Tony Blair Book Review

I’ve just finished listening to Tony Blair’s book, A Journey: My Political Life, whispered into my ear by Tony himself. I’ve been listening to more audiobooks than reading real books for the last year or so. It’s easier to do on the metro than to read a real book, or try and use one of those new-fangled ebook readers. Although I can see the appeal of the Kindle.

I don’t particularly dislike Tony Blair, despite the little incident he had in Iraq, which seems to have set almost every living person in the UK against him. Bizarre, really. In the run up to the war, the citizens of the UK were, albeit by a small majority, in favour of invading Iraq. I know, there were the mass demonstrations. Somewhere in the region of 750,000 to 1,000,000 on the streets.

But then there are the silent majority, and you have to count those guys too. How do you count silent majorities? Well, the sole UK tabloid to take an anti-war stance before hostilities began lost a huge chunk of its readership. Then there were the polls. It’s Kennedy Syndrome. After the fact, everyone voted for Kennedy, apparently. The election results beg to differ.

Was I for the invasion of Iraq? There’s nothing wrong in theory with getting rid of a tyrant. And I think people who quote the number of casualties since the war forget, conveniently, the number of deaths between the end of Gulf War I and Return of the Bush. If done right, with minimal casualties, with a speedy exit…I was all for it. On the other hand, if it involved a prolonged stay, a bloodbath and a destabilised region….well. Less keen. There’s nothing wrong with sitting on the fence, so long as you have a comfy cushion. I was never under any impression other than the fact I was a spectator anyway.

I voted for Blair once.  Really, he’s well to the right of me as far as ideology goes. I recognise the difference though, in what I want to happen, and what is realistically possible. I wouldn’t inflict half of my socialist ideologies on the population of the UK if I were in a position to. The UK is one cog in a global treadmill, and you have to work within the constraints of that treadmill. Getting off isn’t an option, although given that the treadmill is still rolling along the edge of an abyss, getting off is a tempting thought.

The book itself reveals no great surprises. No massive controversy. Nothing more than a few raised eyebrows really. There is of course a huge, continual dig at Gordon Brown from beginning to end. Blair isn’t a liar per se. I don’t think so anyway. He’s just ‘got a way with words’. I bet even now, months after Brown’s defeat in the 2010 General Election, Blair’s neighbours can still hear him gut laughing himself to sleep every night. Oh the luck of it. He leaves, is replaced by his nemesis, Chancellor Brown, and within months the world economy, Brown’s forte, collapses. But back to the book. It was an interesting enough read. Or listen. More for the walk down memory lane that Tony treated me to.

I voted for John Major in 1992 and 1997. In 2001 I abstained. I couldn’t bring myself to vote Labour, even New Labour, largely because of Brown’s economic policy. But the Conservatives had swung so far to the right, they were utterly unelectable. It’s been a repeating fashion in the almost 30 years I’ve been conscious of British politics. The electorate generally bring in whoever is closest to centre. And the defeated party will reel in shock, decide they need to reinvent themselves, to differentiate from the party in power, and take an extreme position either left or right.

That pretty much guarantees defeat next time out too. That’s why I voted for Blair in 2005. Not in a million years would I have cast a vote for Michael Howard. Right wing? Yes. A Wing Nut too. And it’s why I almost certainly won’t vote Labour at the next election. Their immediate response was to bring in Ed Milliband as leader….they’re swinging hard to the left. Predictable. Normally suicidal, but what with the economy being what it is, anything could happen.

You might think that’s where I am, on the left. If you look at the chart though on my previous post, I’m bottom left. Milliband is top left. Cameron and the conservatives are bottom right. Hmmmmm…..centr-ish right. Neither are in my block. I have a hard choice to make. Do I go for the party that appeals to my libertarian sensibilities, or socialist sensibilities. Although I wouldn’t really regard myself as socialist, you know.

As for the last election. I abstained again. I’d have liked to vote. The election is supposed to give one an opportunity to be heard. So where was the box ‘None of the above’? That would have been my option. I appreciate that sometimes, usually, you have to vote for the party that is least worst, which is why Obama may yet get a second term in the US, and why the PRI may field the winning candidate in the Mexican presidential election in 2012, but I won’t vote for a party or leader that I have no faith in. There was 0% chance I’d vote for Gordon Brown. He has many talents, genuine talents. But none make up for the fact that he’s an indecisive imbecile incapable of leadership.

