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Viewpoint: Blair’s ‘essential battle’

Tony Blair delivered a keynote speech last week at Bloomberg London on “Middle East Matters”, arguing for continuation of interventionist policy in the Middle East and beyond to thwart the threat of “radical Islam” that, according to him, is “undermining the possibility of peaceful coexistence in era of globalisation.” Never mind if interventionism and peaceful coexistence do not seem to fit together.

In fact, the speech was full of oversimplifications and contradictions as Blair tried to make a case for the West to stay engaged (read interventionist) in the Middle East and the region beyond that, he said, included Pakistan, Afghanistan to the east and North Africa to the west. According to him, the region is in turmoil because of a struggle between those with a modern view of the Middle East, one of pluralistic societies and open economies; and on the other side, those with an Islamist view seeking to impose an ideology born out of a belief that there is one proper religion and one proper view of it, which should determine the nature of society and the political economy. “From Iraq to Libya to Egypt to Yemen to Lebanon to Syria and then further afield to Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, this is the essential battle”, said Blair.

Unsurprisingly, he ignored mentioning the name of a certain pro-Western theocratic monarchy associated with an exclusivist view of Islam and export of that view to other places like Pakistan and as further afield as restive Muslim majority republics of Chechnya and Dagestan in the Russian Federation. Notably, following the first Chechen war Moscow had accepted its de facto independent status. But emboldened by the Chechen success and egged on by that certain Middle Eastern monarchy of an exclusivist view of Islam, radical Islamists started a rebellion in Dagestan, inviting brutal repression from Moscow.

For the people living in this part of the world radical Islam is an external imposition, and the ‘essential battle’ about power and controlling resources of ‘open economies’. The religious extremists fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan are a gift from the West. We remember well how they were created and nurtured by the leader of the ‘Free World’, the USA, over three decades ago to give a bloody nose to its then rival the erstwhile Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Those behind the 9/11 attack were the veterans of that war, as is the Taliban chief Mullah Omar. The violent extremism in Pakistan is a consequence of both the war in Afghanistan and the Middle Eastern powers’ tussle for regional influence by inflaming sectarian passions.

Most of the countries he named were secular societies until he along with US’s born-again Christian president George W Bush went in with the declared objective of reordering the Middle East starting with a regime change project in secular Baath Party-ruled Iraq. Similarly, Libya was a secular country where the US and Europeans were to later bring about regime change through military intervention. Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria with its impeccable secular credentials remains embattled with radical Islamists backed by US’ regional allies. Lebanon’s is a pluralistic society. Hezbollah, an important political player in Lebanese politics is an ally of the secular Syrian regime. It bothers Blair for being a thorn in the side of Israel. Egypt’s first ever democratically elected but soon deposed president Mohammad Morsi is also an anathema to Blair because unlike his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, who did the West’s bidding in the region in exchange for $1.3 billion annual payout, Morsi eased Israeli-imposed blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza by opening the Rafah border. During his short stay in power he had also made friendly overtures towards Iran. Blair who together with Bush claimed to want to bring democracy to the Middle East through war sees Egypt’s coup maker as a hero, describing him as “the absolutely necessary rescuer of a nation”. Obviously, the violent crackdown on the Brotherhood supporters and death sentence awarded to the movement’s leader Mohammad Badie and 682 Islamists is of no concern to Blair. After all, he along with Bush brought unspeakable death and destruction upon Iraq, killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, rendered millions others homeless and, in order to distract the resistance, incited sectarian strife that continues to cause murder and mayhem in that unfortunate country. The real reason for all his pontification is restoration of the old order. Hence, Blair wants Egyptian armed forces chief General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to formally strengthen his grip on political power, advocating mobilisation of international support for him because “it is massively in our interests that he [the coup maker] succeeds.”

The interests, of course, are well-known. In case anyone had any doubts here is how he explained them. First and most obvious, what makes the Middle East of central importance and the reason it “cannot be relegated to the second order”, he asserted, is that despite the long-term implications of the US’ energy revolution, “the world’s dependence on the Middle East oil is not going to disappear any time soon… It has a determining effect on the price of oil”. And the other important reason fuelling the desire to intervene is that “in the centre of this maelstrom, is Israel. … Its fate is never going to be a matter of indifference.” In other words, fighting those who refuse to remain indifferent to the fate of the Palestinian people is part of Blair’s battle.

Clearly, the ‘essential battle’ is not about radical Islamists vs secularists and democrats, but against all standing in the way of Western interests whether democratically elected Islamists, such as the Brotherhood in Egypt, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, or authoritarian secularists like Saddam Hussain in Iraq, Muamar Qadhafi in Libya and Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Indeed, the region is in turmoil because the people want the freedom to elect governments who are responsive to their needs and aspirations, but their struggles are being frustrated by outside interventions for ‘open markets’ and protection of an expansionist state.


Saida Fazal, "Viewpoint: Blair’s ‘essential battle’," Business recorder. 2014-05-01.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political leaders , International relations , Middle East situation , Interventionist policy , Peace , Ppolitic