After serving nearly eight years as special peace envoy for the “Quartet” powers mediating the Israel-Palestine conflict, Tony Blair is resigning, reportedly “over his poor relations with senior Palestinian Authority figures and [his] sprawling business interests.”
After almost a decade as envoy, it’s hard to see anything Blair has done to bring Israelis and Palestinians any closer to peace. The two parties are farther apart than ever by most accounts, with Israeli leaders publicly disavowing the “two-state solution” the Quartet on the Middle East was created to bring about. During Blair’s tenure, a Palestinian official described the group as “useless, useless, useless.” A Brookings Institution report concluded that “the Quartet’s role was usually relegated to that of a political bystander.”
But although he failed to broker peace, Blair did manage during his time as special envoy to transform himself into a well-paid and outspoken apologist for some of the most brutal autocracies in the world. The former prime minister, who once positioned himself as a principled supporter of democracy, even famously waging a war to bring democracy to Iraq, now leads a consulting firm that has reportedly received tens of millions of dollars doing advisory work for dictatorial governments in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Last year, leaked documents obtained by Britain’s The Telegraph revealed Blair advising the dictatorial government of Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nuzarbayev on how to best spin a 2011 massacre of unarmed protestors by his regime — a massacre that occurred just a few weeks after Blair began working for the regime, which had ostensibly hired his firm to advise it on good governance issues like judicial reform, corruption, free press and the rule of law. While Blair worked for Nazarbayev, however, human rights actually deteriorated in Kazakhstan, according to various sources. As Human Rights Watch’s director for Central Asia said of Blair’s role in that country, “[Blair] has been indifferent to those suffering abuses and has given a veneer of respectability to the authorities during a severe crackdown on human rights.”
In the wake of Egypt’s 2013 military coup, Blair again stepped in to offer his support for the junta of Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, endorsing his putsch, and, according to some reports, even accepting a formal role as “economic adviser” to the new regime. Despite widespread and ongoing human rights violations by Sisi’s government, including a Tiananmen Square-scale massacre of peaceful protestors in 2013, Blair has remained one of the most vocal supporters of Egypt’s government. Hailing the military’s annulment of democracy as “rescuing” the country, Blair has publicly stood by the regime even while it has been excoriated by human rights groups for killing, torturing and imprisoning Egypt’s former revolutionary activists.
Earlier this month, leaked documents revealed that Blair’s consulting firm was attempting to negotiate a £30 ($44.5 million USD) commercial agreement with the United Arab Emirates, reportedly offering the country the ability to capitalize on Blair’s private network of influence and contacts. In this case, yet again, Blair’s oft-cited concern for human rights has apparently come into conflict with his own personal interests in colluding with a government that has come under withering criticism for its brutal treatment of political dissidents and human rights activists.
Whatever his other failures, Blair has undeniably succeeded in creating a lucrative career for himself as a globetrotting “consultant” for tyrannical governments across the world. While his financial dealings are opaque, some estimates of his personal wealth have run as high as £100 million (over $148 million USD) — a figure Blair has denied, saying, un-mathematically, “I’m not worth 100 million, a half of it, a third of it, a quarter of it or a fifth of it or really a fraction.”
Blair’s well-remunerated consulting work seems to have eroded his idealism when it comes to human rights. As prime minister, Blair characterized himself as a committed opponent of dictatorial regimes, even waging a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people for the supposed purpose of spreading democracy. But speaking last week at a conference in the Egyptian coastal resort city of Sharm al-Sheikh, Blair said it was important to be “realistic” that developing countries will lack “100% Western-style democracy.” As for helping lead the charge into Iraq, and as for that country’s postwar descent into chaos and religious extremism, Blair recently said that “we have to liberate ourselves from the notion that ‘we’ have caused this,” while at the same time advocating even broader military action in the region as a solution.
Since leaving office, Blair has continued to advocate for even more military adventurism, saying that “a substantial and not fringe minority” of Muslims support terrorism, and that military force must be deployed in a “generational struggle” against such people. Blair has also responded to criticism that his previous wars may have contributed to the rise of religious extremism by saying that terrorism has “very strong causes within the religion of Islam,” and has not been driven by any foreign policy decisions he may have made as prime minister.
These statements have apparently been too much even for Blair’s former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who attributed the radicalization of some Muslim youth to the “bloody crusades” waged by Blair in Iraq and Afghanistan, suggesting that his former prime minister “should put on a white coat with a red cross” if he wants to continue his advocacy of such conflicts.
Though Blair is now resigning from his role as a Middle Eastern “peace envoy,” it seems like a twisted irony that someone who played such an integral and unapologetic role in setting that region ablaze would have ever been selected for such a position in the first place. Despite a long history of what can only be described as folly and disgrace, Blair inexplicably continues to be rewarded with prestigious diplomatic posts, high-profile speaking engagements and lucrative contractual arrangements with foreign governments. And he seems ready to remain in the public eye. As Blair said in December, “I have a lot of energy. I feel extremely fit. There’s no way I’m going to retire and play golf. You look at someone like Henry [Kissinger]. He’s 91 and he’s still going strong …. These are my role models.”
Photo: Hassan Ammar/AP