Jewish World Review March 18, 2003 / 14 Adar II, 5763
Blair's dilemma: This time he cannot be all things to all men
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | LONDON In 1940, George Orwell described the ambience that had produced a culture of appeasement in the British: "During the past 20 years," he wrote, "the negative, fainéant outlook which has been fashionable among English Left-wingers, the sniggering of the intellectuals at patriotism and physical courage, the persistent effort to chip away English morale and spread a hedonistic, what-do-I-get-out-of-it? attitude to life, has done nothing but harm. It would have been harmful even if we had been living in the squashy League of Nations that these people imagined. In an age of führers and bombing planes, it was a disaster."
America may go to war this week against the Iraqi führer. The British Army may be at her side. But the British people will not. Our postwar generation has been nurtured on much the same hedonism Orwell knew. "Did you and George Bush pray together?" sniggered the BBC's Jeremy Paxman in a recent interview with the Prime Minister, as if such an admission from Blair would reveal an abyss of madness.
Tony Blair is being stoned from every side. Still, his continuing determination to stand by America in the battle against terrorism is unwavering. His is an act of great political courage in the finest Churchillian tradition. But the "squashy…fainéant" outlook Orwell noted is not absent in Blair himself.
If one had to describe Blair's personality as a leader, perhaps the best simile would be that of a maître d'. Blair has always tried to promise everyone the best table. This has been the essence of the Third Way.
After living through the strict regime of the Thatcher years, with their harsh ideological bent, the British public were ready for something more relaxed. The Third Way seemed to say you could have your cake and eat it. Here was a system that could produce all the advantages of capitalism plus all the benefits of the welfare state.
Blair's government could cherry-pick ideas. In foreign policy, this meant a little bit of the United Nations, some of the EU, a bit of the transatlantic Alliance and, of course, eternal peace.
Blair's leadership style fitted this middle ground. His chatty way of communicating won him top marks with the electorate. When the times and ambience are pragmatic to the point of being unprincipled, Blair's caring ``I feel your pain'' approach was easy listening.
After September 11, the world changed. Blair, to his credit, recognised it and understood that, when faced with real evil, his pragmatism had to be leavened by principle. His tough stand against Saddam was always going to alienate those who, pace Orwell, believed they could carry on with the comfy pragmatism of the past 20 years.
But the British are sturdy at heart: with the right leadership, a substantial number of them might have rallied to the cause. That, however, would require a style of leadership alien to the Prime Minister.
Blair is a man of the sensitive 1990s. He "listens". He goes from BBC studio to university debate in order to talk sincerely to people. Such tactics cannot rally either his own party or the nation.
As a product of the 1960s protest-culture, Blair had to overcome many inherent notions to arrive at his stand on Iraq. But some notions - and genes - are too ingrained to be overcome.
Blair's shibboleths, apparently held unexamined in his head from his early flower-child days, include a belief in the efficacy of the United Nations and the virtues of multiculturalism. He is also fixated on the utterly false notion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a root cause of terrorism. His devotion to these beliefs has put American policy at risk.
In Darkness At Noon, Arthur Koestler brilliantly described the "deviant" Communist Party members forced by Stalin to go through show trials. Those deluded souls continued to believe in dialectical materialism even as that very system was torturing and ultimately executing them. Similarly, while Blair sees that a whole range of views he held are false and those who hold them are out to destroy him, he still clings to related ideas.
How else to explain Blair's idée fixe that a vote of the United Nations - the majority of whose members are nothing but inhuman tyrannies - is the only way to give legitimacy to an action proposed by the world's leading democracy against a brutal regime?
Indeed, how on earth can a majority of the British people believe that an action they consider wrong becomes right if Guinea, Angola or any number of the dysfunctional, insignificant dictatorships that make up the United Nations vote for it?
Blair is proud of his influence on America. On ITV he explained that America would have taken action last year had he not urged it to follow the United Nations route. This delay gave opposition in the UN and the Iraqi propaganda machine more time to organize.
By last November, when UN Security Council Resolution 1441 was unanimously passed, Bush and Blair had sold the war to a sufficient majority of supporters domestically and externally. Strategically, they should have proceeded as fast as possible. To continue selling a war that has already been sold could only result in a loss of support.
The UN, as it is now, exists solely to hamper the forces of law and democracy in the world - unless they come from the quadrant of Left-liberalism. There were, for example, no protests in 1999 when Nato troops attacking Milosevic bypassed the UN. All those countries now excoriating Blair and Bush applauded Nato for bombing Yugoslavia in order to make that country safe, not for democracy, but for a multicultural chimera in which orthodox Christian Serbs would live together with mainly Muslim and secessionist Albanians. Nato failed anyway. The ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo was simply replaced by the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo's Serbs.
For Tony Blair, the chickens have come home to roost. He stands up for the ideals of Western democracy while large segments of the British public, his own party and the media reject the same ideals. Blair has played a role in pandering to that ambience. He, too, still inhabits a pocket of their Franz Fanon fog or 1960s nostalgia based on ignorance or indifference to all that history teaches us.
As Blair faced the dull, stupid questions of ITV's audience on its special, The Prime Minister: The Final Countdown, one could see a mask of perspiration while he sweated to reconcile his mantra about the United Nations with his support of America. In the television light's bright glare on his forehead, Blair's dilemma crystallised. He stands firm against what he sees as the enemy, but becomes vulnerable when people use his own beliefs to attack him.
Like Koestler's Rubashov, he senses that
somewhere in his system of belief there is "an error
in the calculation, the equation did not work out".
One can only hope Tony Blair works it out before,
like Rubashov, he, too, is executed by his former
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02/18/02: Letter from London: What you don't see is what you get