Adrian Hamilton: Tony Blair is living in a world of fantasy

Glued to Bush, we have lost position in Europe and influence in the world
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The Independent Online

The meeting today between President Bush and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, may well be the last such summit between the two leaders, or at least the last conference before their final demise. By the time they meet again, if they do, Bush will have emerged from mid-term elections in which he may well have lost control of Congress, while Blair will have been through a party conference at which the trumpet calls will have sounded for him to go.

Two politicians on the slide propping each other up would be the harsh judgement on this visit by Blair to the White House. And indeed there is something grisly about the way in which the two, joined by Iraq, are now going down together over it, their reputations ruined, their search for a "legacy" weighed down by the nagging, continuing sense of misjudgement over the invasion.

Not that Tony Blair apparently sees it that way. Far from it. According to those close to him, he has convinced himself that Iraq is now turning in his direction, that vindication is nigh as the new government there takes over and the Iraqis pursue a path of democratic self-determination. After the years of difficulty and doubt, the British Prime Minister is planning to proclaim a success not just for the invasion itself in overthrowing a tyrant but a whole philosophy of "values-based" foreign policy and beneficent interventionism.

We are back, in other words, in the world of Blairite narratives, carefully elaborated by Number Ten and dutifully propagated by the Prime Minister's friends in the press. A few months ago, in speeches at Chatham House and in Australia, the narrative was the security one - that the world after 9/11 was quite different in kind as well as degree of threat, that here was a great battle between modernism and medievalism in which Blair was a champion of the future.

Now the narrative has been altered somewhat. Having despaired of Iraq, wanting to push it aside as "we must agree to disagree", Blair has flown to Baghdad and decided that Iraq is a defensible part of his "legacy", that developments there show a Britain and America leading a march towards a better world in which they take a pro-active role combating extremism here, suppressing drugs there, bringing democracy elsewhere.

One supposes that some are still taken in by this fantasy, Blair's audience at Georgetown tomorrow among them. He still has the gift of the gab, if nothing else. As the pauses get longer, his clenched fist gets tighter, his brows more furrowed, he can do "sincerity" like no other politician today.

But delusion in search of a legacy is no basis for a national policy. Quite aside from the facts on the ground in Iraq and their perception of us as an occupying force, intervention there has made our position throughout the Muslim world infinitely worse. It is no good talking of democracy in the Middle East when in Egypt, in Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Africa and the Gulf, our actions have destabilised a whole region and encouraged government to clamp down on dissent and free speech.

Add energy worries to security concerns and what we have in Uzbekistan as Kyrgestan and Turkmenistan, as the Gulf and in Pakistan, Russia and China, is a reversion to all the worst patterns of support for tyranny that we saw under the Cold War. There is no new era of ethical foreign policy. That went, with so much else, when we invaded Iraq. So did the concept of benign intervention. If Iraq didn't teach Blair and Bush that people do not regard being invaded by a militarily superior power as benign, then nothing will.

The most fundamental charge against Blair is not just the decision to go to war and the deceit with which it was done, but that we sold our independence of action to an alliance with America. Once we had signed up to the Bush project for remaking the Middle East, we forfeited our power to pursue any kind of distinct policy towards Middle East peace, Iran's nuclear ambitions, the emergence of Hamas, democratic protests in Uzbekistan, Russian actions in Chechnya or anywhere else where we might have served to voice a different approach.

It needn't have been. Even going along with the invasion, we could have retained some self-pride. Anyone doubting that should look to the experience of the new German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who went to Washington earlier this month, made clear where she divided from US policy on Iran and other issues and was respected for it. The same cannot be said of any trip by Blair.

Glued to Bush, we have lost position in Europe and influence in the world. In the first year there was a sadness of what Britain had done when one went abroad, but some sense that we did it out of loyalty. Now there is just a belief that Britain is the same as America, and Blair indistinguishable from Bush.

Nor have we gained anything from Washington from our excessive loyalty, not in the treatment of our citizens in Guantanamo, not in trade negotiations, or action against global warming. In Washington today Blair will talk of his plans for the Middle East. The reality is that the Israeli Prime Minister has just visited Washington - as did his predecessor Ariel Sharon two years ago - and got Bush's support for his policies before Blair arrived. Britain had no say in it.

So Bush and Blair, their ratings having fallen to the lowest levels in a century, will meet to praise each other.