It is easy to become immune to the hypocrisy of politicians. From millionaire Tory MPs calling for austerity to Boris Johnson, our serial adulterer-prime minister with an unverified number of children, warning against family breakdown, ‘do as I say not as I do’ has become a default motto for our ruling class. Yet during the fallout of the Taliban’s recapture of Kabul, Tony Blair – one of the chief architects of the decades-long crisis – has taken this elite hypocrisy and shamelessness to a whole new level.
Given Blair’s past attempts to justify the devastating occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, it comes as no surprise that the former prime minister has, in recent weeks, doubled down on his eagerness to follow US president George Bush into a war that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives with little tangible benefits for those outside of the boardrooms of military contractors. Even after the 2016 Chilcott Inquiry slammed him for using misleading evidence to justify his decision to rush into both Iraq and Afghanistan, Blair remained unrepentant.
A diehard neo-imperialist.
Writing in response to the removal of troops from Afghanistan in late August, Blair parrots the now-ubiquitous liberal fantasy that the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan was predominantly designed to bolster women’s rights in the region.
He also defends the notion that it is possible to bomb a democratic nation into existence, arguing that “turning Afghanistan from a failed terror state into a functioning democracy … may have been a misplaced ambition, but it was not an ignoble one”. Blair then attempts to portray himself as leading the crumbling vanguard of a western, interventionist, rules-based order, calling for “a sense of rediscovery that we in the west represent values and interests worth being proud of and defending”.
In his 1978 book Orientalism, Edward Said famously traced how the west’s exploitation of the east – the ‘Orient’ – served to construct a set of geographical, political and cultural assumptions that facilitated imperial domination by European empires, and continues to shape uneven global dynamics. Said argues that the east has been constructed as an exoticized, homogenous and dangerous ‘other’ in contrast to the civilised west. Blair’s determination to present the innocent, benevolent west as a unified bloc, fighting evil forces emanating from the east, is an on-the-nose actualisation of Said’s theory.
In a recent speech, Blair continued this theme, whilst also slamming Joe Biden’s apparent newfound recalcitrance regarding military interventionism, arguing that, far from a reduced military presence, western societies around the world, “need some ‘boots on the ground’”. He concluded by lamenting the end of liberal interventionism, arguing that, “western notions of liberal democracy and freedom are exportable”, but in order to export them those in the west must recover “confidence in our values and in their universal application”. By also stating that the “‘remaking’ [of Iraq and Afghanistan] needed to last longer”, Blair echoed the ‘civilising mission‘ discourse that has been used to justify colonialism for as long as it has existed.
Blair’s interventions are underpinned by an orientalist, neo-imperial assumption that the west has a God-given right to impose its will on the rest of the world. He is also guilty of a fundamental hypocrisy: the supposedly liberal, democratic system of values that he rhetorically sanctifies is entirely at odds with the regimes he has not only supported but worked for throughout his post-political career.
In bed with the world’s dictators.
Blair’s willingness to prop up authoritarian governments since leaving Downing Street has been well documented. Whilst running Tony Blair’s Associates, his now-disbanded commercial consulting firm, Blair offered his services to some of the world’s most dictatorial regimes, including those in Kuwait, Azerbaijan, Guinea, Egypt, Rwanda, Qatar and Mongolia.
In Kazakhstan, it was reported that president Nursultan Nazabayev spent more than £20m to secure Blair’s services to help cover up his regimes’ murderous repression of protestors. The ex-British prime minister went as far as praising Nazabayev for making ‘remarkable’ economic progress in a cameo appearance for a state-sponsored hagiographical documentary. The propaganda film was published just two months after Kazakh police fired at striking oil workers, killing 15.
Due to a long list of similarly seedy connections, Blair was forced to shut down the company, after criticism that his political and commercial efforts were too closely intertwined. Yet his current vehicle, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, has also received funding from regimes that are diametrically opposed to the fluffy vision of western democracy Blair continues to advocate for. His non-profit company received a donation of £9m from Saudi Arabia, whose government Blair has helped with its controversial and vague ‘modernisation’ programme. Critics of the Saudi regime argue that these reforms are largely cosmetic and merely designed to paper over the administration’s continued connections to hard-line Wahhabi clerics, widespread human rights abuses and the devastating war in Yemen.
Despite Blair’s unified theory of an unshakable western liberal democracy, time and time again he has proven himself to be more than happy to sell his support and dwindling credibility to the world’s most authoritarian regimes. If only the Taliban had donated to the Tony Blair Institute, he could well have helped design their PR campaign.
A defender of a dying era.
Blair’s hypocrisy is not only repellent, it also speaks to a deeply concerning broader political vision. His representation of the west as a virtuous monolithic bloc defined in contrast to the evils of ‘radical Islam’ reveals his determination to maintain a perpetual cycle of global conflict, with Blair arguing that “like Revolutionary Communism, [Radical Islam’s] defeat will come ultimately through confronting … [it] with a combination of hard and soft power”. In an article for his institute’s website, he also wrote that “we are in the wrong rhythm of thinking in relation to Radical Islam. With Revolutionary Communism, we recognised it as a threat of a strategic nature”.
This harking back to the golden era of the Cold War neglects to mention or consider the immense human cost of the countless proxy wars between the west and so-called revolutionary communism, which claimed millions of lives in theatres of war across the globe. Yet Blair still seems desperate to revive this deadly epoch.
What are his motivations for all of this? It’s likely that he has one eye on posterity. His determination to both absolve himself of any blame for the destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan, and farcically claim that the invasions were justified, point to a desperate attempt to resuscitate his widespread unpopularity and increasingly toxic legacy.
Yet with Blair, it is also always about the money. He has become so enmeshed with the interests of the ultra-rich – he himself is estimated to be worth around £60m – that he has rebranded himself as a mouthpiece for global capital, which profits handsomely from the military interventions that he so passionately promotes. Ultimately, Blair is ideologically committed to preserving an era of fantasy, cavalier western interventions, of which he sees himself as both a key architect and one of its last defenders.
Not content with having kept the plates of global warfare spinning whilst in office, Blair has spent his post-Downing Street years lining his pockets by selling his services to the highest authoritarian bidder and banging the drum for perpetual military interventions.
To then claim that he acts in the service of peace and democracy is sanctimonious in the extreme. If only Blair had restricted his retirement to producing banal paintings like the man he followed so obsequiously into Afghanistan and Iraq, the world might be a slightly less grim place.
Joe Duffy is a writer with a particular interest in climate justice, radical history and fiction.