14 Comments

  • Hindsight makes it too easy.
    ——————————-
    Ah but it was foresight that made it difficult…there are many a volume to read from the era (other than from those trying to weasle out of what would be a war cromes trial if you weren’t leader of a country on the UN security council). Check out Hans Blix, Scott Ritter, and Kofi Annan to start. It was a struggle for these people to do their jobs at a time when the world was still sympathetic to the US after the 9/11 attacks, and they all ended up voices of reason lost in the drumbeat of war.

    Here is a you tube moment of one of the most difficult moments of the lead up to that war. Colin Powell delivering his speech to the UN on the need to fight Iraq. Powell is a stand-up person who is driven strongly by truth and thoughtfulness. He knew this was BS and left the administration shortly afterwards. Tough to see such a good man have to be put through this.

    • My hindsight comment referred to Saddam’s games.

      I remember the whole thing pretty well….it wasn’t that long ago! Don’t get me wrong Guy. We’re in agreement on almost everything here. Except as to whether Blair believed Saddam had WMD’s or not. I’m sure he did. Convinced of it. Did Bush? Probably. I don’t think he cared that much whether there were or not. I listened to Blair and his inner circle, speeches and off cuff remarks, and regardless of all other factors, I am sure they expected weapons to be found.

      I read chunks of Blix’ book, but it was a PDF. I’ve been periodically looking for an audiobook version. Ritter pretty much sums up my thoughts: that Saddam probably did have WMD’s, but nothing worth invading Iraq for. I wouldn’t say their voices were lost. They were very, very audible. They were just ignored.

      By the way, Blair should have resigned when no WMD’s were found. And yet….he was re-elected with a reduced, but still healthy, majority. My vote helped, I’m sure. The Tory leader of the time was just as vocally pro war as he though. I voted according to policies I wanted for the UK over the next four or five years, rather than casting an anti-war vote. Which would have gone to the Liberals, who were never going to get anywhere.

      Colin Powell can’t be a ‘good man’ and the guy who made the speech that brought about the war! I know what you mean though. He was the most decent of the pack. But if he’d been really, really decent and truly believed it was all BS, he should have resigned.

      Slightly off topic, but one Iraq themed book I did read (listen to) recently was Thieves of Baghdad, which told a pretty disturbing story of the aftermath of the invasion.

      The title of the video you posted – ‘the speech that lead to war’. I disagree on this too. There was an earlier speech that set the path. Iraq wasn’t mentioned specifically. But I’ll bet he had it in mind.

    • other than from those trying to weasle out of what would be a war cromes trial if you weren’t leader of a country on the UN security council

      I find the idea of a legal war almost as preposterous as the idea of an illegal one. For a million reasons. One prime one being what you basically mention – the judge, jury and legislators are all one and the same. I read a lot of Nuremburg stuff a few years back. In what should have been the most clear cut of war crimes trials, the whole thing was so riddled with double standards, ethical minefields and no go areas.

      I do think Blair’s book is worth the read. I’ll try and download Bush’s book too, although I haven’t seen it available as anything other than PDF. I’ve read that people have been moving both books into the ‘Crime’ sections, so perhaps I’ve been looking in the wrong place! 🙂

      But anyway, I like to read accounts from all sides.

      Edit : Found GWB’s book in audio…

  • Uh… all this presupposes Britain and the U.S. had some right to “overthrow a tyrant” in the first place (one they created, by the way). Living in a country with a crappy army, and a lot of oil, where foreign powers have found “reasonable” excuses (including, in the 1846-48 U.S. intervention, the claim that we were ruled by a “tyrant”) for intervention forever, I can’t see how anyone in Mexico can defend the criminal irresponsibility of people like Blair, Aznar, Bush and cohorts.

    • I don’t think anyone ever has an automatic right to overthrow a tyrant or otherwise send in a military force to intervene in whatever situation it is that they feel requires intervention. That’s not, however, to say it isn’t ever right to intervene. Far more often than not nations act upon self interest, and so those interventions that do occur, aren’t usually the ones that do occur.

