While everyone else was talking about the death of New Labour, Tony Blair went on a bit of a greatest hits tour last week. Back in 1999, Blair spoke before the Chicago Council on Global Affairs about internationalism and interventionism, presaging his later position on Afghanistan and Iraq with a plea for involvement in Kosovo. On Wednesday, he reprised that theme. The world may have moved on, but Blair has not:
Of course the solution in each case will be in many respects different. But it is time to wrench ourselves out of a state of denial. There is one major factor in common. In each conflict there are those deeply engaged in it, who argue that they are fighting in the true name of Islam.
This just days before President Obama authorised the release of 2000 photos of American abuse of prisoners from the two wars which most symbolise Blair’s engagement with this ‘problem’. Blair remains influenced by the work of Samuel P. Hinton, who denies the existence of anything like a universal world civilisation: “This argument cannot be sustained,” he insists in his The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, before embarking on a 300-page treatise on global realpolitik. (Obama’s overtures to Muslim nations will “expose, too, the delusion of believing that there is any alternative to waging this struggle to its conclusion,” argues Blair.) George W Bush may have left us, but the architect of New Labour remains a culture warrior on a grand scale.
What is astounding about this position, other than Blair’s supposed position as an independent mediator in the Middle East, is that the monomania ignores the true complexities of the world. In his The New Cold War, Edward Lucas calls the ‘war on terror’ a disaster, distracting us as it is does – indeed, forcing us into common cause with – regimes (Russia, Saudi Arabia) which act against our interests. Historians such as Gilles Kepel have convincingly argued, in Eric Hobsbawm’s words, that Islamist terrorist acts “are symptoms, not significant historic agents.” Whilst events in Pakistan continue to bring Islamism closer to geopolitical centres, it still seems absurd to see the world through the prism of so particular a phenomenon as Islamism.
Indeed, Blair’s voice seems out of tune with the current political noise, right down to reports that he would have cut taxes in the Budget. Yesterday’s man? Perhaps, but so perhaps no more so, alas, than his successor…