In my train of thought, some reflections on what constitutes an habitual liar. Or, more particularly, what separates, if anything, the self-delusional politician from the standard knavery of high political office.
Tony Blair is a name strikingly synonymous with both forms of the pathology. Not a reading likely to be offered by a polite media, ever-finessed in dutiful courtship of respected states(wo)men. But one patently obvious to any rational witness of calculating, self-deceiving individuals.
Blair's conduct suggests not just congenital duplicity but a psychology of mutual evasion with his 'examiners'. A high official lies. He denies he lies. A media confronted with stark evidence of his lies is sometimes 'compelled' to note those lies. Yet, the lies are somehow filtered and passed-off as 'aberrations', 'mistakes' or the 'cut-and-thrust' of political life. Even where those lies involve the mass murder of human beings, as in the million-plus lost faces in Iraq, the crime remains 'unsubstantiated'; a 'controversy'; a 'debate' to be left for posterity.
Besides these high crimes of conspiracy to slaughter in Iraq and Afghanistan, Blair's 'domestic' deceits might, in a more transparent system, have prompted indictments of the political and criminal kind. Instead, these have become just another set of 'dark marks'. It's as though the lies are 'written-off' as 'just more political scandal' or the 'character traits' of a 'bold politician'.
In more spiritual mode, some might wish to consider the 'sins' of this newly-found Catholic - and, perhaps, those who have taken him into their church. In its rush to embrace Blair, we find a clerical hierarchy as seemingly willing as his media devotees to expunge a warmonger's actions. The embrace may, of course, involve some invite to 'soul cleansing'. That's a personal communication, with priest or/and oneself. Yet, confession and forgiveness cannot precede understanding and justice. Indeed, the extent of Blair's 'religious venality' is in itself an abstraction serving to mystify such matters. Suffice to say, none of his 'sinful repentance', if any, has resulted in admission of his secular crimes.
Besides Blair's war crimes, we find multiple examples of his behavioural deceits, from newly-disclosed lying over the Ecclestone affair, to his blocking of the Serious Fraud Office investigation into BAE-Saudi corruption. As documented:
"The decision made by the Director of the SFO, Robert Wardle, on 14th December 2006 to drop the investigation appears to have been based on Blair's personal minute [to the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith] and meetings with the UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia."Yet, whether 'high' or 'low' crimes, a compliant silence prevails. While the BBC, Guardian and other liberal outlets are prepared to report Blair's 'mischief', the mutual protections and shared assumptions remain a non-issue for this 'self-examining' and 'questioning' media.
That same pretence of honourable joint intentions is currently evident across the Israeli media, as in this gushing Jerusalem Post exchange between Blair and David Horovitz:
"Why do you think Britain is so hostile to Israel? Why do you think the British people find it so hard to internalize the true essence of Islamic extremism?
I don't think it's just Britain... It's in Europe [too]. In America you've got an element of it. The world over. There is this myth that values like freedom and democracy are basically Western values and that there is a different culture which we in our stupidity don't understand, where these things don't matter. My absolutely fundamental belief is that this is complete and total bulldust and that there has never been a case of people choosing not to be free. The idea that your average person anywhere in the world would not prefer to live in a free and democratic society is just ridiculous."
Blair's indulgence of Horovitz's 'British hostility to Israel' line is indicative of the mutually-sustaining exchange noted. It's also evident in Blair's unchallenged take on the West's missionary efforts to 'modernise' political and economic minds in the region:
"We end up thinking that we are trying to foist some alien culture on these people that have just a different way of life, and that if we'd only stop provoking them with this "freedom" - and I don't just mean political freedom, I mean economic freedom, and I-Pods and TV and all the rest - if we'd only stop putting all that stuff before them, and provoking them in that way, then they'd behave reasonably towards us. Whereas I'm afraid it is absolutely 180 degrees the other way round. This is a group of people who are reacting against the modernization of the world and who are trying to prevent their own culture getting access to that modernization because they know perfectly well what the result will be, which is that the people will embrace it."
In a further contortion of the sabre-rattling going on over Iran, Blair alerts us to yet more 'extremist mendacity':
"And so what the extremists are doing, and what Iran is obviously trying to do, is frame the argument as Islam versus the West. That's why they try to use this issue, here, to say, "Actually the Israelis don't want to give the Palestinians a state. And that's because [the Palestinians] are Muslims, and America and Europe are backing the Israelis." This argument gets traction because it is not being challenged head-on. It is nonsense..."
Horovitz, of course, has little inclination to see or challenge "head-on", the black irony of this deceitful polemic. Instead, he allows Blair free space to pursue his self-delusional convictions, concluding with this facile dismissal of the anti-war brigade:
What Blair describes as a "completely ridiculous view" is, of course, the vast majority of anti-war sentiment across the globe. Which, again, begs some urgent questions on self-denial of universal truths and why journalists are so unwilling to 'help Blair' 'open-up' to such delusions. None of this should be seen as a conspiracy. Rather, it's the default position of the political elite and a compliant media serving to smooth-over their joint complicities.
"You know, just before I left [the UK to come here], there was this guy who stopped me as I was going out of a hospital and said, "Why have you killed all those people in Iraq and Afghanistan?" And I said, "We're not killing people. We're trying to stop them being killed. And what is so oppressive to someone in Iraq or Afghanistan when you say we're getting rid of this terrible regime that is utterly brutal and dictatorial, and we're going to give you a United Nations-backed process for democracy where you elect your own government and what's more we're going to put you billions of dollars of support? What kind of oppression is that?" The fact that this person, who was a reasonably intelligent person, could say such a thing was bad enough. But what really struck me was that when I went back at him really hard, I could tell, although he was still obviously not convinced or anything, but I could tell it was the first time anyone had ever challenged that completely ridiculous view."
