Tony Blair’s accolade for human rights defies satire
There are moments when even the most gifted satirist must admit that reality has become too absurd to encapsulate. Today, even Jonathan Swift or Joseph Heller would surely be reduced to awestruck silence at the extraordinary ceremony at the White House, when George W Bush is due to present Tony Blair with the presidential medal of freedom in recognition of his efforts to promote "democracy, human rights and peace abroad".
The ceremony takes place against the background of the barbaric Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, in which both men have been complicit.
Last week a phone call from the White House ordered Condoleezza Rice to abstain in the ceasefire vote at the UN Security Council, a decision which emboldened Israel to prolong the killing and achieve its "goals".
In his Bush-appointed role as the Quartet's Middle East envoy, Blair has alternated between sonorous concern at the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and an insistence that Hamas must stop smuggling weapons or money into the territory before any ceasefire can take place.
At no point has Blair ever suggested that something might be demanded from Israel as well, or that this crisis might be due to Israeli actions. In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz shortly before the offensive, Blair was clearly aware of the "growing support in Israel for a military solution in Gaza".
Though he did not explicitly reject or approve this option, his attitude towards Hamas was evident in his dismissal of "nonsensical" comparisons between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Northern Ireland, saying that it was impossible to negotiate with an organisation that refused to accept the existence of Israel.
In fact, Hamas has declared on various occasions that it is willing to accept a two-state solution based on Israel's 1967 borders. Either Blair was unaware of these declarations, in which case he was merely ignorant, or else he was choosing, like the Israel government, to disregard them.
For Tony Blair, the only beliefs that have ever counted are those of the powerful
Given Blair's combination of intellectual shallowness and deviousness, both explanations are possible. It is more than eight years since his messianic speech to the Labour Party conference, with its grandiose promise to "re-order" the post-9/11 world "from the deserts of northern Africa to the slums of Gaza, to the mountain ranges of Afghanistan".
Since then the War on Terror has carved a swathe of violence, war and chaos across the very regions Blair described.
In Iraq, a traumatised society has been temporarily subdued by war, death squads and ethnic cleansing. In Somalia, a US-backed Ethiopian invasion created a vortex of lawlessness and violence. In Afghanistan, Nato troops are mired in a doomed war which threatens to spread into Pakistan.
In addition to his presidential gong Blair is due to receive at some point a Congressional Gold Medal he was originally awarded in 2003, which bears the slogan 'Our real weapons are not our guns, but our beliefs'.
But for Blair the only beliefs that have ever counted are those of the powerful. Such deference explains why he never once visited the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip who he once declared to be "our cause".
As the bombs rain down on "the slums of Gaza" in the last act of the catastrophic Bush presidency and this grubby and disreputable double act prepares to make its exit from the historical stage talking of "values", "beliefs" and "peace", we might feel disgust or relief on contemplating Bush's lopsided smirk and Blair's faux-naif sincerity for the last time.
But in their blinkered arrogance, their smug assumption of moral superiority, their taste for violence and their indifference to its human consequences, we might also remember that both men are to some extent a reflection of the societies that produced them.
And the fact that neither of them has been held to account for the mayhem they have helped unleash should give us cause for wonder and perhaps also for shame. ·
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