Thursday, June 07, 2007

Tony Blair's farewell essay

British PM Tony Blair has an essay in the Economist (May 31). He outlines lessons he learnt as PM. It's a well crafted piece (the work of a good staff writer?), with Blair's earnestness writ all over it, but I wasn't bowled over by the substance.

Let me take up a couple of samples for dissection.

It is said that by removing Saddam or the Taliban—regimes that were authoritarian but also kept a form of order—the plight of Iraqis and Afghans has worsened and terrorism has been allowed to grow. This is a seductive but dangerous argument. Work out what it really means. It means that because these reactionary and evil forces will fight hard, through terrorism, to prevent those countries and their people getting on their feet after the dictatorships are removed, we should leave the people under the dictatorship.

Who has given the Blairs of the world the right to determine that regimes are evil and dictatorial and must be overthrown? Since when have western governments decided that dictatorships cannot be allowed to continue? Do they regard Pakistan and several of the Middle Eastern pro-western regimes as models of democracy?

There is also the problem of selectivity. The US and the UK will remove dicatatorships that are not convenient to them. A dictatorship in an oil-rich country such as Iraq that is not pliable must be overthrown. A dictatorship in Pakistan must be supported at all costs. It is the utter lack of principle that people everywhere- and not just Muslims- resent.

In the Middle East right now, it (global terrorism) stops progress in Iraq. It defies the attempts at peace between Israel and Palestine. It is making Lebanese democracy teeter on the brink. That is significant in itself. But far more significant is the way in which the terrorists have successfully warped our sense of what is happening and why. They have made us blame ourselves.

We can debate and re-debate the rights or wrongs of removing Saddam. But the reality is that if you took al-Qaeda (in Iraq before Saddam's fall) out of the conflict in or around Baghdad, without the car bombs aimed at civilians and the destruction of monuments like the Samarra Shrine, it would be possible to calm the situation.

It is the perceived injustices perpetrated by the US, the UK and other allied governments that have bred terrorism in different parts of the world or fuelled it. Blair shows no recognition of this; he seems surprised that the well-intentioned, do-gooder governments should be blamed at all for the insurgencies in many parts of the Muslim world.

There was no al-Qaeda in Iraq in Saddam Hussein's time. It was the chaos unleashed by the toppling of his regime that allowed al-Qaeda to take root and flourish. These points have been made ad nauseam but they just don't seem to register with those convinced that they have a mandate to carry out a crusade against 'evil' regimes.

Blair is more convincing when he talks about the domestic agenda- reform of the public sector, welfare and politics. The perception that his domestic successes were unfortunately outweighed
by his foreign policy failures is unlikely to fade soon.


Raj said...

The problem is not merely one of selectivity. Even if Britain or USA is not selective, but attacks all countries with dictatorial regimes, it would not be right. The issue here is absence of respect for sovereignty and the fact that one or two countries cannot act as the gendarme for the whole world.

T T Ram Mohan said...

Raj, you are right. I have amended the sentence to read,"There is also the problem of selectivity".

I meant to say that if the US and the UK were indeed promoting the spread of democracy uniformly, there would be a better chance of their interventions gaining acceptability.


Krishnan said...

It is true that the US (and UK) policies have been selective - ignoring Pakistan's sins for those of Iraq (one has nuclear weapons, the other did not) - and people do remember that the Taliban was a US creation (enemy of the enemy (Russians) being the friend in this case) (and how Iraq itself came into being by machinations by the British at the turn of the last century) - The arrogance of power and plain ignorance is what has led to the problem in Iraq - the belief that liberation from one dictator will somehow bring the country prosperity automatically - Yes, there is an issue of sovereignty - but it is a terrible thing to watch people being systematically killed for ethnic or religious reasons and claim "sovereignty" to do nothing ... It is true that the US (or UK, or anyone) cannot be the world's policeman that can stop all internecine or interreligious or interethnic conflicts - but it IS terrible (IMO) to stand and watch - as the world has done several times) ... The choices are not always right or on time or appropriate - but going to the aid of defenseless people anywhere should be something that all countries should attempt to do ... and yes, using the hammer of power to make such moves possible - while opening themselves up to criticism of "Why not Country A?" or "B"?