civilians last year weakened the pro-Western government at the same time as Israel’s military incompetence strengthened Hizbullah and with it Syrian President Bashar Assad. Two years ago Syria was forced out of Lebanon and Assad feared being on the wrong end of a US assault. Today Blair’s government, followed by others, has beaten a path to his door to ask for help combating Islamist terror groups. Yet only the bumbling Inspector Clouseau could fail to link Damascus to the series of murders in Lebanon that began with the assassination of Rafik Hariri. Iraq remains a catastrophic human tragedy that worsens at every turn. No one could fail to be moved by the millions of Iraqis marching to vote in the National Assembly elections in 2005, Iraq’s first free elections. One could argue at the time that the sight of people risking their lives to vote for a better future, despite the turmoil caused by the invasion, might vindicate Blair and Bush’s decision to go to war. But two elections later – one to ratify the Constitution and new parliamentary elections – the voters have shown more courage and vision than the politicians, whose failure to properly plan and execute the occupation and restructuring of Iraq has allowed festering sectarianism to explode in an orgy of violence. The prospect of Iraq being spilt into separate states grows more likely. Blair has already abandoned the country and moves for a US pull out could begin as early as September when the US commander, General David Petraeus, delivers his progress report on America’s “surge strategy, Bush’s last-ditch attempt to finally bring order to the chaos. Blair’s failures in these countries have also jeopardized the initially successful war to crush the Taliban in Afghanistan. The US and British decision to open up another front in the “war on terror in Iraq and spread increasingly thin military resources has emboldened the Taliban. As recent developments Afghanistan make clear, the war in is no longer confined to the south of the country and threatens to spiral out of control. The scale of the failure of Blair’s foreign policy can be measured in death, carnage and misery across the Middle East, from the Mediterranean to the Tigris. Nero supposedly played his lyre while Rome was devoured by a fire he started. Blair’s lucrative employment on the US lecture circuit will offer a modern example of the Roman emperor’s vanity, while the Middle East remains enveloped in a conflagration partly of Blair’s making.
Michael Glackinis a writer living in London and a former managing editor of THE DAILY STAR, for which this commentary was written.