Tony Blair. What can you say about a man who led the Labour party to a landslide victory in 1997 and who presided over the longest period of economic growth for decades? Well, it was a great victory for sure and as for economic growth… what’s there to say? GDP is no great indicator of a nation’s wealth. And economic growth, like any kind of growth, cannot be sustained forever. Blair and his government continued the neoliberal consensus: the free market is great, the free market is good. All hail the free market.
The other day someone on Twitter, calling themselves “@blairsupporter”, placed me on a list of “Blair haters”. Charming, I thought. And the reason for this? It’s because I referred to Blair as a “warmonger”, which indeed he is… unless the word itself has been redefined overnight, Blair still qualifies – in my mind, at least – as a war criminal. He’s most certainly unrepentant. Take his appearance on Newsnight a couple of weeks ago, in which he said that Iraq had not turned out “as he hoped”. Instead of admitting his actions were wrong, he blames the continuing violence on insurgents and external forces. Yet without his and Bush’s intervention, there would be no sectarian violence.
It’s easy to claim that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant who “killed his own people” when you know nothing of the history of Iraq or Britain’s 40 year on-off occupation of the country. It’s a handy default position: after all, Saddam Hussein had a big moustache. Surely that’s good enough to have considered him as another Stalin or a Hitler? Remember Gamal Abdul Nasser?
Most people knew nothing about Iraq before 1991 and took their information from the usual news sources. That’s always a big mistake. Britain was in, what was once called Mesopotamia from 1917 till 1958, with a wee break before WWII when it marched back in and kicked out the Nazi-sympathizing Prime Minister Rashid Ali al-Gaylani (who had seized power in a coup in 1941) and connived to reinstall their man Nuri es Said, who dominated Iraqi politics with much repression and violence for the next 17 years.
Britain’s time in what became Iraq is hardly mentioned and is often skipped over to promote the narrative of a uniquely blood-thirsty Saddam Hussein. Nuri was really bad but then so was General Bakr Sidqi (a Kurd), who was largely responsible for the Simele Massacre in 1933, which matches Halabja for the sheer scale of its brutality.
During the pre-independence period… and when I say “independence” I use this word in its loosest possible sense… Britain used Iraqi Arabs and Kurds as target practice. The great racist, Winston Churchill once opined that the use of poison gas against “recalcitrant Arabs” would “spread a lively terror”, which would thus force them to submit to British imperial rule. The military commander in Iraq, General Aylmer Haldane was enthusiastic about the use of gas and other armaments when dealing with Arabs and Kurds. His passion for wanton death and destruction was shared by others.
Other officers seemed to enjoy the work. One who did was Arthur Harris, who would later achieve fame directing the bomber offensive against Germany in the second world war. Known to his friends as Bomber and to his enemies as Butcher, he first practised his trade against Kurdish villages in Iraq. “Where the Arab and Kurd had begun to realise that if they could stand a little noise, they could stand bombing, and still argue,” he reported after one raid in 1924, “they now know what real bombing means, in casualties and damage; they now know that within 45 minutes a full-sized village can be practically wiped out and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured by four or five machines which offer them no real target, no opportunity for glory as warriors, no effective means of escape.” The British employed “police bombing” elsewhere in the empire – in Transjordan; against the Pathan tribesmen on the north-west frontier of India; in the Aden Protectorate (now the southern part of Yemen); and against the Nuer people of the southern Sudan.
Wherever you find brown people, you’ll find Britain and the United States bombing the crap out of them.
But what about the company Blair keeps? Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, has been accused of human rights violations. Blair is his “special adviser”. One wonders what kind of advice you give to a man with no respect for the lives of others? “Carry on, Paul, my old son”!
In 2009, The Office of Tony Blair website (question: how many former Prime Ministers have created their own office? The answer is none. Not even Thatcher did it) said,
Tony Blair hailed President Kagame’s visionary leadership as he saw for himself the remarkable pace of Rwandan progress during a two-day visit to the East African country.
The founder of the Africa Governance Initiative met with the President and senior officials to discuss ways in which Mr Blair and his team could help Rwanda build the capacity to deliver on the priorities of the Rwandan people, before witnessing examples of Rwandan progress in education, clean energy and business.
More often than not, former PMs sit on the backbenches after they’ve lost a general election. Not Blair (Thatcher was packed off to the Lords within a couple of years). He was off gallivanting around the globe. He picked up a nice cushy number as an adviser with JP Morgan and was hand-picked by George W Bush to become the Middle East special envoy. Blair also has his eye on the job of European president. Except no one wants him. But then, no one – except Bush, his neo-con buddies and the swivel-eyed Rapturists wanted Blair to be Middle East’s special envoy either.
According to the Telegraph, Blair has set up an investment unit at his Mayfair offices... this must be the location of The Office of Tony Blair. Let’s face it, he wasn’t going to base his operations in Greenford or New Cross.
His investment unit, headed by a former senior banker at Barclays, reflects the former prime minister’s growing business empire, worth tens of millions of pounds.
Five members of his staff are registered with the Financial Services Authority and trading screens have been installed at Mr Blair’s offices, in Grosvenor Square in central London.
Mr Blair has established a complex web of companies, designed, according to accountants, to hide just how much money he makes and from where his money comes.
He has denied being “super rich”, but having built up a property portfolio of several homes and two multimillion-pound businesses, it is expected that he will enter the rich-lists for the first time this year with a fortune of somewhere between £35 million and £60 million.
Details of his trading desk have been pieced together by The Sunday Telegraph, which has conducted a series of investigations into Mr Blair’s finances since he left office in 2007.
Greed, thy name is Tony Blair.
So what about Kagame? Well, here’s what Blair said to The Guardian’s Chris McGreal three years ago,
“I’m a believer in and a supporter of Paul Kagame. I don’t ignore all those criticisms, having said that. But I do think you’ve got to recognise that Rwanda is an immensely special case because of the genocide. Secondly, you can’t argue with the fact that Rwanda has gone on a remarkable path of development. Every time I visit Kigali and the surrounding areas you can just see the changes being made in the country.”
But a sound economic policy hardly justifies the years of abuses in Congo.
Quite right. Yet Blair is unable to see anything other than the colour of money and his place in history.
Death, thy name is Tony Blair.