Vol. 22, No. 5,514 - The American Reporter - September 7, 2016

by Tom Clifford,
American Reporter Correspondent
June 11, 2007
Reporting: Middle East

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DUBAI -- Satire died when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel peace prize. Irony collapsed when Tony Blair was made Middle East peace envoy.

Blair lost his job as prime minister because of two conflicts, Iraq and Lebanon, which he justified and kept silent about, respectively.

Now he is peace envoy. Irony will never have a better subject.

His supporters are saying, "look at the success of Northern Ireland." But he's not being made envoy to Ulster, and his record on Middle East affairs is abysmal. Besides, Northern Ireland was a work in progress, with much of the groundwork being laid out by former British Prime Minister John Major and Irish leader Albert Reynolds. If Blair deserves credit for Northern Ireland, then he deserves blame for the Middle East, where the failure has been so much greater than the progress in Belfast.

There are many reasons for his appointment - vanity, place-in-history, making amends, too young to retire, Washington trying to boost the stalled peace process (if ever there was a redundant term) - and let us not forget: the money. His wife Cherie reportedly has a fascination with money that is akin to Imelda Marcos' fondness for shoes. Cherie apparently wants Tony to maximise his earning potential, and the best way to do that is to stay in the headlines. There is nothing wrong with wanting financial security, and in some ways it is admirable.

But monetary reward should not be a factor in such a position. And with an office in Jerusalem and his family still in Britain, Blair at the very least will be distracted from a task that will take all his powers of concentration.

But Bl;air's appointment, of course, has nothing to do with the Middle East, Palestine, Iraq or poverty. It has nothing to do with justice or for that matter democracy. The elected Palestinian government, Hamas, has been overthrown, a humanitarian crisis is plaguing Gaza, and not a single word from the new envoy.

After all, this is also a prime minister that refused to rule out using force against Iran. For job commendability, Blair did not have much going for him. And let us not forget that this is a prime minister who lost his job because of the Middle East.

His silence over Israel's pounding of Lebanon last summer resulted in senior Labour figures telling him to go. He was allowed stay until this summer for the simple reason that Gordon Brown refused to lead Labour and "carry the can" for what were expected to be, and were, disastrous local election results in May.

Blair was allowed stay on to save Brown from the humiliation and this long goodbye suited Blair's vanity.

He had planned a nationwide farewell tour until it was pointed out just how unpopular he had become so he switched to an international farewell, all the while in office, all at the taxpayers' expense. Money is important to the Blairs.

But let us suspend belief for a brief moment and look at the appointment without the baggage of Iraq, Lebanon, weapons of mass destruction, all the issues that should disqualify Blair from the job. Let's look at Washington.

Why would an American president, any president, let alone one struggling in the opinion polls, allow a British politician the credit for solving the Middle East crisis? It does not make sense.

President George W. Bush and the Republicans badly need good news before next year's election.

If there was a chance of a breakthrough it would not be Blair who was the envoy but a retired American official with close contacts to the Bush Administration. Allowing a European to get the credit for a treaty of immense historical importance, with an American president sidelined, would not be tolerated in Washington - nor in Israel either.

Blair was not chosen to succeed, and if he was not chosen to succeed then he was not chosen for the people of the Middle East. His real role is to give the impression that Mr. Bush and Washington are engaged and looking for innovative ways to tackle the "intransigence" of the Arabs. The good sherrif's deputy in a tough town.

Blair has a reputation in some quarters as an honest broker, and he described himself as a "pretty straight kind of guy." It may even be that Blair believes he can do the job, can get to the root of the injustice in the Middle East.

There has been an envoy before: James Wolfensohn, a former World Bank president who left in frustration; he realised just how shallow were his plenipotentiary powers.

The final irony is that Blair, who tried to persuade us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, will have to stay silent on Israel's nuclear arsenal.

AR Correspondent Tom Clifford is Assistant Editor for International News at the leading Middle East daily Gulf News, headquartered in Dubai.

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