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Analysis by Sanjay Suri

The Secret Way To War

(IPS) LONDON -- That boring old truism, that people are judged by the company they keep, must be true also of leaders. Because that is where outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair hit his tragic flaw -- he kept rather close company with Bush.

"I think he lost through his association with Bush," Prof. Julian Le Grand from the London School of Economics (LSE) told IPS. "I don't think there are many people who would say that he gained through this. I think it will be one of the factors that will ultimately lead to a diminishing of his reputation."

The problem of Iraq has been a major factor, he said, "and coupled with that the link with George Bush has been a major factor that has not endeared him to the country or to the party."

Prof Rodney Barker, an expert on Blair at the LSE, agrees. Blair's big disaster, he says, was his intervention in Iraq alongside the U.S. blunder.

"He's not going for that mistake. But the combination of a man who's been in office ten years, a man whose reputation has been besmirched by one part of his foreign policy -- the close association with George W. Bush and the invasion of Iraq -- all of this together means that his time had come," Prof. Barker told IPS.

It is tempting to read between the lines to believe that Blair too probably knows this. His reference to the United States, significantly omitting any to Bush himself, sounded somewhat defensive in his parting speech in his constituency Sedgefield on Thursday.

The 9/11 attacks were "utterly unanticipated and dramatic," he said. "I decided we should stand shoulder to shoulder with our oldest ally. I did so out of belief. So Afghanistan and then Iraq. The latter, bitterly controversial."

And then, Blair came almost close to acknowledging he had got it wrong. "Removing Saddam and his sons from power, as with removing the Taliban, was over with relative ease. But the blowback since, from global terrorism and those elements that support it, has been fierce and unrelenting and costly. For many, it simply isn't and can't be worth it."

Blair added: "For me, I think we must see it through. They, the terrorists, who threaten us here and round the world, will never give up if we give up. It is a test of will and of belief. And we can't fail it."

The critical word Blair used was "blowback." It suggested a dramatic shift from his steadfastly held view in public over years now that terrorist actions -- including the London bombings July 7 two years back -- had nothing to do with the Iraq invasion and occupation. Blair held that position in the face of several arguments that the Iraq invasion had actually provoked more acts of terrorism, rather than contain them.

Blair spoke firmly of the need for strong action against terrorism, but after suggesting that such acts of terrorism could actually be arising as the "blowback" from the Iraq invasion.

And he may have spoken too soon also in suggesting that Iraq, rather than Afghanistan, has been bitterly controversial. The British intervention in Afghanistan has brought no containment of terrorist violence either: the Taliban have actually gotten stronger over the last few years, and raids on Taliban positions in the south, carried out substantially by British forces, have brought considerable civilian casualties.

Whether this provokes more terrorism or actually limits it will be known only long after Blair has ceased to be Prime Minister.

Through all this, Blair is seen not as acting on his own, but out of a decision to go with Bush. And if Bush has gone into trouble, or led his troops into it, Blair has simply kept company. Blair's biggest mistakes have been those he borrowed from Bush. And for a leader, following a mistake can be worse than leading one.

The Iraq shadow has fallen on extraordinary success for Blair, particularly for Britain. No more the sick man of Europe, Britain is now the most prosperous European country, and much of that success has come during Blair's ten years as Britain's leader.

"The country is prosperous, inflation is low, the economy is strong," said Prof. Barker. Blair made a breakthrough in Northern Ireland, which now has a power sharing government after years of peace. This piece of British territory on mainland Ireland, torn between largely Protestant loyalists to Britain and largely Catholic Republics who want union with Ireland had seemed for long a problem impossible to solve.

In the end, Blair was not being pushed to leave for his mistakes, or lauded for doing enough good. His problem finally was that he had been leader ten years, and people got fed up.

"There is an element of boredom," said Prof. Le Grand. "Not just for the party but for the country. It happened to Margaret Thatcher too when she had been many years in power. Whatever the achievements, people say it's time for somebody else to take over. The boredom factor does begin to creep in."

"Any body of people gets bored with a leader going on and on," said Prof. Barker. "And paradoxically if that leader runs a good and efficient government, they soon forget the reasons that led them to vote for him or her in the first place, which was the inefficient government of the predecessor. Memory doesn't last very long in politics."

This means that eventually Tony Blair may be forgiven for the Iraq disaster. Or, that people will just forget that he part-led them to it, which for him might be just as good.

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Albion Monitor   May 10, 2007   (

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