Eamonn McCann: Tony Blair under fire as he is set to leave Middle East peace role

‘As was evident in the begorrah antics at the White House on Tuesday, the Northern Ireland peace process just keeps on giving, albeit to the wrong people’

‘None of these criticisms is likely to dent Blair’s belief in his own righteousness. He is doubtless buoyed by regular, gushes of praise for his involvement in the making of the Belfast Agreement.’ Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

‘None of these criticisms is likely to dent Blair’s belief in his own righteousness. He is doubtless buoyed by regular, gushes of praise for his involvement in the making of the Belfast Agreement.’ Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

Tony Blair is set to step down as Middle East “peace envoy” for the Quartet – the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the United States. He was appointed at the insistence of George W Bush upon his departure from Downing Street in June 2007. He appears to have accepted that his time was up following a meeting last Saturday with US secretary of state John Kerry at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

We have to hope he’s grateful for the part played by Ireland in making the good years great, and greatly lucrative.

Bush cited the Northern Ireland peace process in delivering the job for Blair. He also reckoned that one good turn deserved another. “That guy gave up his career for us.” So, Blair was made a peace envoy in acknowledgment of his role in both bringing peace and procuring war.

“It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry,” commented Claire Short, who had resigned from Blair’s cabinet in protest against the invasion of Iraq.

It is just as hard to discern an inch of progress towards peace as a result of Blair’s efforts. “Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense,” was Palestinian negotiator Hanan Ashrawi’s summation.

Questing after his legacy

As to why he wanted the job, Short suggested he had been “questing after his legacy. He still wants to be an important figure on the world stage”. He seems also to have been anxious to pursue his passion for making money.

The envoy role gave him access to every Arab ruler in the region. No doubt he regularly discussed the Israeli-Palestinian issue with them. He also fashioned a number of business relationships. He says he kept the functions strictly separate – peace talk in the morning, perhaps, business in the afternoon.

Clients of his consultancy firm, Tony Blair Associates (TBA), include the rulers of Kuwait, Dubai and Abu Dubai and the Saudi royal family’s oil company, PetroSaudi. TBA’s most recent triumph has been the negotiation of a “delivery unit” for Serbia, funded by the United Arab Emirates. He also finds time to advise the president of the former Soviet state of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Nazarbayev was last re-elected in 2011, winning 96 per cent of the vote. Human Rights Watch has been strongly critical of his record on civil liberties. Blair’s advice to Nazarbayev will have been particularly useful on his visit to Britain in July 2012 to speak at Cambridge University. Seven months earlier, 14 protesters, mostly striking oil workers, had been shot dead by riot police, and 64 people hospitalised with injuries, in the oil town Zhanaozen.

A few days prior to the speech, Blair wrote to Nazarbayev: “Dear Mr President, here is a suggestion for a paragraph to include in the Cambridge speech . . . ‘These events, tragic though they were, should not obscure the enormous progress that Kazakhstan has made . . . I love my country. I have worked hard to help it overcome the bitter legacy of its recent history. I have been at the helm as it has dramatically made these strides in living standards, wealth and prosperity for the people.’”

At the end of the letter, Blair added in his own handwriting: “With very best wishes. I look forward to seeing you in London! Yours ever Tony Blair.”

Money-spinning

These money-spinning activities have, perhaps, been a factor in prompting scathing commentary on Blair from former diplomats and associates. On the BBC Radio Four programme Today on Tuesday, Oliver Miles, former head of the British foreign office’s near east and north Africa department, responding to a suggestion that Blair may now be handed a new role, said: “I find it hard to believe, frankly, that the British government would support him having a wider role. I think he’s not been able to do the job. I think he’s the wrong man.”

John Prescott, deputy prime minister throughout Blair’s premiership, in remarks made in February and published last week, commented that Blair’s military adventures in the Middle East were the main reason for the “radicalisation” of young British Muslims.

“Every time they watch the television where their families are worried, their kids are being killed and murdered and rockets firing on all these people, that’s what radicalises them . . . Tony unfortunately is still into that. I mean the way he’s going now, he wants to invade everywhere. He should put a white coat on with a red cross and let’s start the bloody crusades again.”

None of these criticisms is likely to dent Blair’s belief in his own righteousness. He is doubtless buoyed by regular, gushes of praise for his involvement in the making of the Belfast Agreement, which, 17 years on, continues to sharpen the communal divide while failing to deliver stability. But then, as was evident in the begorrah antics at the White House, the Northern Ireland peace process just keeps on giving, albeit to the wrong people.

Twitter: @eamonderry

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