      It also has to be said that hindsight only works in one direction, and not one that flatters the ‘intervener’. Had the UN sent a substantial force into Rwanda in 1994, and had that forces actions lead to the deaths of 100,000 people history probably wouldn’t be kind on the UN.

      And I don’t think my post or any of the comments have really been about defending anyone. I’d argue (and, I’m sure, agree with you) that Blair was irresponsible, that he failed to be completely forthcoming regards his motivation for sending in British troops, and that he made a dreadful mistake in invading Iraq. But I’d also argue that he isn’t a criminal and that the war wasn’t illegal. And in the absence of any conviction, I’d be right.

  • I liked Blair back at the turn of the millennium…but he royally blew it with a single quote.

    “[The Joint Intelligence Committee] concludes that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, that Saddam has continued to produce them, that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes, including against his own Shia population, and that he is actively trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability.”
    Tony Blair
    House of Commons statement on publication of dossier concerning Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction, September 24 2002.

    • This is a tricky subject. I don’t especially have a problem with that quote. It was true. The JIC did come to those conclusions. They were wrong, as it turned out, but most people at the time believed Saddam did possess, was trying to acquire or would in the future, if given the opportunity, get hold of the toys from the grown ups box.

      I’m happy to believe that Blair genuinely did believe Saddam had WMD’s. I think, every time I see him speak on the issue, that he is haunted by the fact that Saddam turned out not to have them. And by what transpired in the Iraq war.

      The real issue for me was the way that flimsy evidence was presented as solid, although the media made more of it than the Blair government did. Was the threat from Saddam, even with WMD’s, serious enough to justify invasion? No. I didn’t think so then, and I don’t think so now.

      George Bush was lucky. The US allowed him to back two horses. WMD and regime change. Blair didn’t have the luxury. That’s the biggest issue I have with Blair. As convinced as I am that he did believe Saddam had WMD’s, I’m equally convinced that he took us into war for purposes of regime change as much as disarmament. And the UK parliament didn’t, and probably wouldn’t, have authorised action on that basis.

      If Blair had stood up and said, to the effect of, ‘Perhaps as many as a million people have died in Iraq since the end of the Gulf War, due to sanctions. We can’t drop sanctions because Saddam will rearm. We can’t continue them in good conscience. We need to remove Saddam’…..he’d have lost the parliament vote. But honestly so.

      I don’t envy his position though. Ever played the Trolley Problem in classes? It’s quite fun. Politicians often have to play the game for real, with half a dozen million lives on the line, instead of just the half dozen. Tough stuff.

      Do you remember this by the way? It was quite funny….

      • Blair, like Bush, knew full well there were no WMD. Weapons inspectors told them as much and everyone in the world at the time believed that the US and the UK were simply looking for a pretext to invade. No amount of book touring by either former leader can twist history to make themselves look better, not as long as there are people who remember.

      • I’d have to disagree with you on that Guy, not least because WMD’s were found in Iraq, albeit degraded pre GW1 stock. I don’t dispute that the WMD argument was inflated, as Blix stated, and used as justification for invasion. But I am quite sure that Blair believed the weapons were there. Some still insist they were, although I’d take those claims with a pinch of salt.

        Saddam also played some fairly suicidal games with the US, UK and UN over the years, right up to March 2003, actively trying to convince others he did have active weapons. Turns out he was afraid of what his neighbours might do if they thought he were empty handed.

        Hindsight makes it too easy.

  • Very funny video of Gordon Brown. He didn’t last long as PM. Is that a record short stint?

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where the art of voting is indeed the choice of lesser evils.

  • Always takes big ones to write about politics – And to write who you voted for wow – BIG ONES amigo. Voting generally seems like such a sham – when it boils down to two or three and the choice is generally who is for the least offensive – oh well….

    • I’ve never seen the need in the UK to hide who you are voting for. Things might be different in Burma and such places of course. But in the UK? Unless you voted for the BNP and have no cojones to state your convictions. Mind you if you support the BNP, your convictions are probably available for all to read at the local police station… 🙂

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