Cometh the man of peace - and corporate values
In similar vein, the Quartet's 'peace envoy' to Palestine is being feted as some kind of hopeful harbinger; the 'man of experience' bringing 'worldly knowledge' and 'political resolve' to this 'self-inflicted problem.'
Blair was in Nablus recently (during our stay there) meeting the Mayor, other Palestinian Authority officials and select business figures, notably the Arab billionaire Munib Al-Masri. On Blair's agenda: the urgent removal of selected checkpoints, a call not motivated, despite his smooth claims, by humanitarian concerns, nor in denunciation of Israel's Occupation, but in an effort to ease restrictions on private investment around the West Bank.
It's all part of the Blairite cultivation of West Bank business elites; a comprador capitalism to complement the West's co-optive appeals to Fatah. The selective un-freezing of Western funds in the West Bank serves this dual purpose of Western-supported investment while isolating the 'bad version' of Palestinian 'development' proposed by the 'radical militants' in Gaza.
It's a buy-off agenda rather evident these days around downtown Ramallah. Walking around, one can see a certain 'uplift' in the few smarter-than-usual stores and houses. As discovered in my conversations with locals and internationals, there's an effort to display an air of 'normality' and 'prosperity' here in the Fatah heartland. Some West Bankers are even feeling a little 'less generous' towards those in Gaza, as West Bank salaries start to get paid again on time.
And yet, as most Palestinians still clearly see, the incentives from Blairite investment messiahs can't disguise the real economic and human oppression all around them. One need only visit Balata and the other broken refugee camps. Nor will Western/Israeli patronage of the West Bank break the more enduring ties of solidarity with Gaza. As many Palestinians understand, it's a politics of division, just another aspect of Israeli/Western containment.
And another instance of Blair's own deceit and self-deceptions. Or, as the BBC prefer to portray it: 'the all-seeing, well-meaning Mr Blair seeking a solution to this intractable conflict.'
A neat example of the 'safe exchange' can be gleaned in BBC reporter Tim Franks's recent interview with Blair in Jenin. The questions raised by Franks take in the standard 'concerns': ongoing checkpoints, settlements and whether Livni will make for a more peace-advocating leader. Nothing of substance about the illegality of Israel's occupation, the West's backing of it, and certainly no questioning of Blair's own chameleon 'envoy' role. Likewise, Blair is permitted to spin comfortably on "political, security and economic" "improvements" in Jenin, without any retort from Franks on Israel's economic appropriations across the Occupied Territories, such as water supplies.
In another media-ignored story of economic theft, Mark Turner highlights the true nature of Blair's business-led agenda in Gaza, revealing how its offshore gas reserves are being privatised and stolen. As Turner notes, it was Blair who pressured British Gas (BG) to develop their investment plans to Israel's advantage:
"BG won a majority stake in the concession to develop the Gaza Marine Field and originally targeted Egypt for the sale of the natural gas. But pressure from then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair led the company to redirect its efforts toward Israel and develop plans for an underwater pipeline that would transport the gas to an Israeli refinery at Ashkelon. That deal could have eventually provided Israel with approximately 10 percent of its annual energy requirement, and would have generated approximately $1 billion for the PIF. The Hamas election victory in 2006 put all that in jeopardy."As ICAHD activist Jeff Halper also reminded us during his talk in Glasgow (18 September 2008), the Occupation isn't a drain on Israel's economy. It is the economy: it's what sustains its elite arms corporations, now massively engaged in arms exports, surveillance and military/police training. Israel, notes Halper, is also now a leading player in the development and application of military nanotechnology. And, where better to test all these inhuman gizmos than the 5 million Palestinians locked inside the experimental prison laboratories of Gaza and the West Bank.
When the Break the Siege boats entered Gaza recently, they carried 9000 hearing aids. A strange request, one might think, from the Palestinians. Until we learn, from Halper, of Israel's constant sonic boom flyovers, a collective punishment inflicting deafness and multiple other traumas on the population.
Halper is also a vital Jewish voice reminding us that Tony Blair's role is "to finesse the bantustans" and "sweeten the deal" between Israel and Abbas, the latter, Halper believes, having no serious mandate to sign-off on any sell-out deal. Palestinians simply won't accept it. And this rightful refusal, he concludes on an optimistic note, is being strengthened by increasing international support for the Palestinians.
A support, that is, based on common perceptions of international rights and justice rather than the contrived politics and economic crumbs being sold through the 'Blair mission'.
We should, of course, 'admire' Blair's efforts to fit-in this West Bank 'assignment' between his many boardroom jobs. Or perhaps it all helps keep him in busy denial mode, safely detached from reality, or lost in his own delusional version of it.
Perhaps one day, in lieu of his appearance before an international criminal court, we'll get a proper public interrogation of Blair. Something beyond the 'info-tainment' of the Paxman variety. Ideally, it'll be conducted by John Pilger, who has expressed a singular desire to get Blair in front of a television camera. As Pilger notes:
"Blair is somebody I don't believe has ever been interviewed properly. I've approached the people you are meant to approach and the silence is ear-splitting. No surprise there."Indeed.