Monday, June 25, 2007

Bye Bye Blair? We Should Be So Lucky!

Showdown in the Vatican

I recently watched “The Trial of Tony Blair” on the BBC, a film in which Blair resigns, converts to Roman Catholicism, and is whisked away on a plane to The Hague to stand trial for war crimes in the International Criminal Court.

Would that real life were so satisfying. But those of us who despised the Blair-Bush warmaking coalition do have the satisfaction of knowing the former prime minister must have felt like a naughty schoolboy being hauled into the principal’s office when he made a much-heralded visit to the Pope at the Vatican. Instead giving Blair his blessing, the Pope blessed Blair out. (If that’s an unfamiliar colloquialism, it means “The Pope cussed Blair out,” or “The Pope severely chastised Blair.”) That black smoke seen angrily billowing from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel had nothing to do with the election of a new pope! The Vatican described the exchanges between the Pope and Blair as a "frank confrontation," which in diplomatic language translates as a “profound disagreement”, or, some say, “complete disaster”.
There had been strong rumors that Tony Blair was going to visit the Pope as a step toward his acceptance into the Roman Catholic Church, but instead of welcoming a new convert the Pope criticized Blair for having pushed policies directly contrary to some of the strongest policies of the Church.

A spokesman for Blair had said last week he would discuss with the Pope not only interfaith questions but also world issues such as peace in the Middle East. As it turned out, the discussion apparently consisted mostly of the Pope blasting Blair for his “best supporting actor” role in starting the Iraq War.

Very shortly before Blair’s audience with the Pope, Blair’s spokespersons – aware of looming trouble – toned down the conversion process and said that Blair was going to talk mostly about spreading harmony between Christianity, Islam and Judaism. If he did indeed dare present himself to the Vatican as a man qualified to talk about that subject, he must have increased the papal disapproval tenfold. If Jesus made one thing clear, it was that he hated hypocrites.

A New Job for Tony?

It has been reported that not only President Bush but also Europe's most senior officials have given their support to a plan to make Tony Blair a Middle East envoy. Bush is pressing Blair to become a representative of the Quartet of powers that supposedly are to implement the “road map to peace” between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel’s neighbors.

“Nevertheless some European diplomats are worried that Blair's participation in the U.S.-led war in Iraq make him too controversial a figure in the Arab world.” How understated can an understatement be? Next to George Bush and Vice President Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, who could be more hated in the Arab world than Tony Blair, and who could be less likely to lead the way on a “road map to peace” – already the least heeded piece of paper in the world next to last year’s grocery ads? Under Blair, Britain was as responsible as the United States for fabricating false evidence and stories designed to justify the invasion of Iraq.

As I was preparing to write about Blair’s conspicuous lack of qualification as an envoy to the Middle East, I found that The Guardian had already done a clever job of it.

This is the great opening statement from The Guardian:

'Many jobs have been touted for the outgoing prime minister. It's hard to say which of them he's most unqualified for.'


‘Special envoy to the Middle East is the most ridiculous of all these touted jobs. The idea that Blair should become a peace envoy in the Middle East, in what the New York Times calls a "visible attempt at laying the groundwork for a Palestinian state", is in a class of its own for sheer absurdity. That is not less so for President Bush's support, nor for the fact that Blair has already applied for the job.’

‘After Iraq, the culminating events came last summer. With Israel bombarding Lebanon, with most Labour MPs wanting an immediate ceasefire, and with barely a fifth of British voters thinking the Israeli action justified, Blair would not budge an inch from his support for Bush and Ehud Olmert.’

It was reported elsewhere that Blair said to Bush last year while Israel’s American-equipped jets were razing Lebanon, and Blair was joining in delaying a ceasefire so that even more Lebanese could be murdered, that he could go to the Middle East ahead of Condoleezza Rice "if she needs the ground prepared as it were ... Because obviously if she goes out, she's got to succeed, as it were, whereas I can go out and just talk".

A fine admission for a future envoy to the area: “I can go out and just talk.” Just what Israel wants in an envoy.

Marc Sirois, of the Beirut Daily Star, wrote that the prime minister had "sacrificed what credibility he ever had in this part of the world" by abdicating any responsibility he had toward the conflict. Blair couldn't possibly act as an honest broker, since "he is identified so strongly by Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular as somebody who supports the policies of the Bush administration. George Bush might be hated here but at least he's respected. Tony Blair doesn't even have respect."

Less respected than G.W. Bush! Tony Blair’s niche in history is assured.

Tony Blair Update, June 28: Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said in Gaza that Blair's appointment as envoy 'is not acceptable to Hamas nor to the Palestinians. He will not
do anything to support the Palestinian interests but will do everything to
support the Israeli occupation.'

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