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Commentary Last Updated: Sep 14th, 2006 - 00:29:20

Embattled Blair between the lines
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Sep 14, 2006, 00:25

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Love him or not, you've got to admire his tenacity. I'm talking about the British prime minister who's clearly myopic when it comes to warbling fat ladies.

His finance minister doesn't want him. Members of his cabinet are openly counting the days until he hangs up his coffee mug next May. His party backbenchers are revolting, the trade unions can't wait for his swan song, while, according to an ICM poll, 50 percent of the British public want their not so beloved leader gone by the end of the year.

Just about anyone else in that position would probably feel like going home to mother for a spot of TLC. But not Tony Blair who's jetted off to the Middle East where according to a statement put out by Palestinian parliamentarians and intellectuals, he's unwelcome.

"Tony Blair is persona non grata in our countries and his visit to Ramallah is a serious provocation to the popular Palestinian sentiments, because he comes here to wash his hands of the blood of the Lebanese in Palestinian waters," read the statement published in the Palestinian paper Al Ayyam. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wasn't one of them.

He got no tea and sympathy in Beirut, landing in Lebanon under tight security Monday, after having been accused by the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah of being "a key accomplice" of Israel during the recent conflict.

I know, we're all a sucker for an underdog, or even a lame duck politician for that matter, but before you reach for your hankies, rest assured Tony Blair still has a few firm friends besides George, Laura, Rupert and the rest of his American fan club, eager to pin a presidential medal onto his loyal chest.

To the Israelis he's a breath of fresh air. What a change from the mealy mouthed foreign politicians, diplomats and NGOs who flew to Israel wagging their fingers and toes over Qana Mark II, the bombing of Red Cross conveys and cluster bombs strewn over Lebanon in large numbers in the final hours of the war.

Blair empathises with the pit-a-pat of innocent Israeli hearts menaced by hostile neighbours and extremists or so it seems from an interview conducted by Ha'aretz last Sunday.

Britain's prime minister felt so at home he confided to David Landau and Aluf Benn that while western leaders are aware of the struggle against Islamic extremism led by Iran, within western public opinion "there is a big battle to be won."

Hearts and minds

Poor, misunderstood and downtrodden Mr Blair admitted that his own domestic political difficulties were closely tied "with this ideological battle" for British and western hearts and minds.

It's a terrible tragedy to be sure when we the ignorant people just can't wrap our heads around the invasion and destruction of countries on the strength of successive packs of lies.

It seems the prime minister feels disconnected from his people. That makes sense when we remember the millions of Britons that flooded onto the streets in protest at Mess-O-Potamia that he so cavalierly ignored.

So given that Blair isn't exactly Mr Popularity at home and abroad, with the obvious exceptions of Tel Aviv and Washington, why does he insist on hanging on to office by the tips of his fingers until next spring, risking his party's re-election prospects and his country's economic stability?

Some speculate he's still searching for a glorious political legacy, but that would require a miracle. If he hasn't achieved one in nine years, what difference will nine months make unless of course, like the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, he's keen on helping to birth a new Middle East.

And here we may have it. He told the Israeli daily Ha'aretz that it would be folly to ignore Iran's threats against Israel.

"When you have the president of a country as powerful as Iran say those things, it may be very foolish of us to assume he doesn't mean them," he said. "And when he's also trying to acquire a nuclear weapon, then I think the warning signs are pretty clear. If we don't get worried about that, future historians will raise a few questions about us and about our judgment."

Eureka! Could Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker be right? Is the US planning a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities later this year? Does Blair have firm commitments with his pals across the pond he's unable to share?

Remember how former Foreign Minister Jack Straw was demoted after saying an attack on Iran would be "nuts"? Remember Dick Cheney's warning on MSNBC that Israel might decide to destroy Iran's nuclear plants "and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards"?

During such a tidy up where would the US and Israel be without Blair and the fig leaf of respectability provided by his holier than thou demeanour and his Mr Nice Guy boyish grin?

Would his likely successor, Gordon Brown, be willing to stick with the programme? Not unless he's ready to commit political hara-kiri. On the other hand, Blair, whose political capital is already depleted, has little to lose.

There are few situations scarier than powerful nations run by ideologues who keep their people in the dark. We'll probably never know whether Blair has a messianic calling, whether he's a neocon in disguise or just a good man who got in with the wrong crowd along the way.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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