Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Blair’s Wars – The absence of clear political consequences. An interview with John Kampfner.

How different things were back in 2001 when Blair ran for, and won a second term. Different not in the sense that Britain had not intervened militarily anywhere, quite the contrary, but rather because these military interventions rightly or wrongly had been seen as successful: &ldquoHe really was at his peak in 2000, – suggests Kampfner, – which was after his first three military interventions: Operation Desert Fox, Kosovo, and Sierra Leone. In their different ways, they were all broadly supported, in the Labour party, and by the public at large. In none of these cases did they cause him diplomatic or international problems. After Kosovo, in fact, there was a sense that he had identified a liberal interventionism that other European countries and Bill Clinton had been slow to identify”.

While the popular perception of Blair abroad is that which portrays him as Bush's poodle in relation to Iraq, Kampfner's book shakes off this comic image. The devil, as they say, is in the detail, and one glossed over fact remains at the centre of the New Statesman's editor's analysis: &ldquoThe overarching question that I sought to ask and answer was: what is it about this man, Tony Blair, that has led him to wage five wars in over six years? That's a remarkable and unprecedented statistic. Neither Margaret Thatcher or John Major came anywhere close to that. It was only through identifying that statistic that I really saw the thread that ties the whole book together”, says Kampfner, whose book backs undisputed facts with invaluable insights from cabinet ministers and government insiders around Blair. Blair may be many things, but, if we're to accept Kampfner's analysis, he's no mere lapdog.

&ldquoThese wars, these military interventions, were all very different,”expands Kampfner, well aware that it's a controversial topic. “They were different in their motives, and they were different in their success. And they were different, obviously, in their size. There is dispute amongst people who are interested in these matters as to which of them does constitute a war. I included Sierra Leone. I did not include East Timor. Some people would suggest that those two missions were one and the same thing: limited military combat missions to fulfil specifics. I, however, saw Sierra Leone fitting into Blair's broader Gladstonian, Manichean worldview.”

For many, the motives for going to war in Iraq remain a mystery. The weapons of mass destruction having become a joke even with the American administration. What motivated Blair to go to war? “There were a number of motivations that led Tony Blair to throw in his lot with George Bush, answers Kampfner. In no particular order they were: a general confluence of agreement on the issue of liberal intervention with a wing of the neo-conservatives; a desperate sense of wanting to be America's best friend; there was the what I call pessimistic view of Britain's role in the world, that it's nothing if it's not America's best friend. There were a whole series of issues that led Blair to do what he did, to committ himself so very early before the war actually took place.” And what about Oil as a motive for war? Would he discount it? He’s considered in his response: “I don't discount that or any other set of allegations or points that people have made. I failed to find any strong evidence pointing in that direction, and I can only go on the evidence that I was given.”

How important was Blair though in choosing to go to war in Iraq? Would it have happened with another leader in power? It's obviously impossible to speculate as to what would have happened with different leadership, but Kampfner is clear that Blair chose to go to war in Iraq, and did his best to convince his government and country that it was the right decision: &ldquoThis was Blair's war. This was not the Labour party's war. It was driven by Blair and done on his say-so.” Through his interviews he builds a picture of a hands-on premier who bypassed traditional routes in the Foreign Office, appointing trusted people to key positions, such as Sir Stephen Wall and David Manning. Manning in particular would play a crucial role in the build-up to war. It's worth quoting Blair's Wars at length here:

Like many prime ministers before him, Blair was less in awe of his foreign service. Some of the British diplomats he came across, especially in the field, he did rate highly. But he was also exasperated by the pomposity of the FCO and its emphasis on process rather than result[ my emphasis]. […] Blair and Jonathan Powell wanted to push to the fore individual diplomats they respected. The structures at the heart of government were not helping. Bush had more foreign policy experts in his sprawling National Security Council for one individual country than Blair had for the entire world. There might be hundreds across the road at the FCO, but that was not the same. They were not his people[my emphasis ] [Pg 92]

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