Return of the king: Tony Blair and the liberal media
The recent terror attacks in Iraq which killed over 100 people were a grim reminder of the legacy of the 2003 US/UK invasion. The bare facts are well known to readers of Znet: an illegal, aggressive invasion sold to the public on half-truths and lies, approximately 655,000 Iraqi dead by 2006, according to a study by John Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, and over four million Iraqi refugees.
In the UK, one of the chief architects of this mass slaughter has been engineering a comeback to frontline politics. On 10 July former Prime Minister Tony Blair attended and spoke at a Labour Party fundraising event in London. It was, The Guardian’s headline heralded, the “Return of the king to heal divisions within the Labour tribe”. Shamefully Ed Miliband, whose Labour leadership has been presented to the public as a clear break with Blairism, was reported to have said “I want to thank Tony for what he did for our party and for our country.” Writing about Milband’s leadership the next day, The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee argued having “Blair onside could be extraordinarily useful.”
These power-worshipping platitudes point to an essential truth: that the liberal wing of the establishment – the Labour Party, progressive newspapers and commentators – are unable to think clearly, morally or rationally about the man who caused the orgy of mass killing in Iraq.
Of course the liberal establishment was never anti-war in the way the term is commonly understood. Speaking in 2009 about the new US President, Noam Chomsky noted that although Obama was frequently praised for his "principled opposition" to the war, in reality his opposition has been entirely unprincipled throughout. For Obama the war was a "strategic blunder” and “mistake” rather than the illegal war of aggression it was.
Similarly, in a recent Guardian book review Julian Borger, the paper’s Diplomatic Editor, noted the “blunders” and “strategic folly” of the US in Afghanistan. According to the incredulous Borger, “The US spent more each year keeping Marine battalions in the Helmand districts of Nawa and Garmser than it gave to the whole of Egypt in military and civilian assistance, as an investment in Middle East peace” (my emphasis added).
A week after the king returned, The Guardian further cemented it’s ‘anti-war’ credentials with two breathless double-page spreads on Emma Sky. A political advisor to the top US general during the occupation of Iraq, Sky, the article was at pains to explain, was a Guardian-reading, Oxford graduate who had opposed the invasion. “Iraq was a disaster and perhaps the biggest strategic failure in the history of the US”, Sky reflected about her experience pushing for a population-centric counter-insurgency in Iraq. But while a smarter counter-insurgency often gains liberal support, journalist Nir Rosen argues “it still involves an occupation of a country” and arguably “makes the Americans a better imperial power.”
Of course many Labour Party members actively opposed the war. But the obvious question is this: If Iraq wasn’t enough, what on earth would the leadership have to do before you left the party?
Take Owen Jones, an all round good Socialist who has impressively taken apart establishment rogues such as David Starkey and Neil Hamilton on national television. He was, and remains, a staunch opponent of the Iraq War and Blair’s leadership. So far, so good. However, Jones’s recent appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions illustrates how he continues to wear his specially-fitted Labour Party blinkers. Finding out that Kelvin McKenzie was also on the panel, Jones pontificated on Twitter about whether he should withdraw in protest because of the former Sun Editor’s lies about the Hillsborough football victims. Unsure about the ethics of appearing with McKenzie, incredibly Jones sought the advice of Iraq War supporter and Blair apologist David Aaronovitch. Jones eventually decided to appear on Any Questions, noting he would donate his appearance fee to the Hillsborough Justice Campaign.
Of course Jones has every right to not share a platform with someone he finds objectionable. The problem is, last year Jones appeared on Question Time alongside none other than John Prescott – the Deputy Prime Minister during the invasion of Iraq. Whether Jones donated his Question Time appearance fee to the many thousands of Iraqi families that Prescott bears direct responsibility for destroying was not clear.
Luckily, the general public seem to have a stronger sense of right and wrong concerning Iraq than the intellectual class. Last week a ComRes poll found 61 percent of people disagreed with the statement “Tony Blair has a lot to offer this country.” Two years ago 28 percent of respondents in a BPIX/Mail on Sunday poll said Blair should be tried for war crimes.
This quarter of the population will search in vain for a mainstream newspaper that shares its views about Teflon Tony. As far as I am aware only one national newspaper has called for him to be put on trial – the tiny circulation Morning Star.