Richard Ingrams' Week: A short history according to Tony Blair

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The Independent Online

In Wednesday's Independent, Patrick Cockburn commented how surprising it was that the Americans seem to have forgotten all about the disastrous consequences of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. If we narrow it down to personalities, I just wonder if President Bush, or Mr Blair for that matter, had any knowledge of the invasion to forget.

Many people in recent days have been suggesting that Mr Blair is mad. There is nothing much new about that. What has always been almost more worrying is that he seems to be alarmingly ignorant. In a recent conversation with Jon Snow of Channel 4 News about the situation in Iran, Snow made some reference to the Iranian hostage crisis, when, after the refusal of the US to hand over the Shah, Iranian extremists besieged the American embassy in Tehran for more than a year. Just remind me what that was all about, was Blair's response. It is not just that Blair seems to have no knowledge of history; what little knowledge he does have, he reinterprets to suit his own purposes.

Thus, when called upon by The Observer two years ago to defend his invasion of Iraq, Blair said that the reason we went to war with Hitler in 1939 was to stop him from persecuting the Jews. "It was only in 1939 that they got round to doing something," he said. In the same way, we were asked to infer, he himself had invaded Iraq to stop Saddam Hussein from persecuting the Kurds, the Shias and all the other Iraqis.

This was a rewrite of history, Blair having joined Bush's invasion of Iraq because, he said, Saddam posed a threat to this country with his weapons of mass destruction. When no weapons were found, he changed the story to make himself the champion of freedom and oppressed minorities (which he wasn't) just like Churchill (which he wasn't, either).

Declare your interest before speaking out

When I suggested last year that those defending the Israeli government should declare whether or not they were Jewish, there was a bit of a shindig and I was accused, not of the first time, of being anti-Semitic.

The point seemed then - and still seems - uncontroversial. It applies not only to Jews, but anyone taking sides in any of the controversies of our day. If a man writes in support of gay marriages, for example, is he himself gay? As the late John Junor used to say, I think we should be told. In journalism, as in politics, people who have an interest should declare it.

To take only one example from recent days. Mr William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, unlike his leader, David Cameron, who remains mysteriously silent on the subject, expressed a view on the war in Lebanon, describing in The Spectator the Israeli assault as "disproportionate".

This week, by way of response, Lord Kalms has written a letter to The Spectator attacking Hague and defending the actions of the Israeli government. Many readers will not know that Lord Kalms, the president of the electrical business Dixons, and one-time treasurer of the Tory party, is not only Jewish, but also a keen Zionist and general pillar of the Jewish community in this country. Fair enough. But I think he should tell people about it before speaking out.

Otherwise, the idea gains ground that Israel has a fifth column of politicians, commentators, businessmen, etc, in this country all seeking, at this time, in their different ways, to excuse or explain away Israeli atrocities in Lebanon and Gaza.

* Contrary to what I wrote last week, Mrs Margaret Beckett has postponed her caravan holiday. Now there are reports that Mrs Beckett is experiencing discomfort, "private unease" and other similar symptoms at the way the Prime Minister is carrying on. If that is indeed the case, she has an easy way out, namely to follow the example of Robin Cook and resign.

Cook was no longer the foreign secretary when he resigned over Iraq. He had been relieved of his post some months earlier and replaced by Jack Straw.

No explanation for his demotion was ever forthcoming, but it seems safe to assume that the Americans had let Blair know that they didn't appreciate Cook's generally unco-operative and acerbic approach.

But American hopes that Straw would prove to be more amenable were dashed when he, too, stepped out of line. He had already offended Mr Sharon with his remarks in support of the Palestinians. He then announced that any attack on Iran would be unthinkable.

Now we have Mrs Beckett. Surely she should be capable of toeing the line. But it looks, from all the talk of private unease, that she, too, in the eyes of Bush and co, may be failing to come up to scratch.

So, if she doesn't resign, she may well find that, like Cook and Straw, she will be sacked. Either way, if I were her, I would go ahead and get the caravan out of the garage.

the oldie@theoldie.co.uk

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