When former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair was interviewed by the BBC about the Arab uprisings yesterday, he called for the West to develop a coherent strategy across the Middle East: “a plan for change that is as much economic and social as it is political“. He said “the problem with revolutions is not how they begin but how they end” then argued “we have to be players in this, we can’t just be spectators“.
One wonders why anyone would ask Tony Blair for his views on the Arab uprisings. He led two wars of occupation in the Muslim world; he has deflected blame away from Western policy, by defaming Islam; he embraced dictators, hugged them close and enjoyed their friendship and hospitality; he is more ‘Likud’ than most when it comes to support for the Zionist occupation of Palestine. Even till today, despite the horrific torture and murder being meted out by the Syrian regime, he defends Syria’s President Assad saying there was “residual hope“.
Blair’s intervention is unwelcome, and for some terrifying, given his bloody and ruthless record. Yet it is worthy of some comment.
Firstly, his call for intervention is strange, given that Western intervention is already happening. In Egypt, the United States has been in touch with military regime throughout the period of crisis, first supporting Mubarak and later withdrawing their support.
Also, the G8 nations have pledged ‘aid’ for Tunisia and Egypt, which some commentators have said would likely encourage further corruption, as well as perpetuate the dependency culture that has allowed Western colonial nations to maintain their hegemony in the region.
Yet another example has been the increase in bombings by unmanned U.S. drone aircraft in Yemen. The United States ‘says’ it is targeting Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula – but in truth, we have no way of knowing who they are targeting in these extrajudicial assassination strikes. Since 2009 the United States has engaged Yemen, which has been very much in Britain’s sphere of influence since World War One, in so-called security cooperation. In addition to this the U.S. has been engaging opposition movements in the south of Yemen, who have long standing grievances against the Sana’a regime.
In Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, Britain and the United States have maintained their diplomatic and trade relations, their arms deals and military training; and their political advice that tries to help steer their allies through this on-going crisis.
So Mr Blair’s advice, to play the game and not merely to act as spectators, is preaching to the converted, especially as the de-facto Western position has consistently been (and remains) interference in one form or another.
But the second and more important comment is this. It is since Western intervention started that this region has become destabilised. World War One saw the division of a unified land under Sykes-Picot; British inspired sectarian rebellions of ‘Arabs’ against ‘Turks’ [when in truth they were mostly citizens of the Ottoman Caliphate]; the installation of client regimes – first monarchies made in Britain, but later military governments whose loyalty was to France, Britain or the United States; the occupation of Palestine formalised as a ‘British Mandate’ in 1918, then later as the Israeli occupation; the occupation of Iraq and a powerful military presence in the Gulf region.
It has been this intervention by the West that has led to the oppressive climate in which these current uprisings have started. Their support for tyrannical and corrupt regimes, who secure themselves while the people starve, is emblazoned in the minds of people in the region. Anti-Americanism is not a phobia, in so much as it is neither irrational nor unexplained. It is an entirely logical consequence of [largely] American, British and French foreign policy decisions.
It is precisely this kind of intervention that the region needs to rid itself of.
Blair can say what elected politicians cannot. He can rally Western states to maintain their colonial influence in an unashamed way, that if Cameron or Obama tried to imitate would leave them open to criticism. He knows that the uprisings across the Arab World have the potential to end the exploitation of the region by external forces. He understands that an independent region would engage from a position of strength, for it has unparalleled energy resources and strategic location. He knows that the effect on capitalist economies would be fundamental. He would rather things remained as they are for the people than risk an emerging new order undermining the West’s influence. That is why he appears to be lobbying hard to stay engaged, to continue to interfere and exploit.
He seems to act less as an ‘envoy’ for the Quartet of nations, but more as a self appointed Governor-General and Minister for the Middle East Colonies. The sad fact of the matter is that he is merely expressing the colonial policies that London and Washington simply cannot seem to see beyond.