By Felicity Arbuthnot – London
'We came and turned the native Arabs into tragic refugees. And still we dare to slander and malign them, to besmirch their name. Instead of being deeply ashamed of what we did and trying to undo some of the evil we committed ... we justify our terrible acts and even attempt to glorify them...' -- (Erskine Childers, 1870-1922.)
Even by the standards of a seemingly increasingly partisan British media, the decision to invite Tony Blair to Guest Edit the London Evening Standard on 27th June, the fifth anniversary of his leaving office was, well, bizarre.
The Standard (established1827) gained early eminence for its detailed foreign news. Within little over forty years of its founding, reporters had covered the American Civil War, the Austro-Prussian War and the Franco-Prussian War.
Fast forward to the turn of this century when well-grounded fact checking had apparently become less relevant. The last time Blair “edited” The Standard (or apparently detonated all editorial scrutiny and detachment) was on 24th September 2002, when the newspaper’s bannered page one read: “45 Minutes from Attack” with a picture of Saddam Hussein and: “Dossier reveals Saddam is ready to launch chemical war strikes.” The full front page was taken up by the then Prime Minister’s “revelations” of the (first) “Dodgy Dossier.”
Blair’s current editing foray was heralded by a breathless interview with him by Sarah Sands, the actual Editor, in his offices: “with a view of the American Embassy from the window”, the room adorned with photographs of him including with: “… Arnie Schwarzenegger, and crowds of laughing African children.”
Tony Blair’s stated global vision includes his “Africa Governance Initiative.”
Further: “Whether in the Middle East, faith, Africa, climate change … my focus is on devising long term solutions to some of the world’s most difficult problems”, he states modestly.
The mass graves and apocalyptic destruction in the Balkans and Iraq, the near world beating corruption in Kosovo - where streets and children are named after him - Iraq’s despotic, nepotistic US-UK choice “Prime Minister” - whose improbity and inability to restore or to halt the collapse of even basic services, burdens under which the population stagger daily -hardly reflect beacons of hope for his messianic, megalomanic, planetary “long term solutions.”
Back to the Standard interview. Incredibly, he cites Iraq’s growing economy and falling infant mortality rate: “It will end up with a happy ending but it has to go through what the whole region has to go through which is to put religion in its proper place and to realise democracy isn’t just a technical system but an attitude of mind”, opined the man of whom George W. Bush said: “We pray together” and who, of course joined that chilling “Crusade.”
However, infant mortality in Iraq “dropping” from the death-dealing embargo years? Iraq, with the second largest oil reserves, is now a shocking nine places below Zimbabwe in neo-natal deaths on the world scale.
Moreover, Doctors in the 2004 bombarded city of Falluja have been “overwhelmed” by birth defects including: babies with two heads, Cyclops eyes, no eyes, no brain, no limbs, paralysis and a cancer epidemic.
“Iraqi children being born with birth defects has been devastating families for years. A July 2010 study showed that increases in infant mortality, cancer and leukaemia in Falluja surpass those of the atomic bomb devastated cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.”
In fact, Falluja’s nightmare has been mirrored across Iraq, near ignored by the world, since the 1991 attacks and years of US-UK subsequent bombings.
Meticulous country-wide surveys, succour, remedial action, de-contamination - mobilized by the relevant international bodies – and compensation from the countries responsible, should be a priority of Blair’s vaunted “global community.”
Iraq’s victims certainly qualify as being amongst “the world’s most difficult problems.” From 1997 when Blair became Prime Minister, culminating in the 2003 assault and consequent additional contamination, Blair’s Whitehall with Washington were allies in creating Iraqis Hadean plight. .
Afghanistan, also invaded by the US and UK under Blair’s premiership has the world’s highest infant mortality.
Seemingly though, he has long forgotten Afghanistan and moved on from Iraq, apparently unaware or uncaring that since the latter’s 2010 “free and democratic elections”, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has controlled all security Ministries in the country, thus presiding over summary executions, secret prisons, with allegations of near industrial scale torture rampant.
“Today Tony Blair takes my place as editor of the Evening Standard. He has embraced the role but I am confident that it is not the big job he is looking for. Anyone interested in politics will witness his return open-mouthed”, concluded Ms Sands fawning article.
In “open mouthed” she had a point. In his “Editorial” Blair opines:
“…where there has not been revolution, we should actively promote evolution. People often say: learn the lesson of Iraq. Actually, I have …”
So unimaginable bloodshed now becomes “evolution.”
What a way the jobbing, stand-in “Editor” has with words. Facts, as we know, are anyway a “far away place of which (he seemingly) knows nothing.”
This from a man who, after a terrible bombing of shoppers in Omagh, Northern Ireland, on a sunny weekend in August 1998, killed thirty one people, including nine children and an eighteen month old baby, he rightly condemned: “an appalling act of savagery and evil.”
"I have seen sights here today which will haunt me for the rest of my life. If anything happened to one of my children, I would go mad with grief.” But his enjoined “savagery and evil” silently killing Iraq’s children day after day, year after year, resultant from the embargo’s denial of medicines – of parts and chemicals to purify the water – of imports resulting in death by malnutrition – even when they were not actually being routinely, illegally, bombed.
And: “learned the lesson of Iraq”? In March 2006, asked on Sky News if he would have taken the Iraq action if he knew then what he knew now, he replied: "I most certainly would, yes." In December 2009 he was again asked if he would have “gone on” if he had known there were no weapons of mass destruction, he replied: "I would still have thought it right to remove him", said the Attorney, married to a Judge, who has seemingly forgotten the law.
At the Chilcot Inquiry on 29th January 2010, perhaps one and a half million resultant dead later, he repeated that he had: “ No regrets” and said Iraqis were now better off and he would take the same decisions again.
The Evening Standard was taken over by Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev in 2009, as the major shareholder, with a commitment to make the paper more progressive, to reconnect with Londoners.
Tony Blair’s Big Day seems to have fallen short of “reconnection”. Out of 123 speedy responses on one site, 119 were less than polite, some were of the: ”If he wants a voice it should be in Court from the Dock” sort of genre.
A “binblair” Twitter page speedily sprung up (viii) with a vociferous and succinct Bianca Jagger amongst those weighing instantly in.
By 4th July, US Independence Day, he may have been looking especially wistfully at that neighbouring American Embassy :
“He feels like an alien in his own country. He feels despised - and that is very difficult for him” a “friend” told the Financial Times, quoted by Mark Donne in the Guardian (4th July) who added: “and however many feature spots he is offered by national newspapers, the message should be clear and demonstrated in any way possible by us all: We haven’t forgotten.” Ouch.
Oh, and the - www.arrestblair.org/ site is still offering a reward.
- Felicity Arbuthnot is a journalist with special knowledge of Iraq. Author, with Nikki van der Gaag, of Baghdad in the Great City series for World Almanac books, she has also been Senior Researcher for two Award winning documentaries on Iraq, John Pilger's Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq and Denis Halliday Returns for RTE (Ireland.) She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.