The Legacy of Tony Blair

by Roger Alford

I had lunch today in London with a very prominent British international law scholar and, of course, the main topic of conversation was Tony Blair. I will not reveal the name of the person to respect confidences, but will outline the gist of his impressions. He said that Tony Blair has done many good things in the domestic arena, including improving health care and education. But in terms of foreign policy, he said Blair’s legacy has been an unmitigated disaster. He attributed the peace accord in Northern Ireland to John Major as much as Tony Blair. He felt that Blair’s strong commitment to closer ties with Europe offered little concrete to show for it. And most importantly, he said that Blair’s misadventures in Iraq will forever taint his international legacy. He agreed with others who have said that instead of one victory in Afghanistan he now has two losses on his hands. When I asked him if there were any foreign policy achievements he could identify, he fell silent. It’s rather sad, he said, because Blair meant so well.

9 Responses

  1. Whoever the “very prominent British international law scholar” was, I think he was being a little unfair. The British intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000 has positive results, I would say. Indeed, Blair has been active on Africa more generally, establishing the Commission on Africa in 2004 and hosting the G8 summit at Gleneagles in 2005, where the G8 leaders agreed a $50 billion aid package. I wouldn’t defend him on Iraq though.

  2. and dont forget his enthusiastic bombing of serbia. blair’s delight to indulge in the use of force will, alas for the uk, be his defining legacy. sierre leone aside, i think that matthew should reflect on blair’s ease to reach for the gun. and how is hull matthew?

  3. In today’s London Times there is a poll that takes a different perspective from my luncheon companion on Blair’s legacy. As reported here, “There is a negative view of Mr Blair’s record on eight key policy issues. The sole exception is Northern Ireland, where nearly three quarters believe that Mr Blair has done a good job…. By contrast, and no doubt heavily influenced by Iraq, 63 per cent say that he has made a bad job of foreign affairs and defence, and just 29 per cent a good job.” In other words, the general public appears to give Blair significant credit for peace in Northern Ireland.

  4. Yesterday’s BBC Newsnight programme had a journalist from The Guardian, Polly Toynbee, express the exact same view as your ‘very prominent British international law scholar’: Blair’s domestic record was excellent, but his foreign policy was ‘disastrous’.

  5. He agreed with others who have said that instead of one victory in Afghanistan he now has two losses on his hands.

    Wouldn’t that be just one loss or two losses? I’m unsure how invading Iraq suddenly changes Afghanistan from a win to a loss.

  6. Matthew,

    I personally agree with you that pessimism about Iraq should not translate into pessimism about Afghanistan. I was just offering the view of someone who, given the issue and his stature, had an opinion that I thought was interesting and worth sharing.

    Roger Alford

  7. “It’s rather sad, he said, because Blair meant so well.”

    Correct me, Mr. Alford, if I have the wrong impression, but it sounds very much to me from the context, that what this prominent international law scholar is lamenting here is the fact that Bliar (sic) failed to enjoy the political fruits of success from his involvement in the illegal war of aggression on and occupation of Iraq. “Gee, too bad it didn’t work out.”

    Can you imagine people saying of a convicted serial killer, “It’s too bad, because he seemed like such a nice guy and was so well-liked… the kids loved him, and he was always helping people….”? Not likely. Rather than expressing regret that the poor man’s efforts resulted in such evil, they would be reflecting somberly on how profoundly appearances can deceive, and perhaps on ‘the banality of evil’, as we do when we think of the mensches who perpetrated the Holocaust, the ‘family men’ of the Reichstag and Third Reich cabinet.

    The so-called good intentions of family man Bliar (sic) were expressed by waging an illegal war of aggression (the ‘supreme war crime’) condemned by most of the world, resulting in the slaughter of some 655,000 Iraqis (some with banned phosophorus-type weapons like the U.S. used to burn off the skin off of children and women in the villages of Vietnam), the destruction and poisoning (with depleted uranium) of their homeland, from which some five million refugees have fled, a devastating brain-drain of the professional classes, and imponderable baleful consequences for Bliar’s country, our country, the Middle East and global security.

    For those of you who feel sorry for Tony Bliar (sic), I urge you to consider what he helped wrought: the living hell that is now Iraq. Evil is as evil does.

  8. Vargold,

    Yes you are mistaken. He did not say that as a statement of support for the Iraq War, either in terms of its legality or advisability. He said it only to indicate that he thought Blair was sincere and genuine in his belief he was doing the right thing, however mistaken.

    Roger Alford

  9. The scholar is right–we took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan when we decided to invade Iraq. We could not commit the troop numbers that were, and still are, necessary in Afghanistan because we were stretching to cover Iraq, we began begging international donors to contribute to Iraq instead, and our intelligence focus shifted there as well.

    At the outset in Afghanistan, the U.S. had a decent probability of success in a cause that was clearly aligned with the national interest and enjoyed substantial international moral and material support, but also a difficult and hazardous task as anyone slightly familiar with Afghanistan’s history would know.

    Then the U.S. invaded Iraq, and now has a high probability in both countries of a prolonged struggle with entrenched insurgencies, and has alienated many of our allies.

    The U.S. is learning (and the U.K. is remembering), painfully, several of the reasons the British got out of the empire business.

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