Matthew Parris remarked on Any Questions the day after Tony Blair’s speech to the US Congress last July that life is too short to reconcile what Blair says with what he’s said in the past and to reconcile it with reality.
I was reminded of this when reading Blair’s “thank you” speech to British troops in Basra on 4 January 2004. What was he saying? Is anything he says meant to convey meaning, or merely to give impressions?
Certainly, the most important impression was provided by the backdrop for TV. George Bush is very fond of speaking to military audiences, with uniformed personnel arranged behind him, so that even if you only see a short clip of his speech you know he’s with soldiers. And the personnel in the backdrop are always carefully selected to provide an appropriate gender and ethnic mix. In Basra, Blair took his cue from his master.
(At one time, was it not thought to be discourteous to turn your back on people when speaking to them? But, perhaps, that didn’t apply since he wasn’t speaking to the soldiers at all, but to the TV audience back home: the soldiers merely provided the backdrop for his performance.)
Difficult though it is, let us try to extract some meaning from he said. As usual, he declared the “virus of Islamic extremism” to be the great problem in the world. He continued:
“But the other threats are brutal and repressive states who because of their brutality, because they don't actually have the support or consent of their people, are developing weapons that can cause distraction [sic] and destruction on a massive scale and are a huge, huge liability for the whole security of the world. And those two threats come together.”
And, he seemed to be saying, Iraq was the test case for dealing with this coming together:
“And this conflict here was a conflict of enormous importance, because Iraq was the test case of that.”
There are a couple minor difficulties with this “analysis”: (a) “Islamic extremism” was entirely absent from Iraq, at least from the bit controlled by Saddam Hussein, because he suppressed it, and (b) Iraq had no “weapons of mass destruction”, not even World War I mustard gas, it appears.
Of course, before the US/UK invasion Blair believed that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction”. My favourite quote from him on the issue was in answer to Charles Kennedy in the Commons on 25 February 2003, when he said:
“I believe that our case on weapons of mass destruction is very clear indeed. It is perfectly obvious that Saddam has them.”
There he spoke like a true believer, but is he really still a true believer?
Also, is his knowledge of the world so deficient that he doesn’t know that all of the states that possess nuclear weapons today are not “brutal and repressive states” but democracies of sorts, and that most of them were democracies of sorts when they developed nuclear weapons, and that the only state to have used nuclear weapons was a democracy when it used them? Later, he said:
“No government that owes its position to the will of the people will spend billions of pounds on chemical, and biological and nuclear weapons whilst their people live in poverty.”
This nonsense is a product of the myth that Saddam Hussein kept the Iraqi people in poverty in order to develop non-conventional weapons. In fact, when the programmes were initiated in the 70s, thanks to the massive increase in oil revenue after 1973, and Saddam’s use of it for social programmes, Iraq was fast becoming a first world country, and would have done so if it hadn’t been for the Islamic revolution in Iran.
(Also, does Blair not know that there was quite a lot of poverty about in America and Britain when they developed nuclear weapons, and there still is? The existence of poverty hasn’t restrained them from continuing to develop and maintain nuclear weapons.)
In the midst of this, he said:
“Democracies don't sponsor terrorism.”
What world does he live in? Democracies have not only sponsored terrorism, state forces of the democracies have engaged in terrorism, often with the enthusiastic support of their people.
Can the deliberate targeting of civilians in German and Japanese cities in World War II be described as anything other than terrorism?
As for sponsoring terrorism, does he not know, for example:
It’s quite frightening that the Prime Minister seems to live in a fantasy world. Thank God he can’t launch a nuclear weapon without the permission of George Bush.
Labour & Trade Union Review