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The hypocrisy of Tony Blair’s Middle East vision

'Tony Blair is launching a grand ideological war that will result in far more violence.' Photograph: Matt Rourke/AP

‘Tony Blair is launching a grand ideological war that will result in far more violence.’ Photograph: Matt Rourke/AP

Bush’s poodle is barking again.:

The hypocrisy of Tony Blair’s Middle East vision

By Arun Kundnani (Guardian)

Tony Blair’s speech this week at Bloomberg in London reveals a growing support for authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. A decade ago, Blair was justifying wars in the Middle East on the grounds that they would launch a democratic revolution and sweep away Arab despots. In his latest speech he embraced Arab despots whose regimes, he says, are necessary bulwarks against Islamism. Blair’s change in emphasis reflects a wider shift in neoconservative thinking over the past decade, while the underlying analysis remains as flawed as ever.

At the heart of Blair’s argument is a single formula that he uses to explain the politics not only of the Middle East, but of Muslim populations around the world. Muslims everywhere, he says, are caught in an “essential battle” between two ways of thinking about Islam.

In this “Titanic struggle”, one side is modern, pluralistic, and supportive of religious freedom and open economies. On the other side are the “Islamists”, who reject the separation of religion from politics and, like communists and fascists before them, want to impose their particular interpretation on the rest of society.

It is, of course, a hopelessly simplistic formula. Yes, reactionary interpretations of religion must be opposed. But the revolutionary upheavals in the Middle East are ultimately about freedom from authoritarian political structures and the economic marginalisation generated by neoliberal economics (Blair’s “open economies”).

Blair’s formula – derived from neoconservatives such as Bernard Lewis – puts him on the wrong side of this struggle. That’s because the only question for him is the potential power of anti-western Islamists, so he ends up supporting some of the most oppressive forces in the region.

Last summer’s military coup in Egypt that overthrew a democratically elected government is described by Blair as “absolutely necessary”. Thousands of peaceful protesters have since been imprisoned by the regime, including many prominent journalists and intellectuals. Meanwhile, officially sanctioned pop songs pay tribute to army chief Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, and his face beams from posters. Blair says he disagrees with the death sentence on 500 opponents of the regime, but asks us to show “sensitivity” in our criticisms. The Egyptian generals get his support for the simple reason that they have declared war on Islamism. To him, nothing else really matters.

While Blair’s speech lays out recommendations for Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Iran, and Palestine, one country is not even mentioned by name: Saudi Arabia – surely the natural starting point for any genuine campaign against the use of religion for reactionary politics. And the ruling family’s record of domestic repression is unsurpassed. Yet the Saudi regime gets a free pass from Blair.

The Saudi “Islamists”, it seems, are to be embraced if they buy our weapons and keep the oil flowing. This is the return of the old foreign policy formula that neoconservatives criticised after 9/11: stability first, democracy can wait.

On Syria, Blair is right to argue for a strengthened opposition that might force President Assad to the negotiating table. But Blair seems to prefer that Assad remain in power for a period of time, rather than the opposition, with its Islamist elements, enter government. That Assad is also in an alliance with the Islamists of Hezbollah simply points to the superficiality of Blair’s formula as a way of understanding specific contexts.

A decade ago, Blair joined neoconservatives in arguing that Arab despots such as Saddam Hussein needed to be removed from power because of the security threat they represented in a post-9/11 world. Saddam’s ouster was supposed to launch a pro-western democratic transformation across the region. In fact, genuine democratic change in the Middle East, where it has occurred, has been brought about not by external military force but by popular insurrection. Once it became clear that democratic revolutions would not fit the mould of pro-western liberalism and free market economics, neoconservatives decided that the old-guard despots may once again be needed in order to stabilise the region.

Blair’s supporters say he has discovered nuance. But the shift in his latest speech is not towards subtlety but a step back to the rhetoric of stability, and the abandonment of the post-9/11 neoconservative slogan of reordering the world. What remains is the hypocrisy of denouncing an ideology as inherently violent, and then launching a grand ideological war against it that results in far more violence.

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  • George Carty

    And also because KSA buys lots of American and British weapons – think of how many jobs that translates to!

  • Tanveer Khan

    Let’s parteyyyy!

  • Tanveer Khan

    Ok, sociopath.

  • Reynardine

    And again: welcome back!

  • Reynardine

    No. Idiots are innocent. How about a bit of a sociopath?

  • Tanveer Khan

    Blair’s a bit of an idiot isn’t he?

  • Guess

    This vile, despicable mass murderer that ravaged millions of lives by destroying entire countries, for “democracy”, is now telling us bluntly that actually his neocon cause was never about democracy, but in fact about safeguarding authoritarianism and despotism for purpose! This loon should have been by now defending his ill actions against the region in front of a judge, not laying down his opinions to a world that identifies him as a war criminal.

  • Reynardine
  • Baudy Harrison

    Calling the MB members ‘peaceful’ protesters !? I would call that a remarkable sense of humor !

  • Baktashi

    the ‘two ways thinking about islam’ he means is:
    1) agree with the world-integrated economic system
    2) disagree with the said system

    That’s why ksa gets a free pass…not only cauz of the oil, but cauz their economies agree and integrate with the dominant economic system that essentially feed off a few banks. same goes for uae and jordan. the sanctions of cuba iran and iraq have more to do with them trying to break off the world economic system.

  • Anonymous

    That video pretty much sums up the whole Islamophobia industry

  • Sam Seed

    This man is wanted for crimes against humanity. George Galloway is currently making a documentary on this killer with the smile of Satan. Strange, only yesteryear he was traveling Muslim countries as a peace envoy and suddenly he wants war. Greed knows no bounds, the lying SOB.

  • JD
  • Rob Saunders

    Blair has only ever been interested in two things: accumulating money and feeding his monstrous ego (remember when he instructed his staff to find “eye-catching initiatives with which I can be personally associated”? Strutting around giving speeches on the Middle East as though he had a clue, or as though he were still remotely relevant, is an example of the second. He supports military dictators because they generally have vast pots of their people’s money and he hopes if he is sufficiently toadyish that he may get his hands on some.

  • Reynardine

    When was Tony Bliar not a synonym for hypocrisy? …starting from the leadup to the Iraq war, his grinning little yapdog face became the most repulsive non-American one on the whole business, that of a tiny British poodle being wagged by a huge American tail and the thinking that, through this delusionary union, (white) Brittania would once more rule the waves. This revival of 1895 Anglo-American Joint Empire thinking could not roll back time, but it has cost millions of lives and will go on costing them. So what? In the neocon/neoliberal mindset, the lives of ordinary human beings are fungible in a struggle for “greatness” by their “betters”.

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