Although Tony Blair came to power as leader of a Labour government, his premiership has not followed the customary Labour Party policy of pacifism and anti-war sentiment. Neither has there been hostility towards US foreign policy.
Mr Blair reportedly stated that we might be a lucky generation that will never have to send people to war. In reality, he has engaged in more military campaigns than any British Prime Minister in living memory.
He had a clear admiration for Margaret Thatcher and her handing of the Falklands War. When he entered office in 1997, he even contacted Mrs Thatcher on matters of government, even though she left office 7 years previously in 1990.
His first taste of the thrill of war came in 1999 when the UK participated in the NATO led aerial bombing of Yugoslavia with the aim of persuading Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw his troops from Kosovo. Among all the NATO leaders, it was Blair who sought to demonise Milosevic and make comparisons with the ethnic cleansing policies of Serbia and the Nazi Holocaust. This was in sharp contrast to the view of many Serbs who regarded Milosevic as a simple patriot who was attempting to safeguard the position of Serbs in Kosovo.
The bombing campaign was a success and Milosevic fell from power. Despite the peace keeping operations of NATO and British forces in Kosovo, the aftermath of the war saw serious atrocities carried out by the Kosovan Liberation Army against ethnic Serbs. Mr Blair had by this time moved on to other foreign adventures.
An important lesson which Mr Blair learnt from the Kosovo campaign was that it is unwise to hand over his enemies to the War Crimes Tribunal of the Hague. Mr Milosevic unfortunately died during the trial and Tony Blair was robbed of the publicity success which would have followed the inevitable guilty verdict.
Britain sent troops to Sierra Leone in mid 2000, ostensibly to evacuate British nationals at risk during a rebel uprising. It soon became clear that Mr Blair had a long term plan to support the democratically elected government of the diamond rich country. This plan suffered a setback when a small contingent of UK forces were captured by a rebel faction called the West Side Boys in September 2000. Mr Blair stated that wherever British soldiers are held against their will anywhere in the world, it is something the government takes very seriously. After several perfunctory diplomatic exchanges, Mr Blair authorised a rescue mission. Only one British paratrooper was killed during the successful raid.
During a visit to Sierra Leone, Mr Blair was hailed as the saviour of the country and applauded wherever he went. Television footage clearly showed Mr Blair’s enjoyment of the mass adulation. This evidently whetted his appetite for further overseas adventures.
The applause of adoring crowds in Sierra Leone was soon overtaken by the trauma of the terrorist attack on the USA in September 2001. Mr Blair enthusiastically committed British troops to the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and the removal of the Taliban from Afghanistan. Inconveniently, Mr Bin Laden remains at large and the Taliban have regrouped and re-entered Afghanistan after both Messrs Blair and Bush had declared the campaign a success.
The invasion of Iraq in 2003 by the US and UK led coalition has finally discredited Tony Blair’s credentials as a war leader and has sealed his fate as a politician with international ambitions which proved disastrous, both to his own country and to the world at large.
As he was cheated of a judicial verdict in the matter of Slobodan Milosevic, Mr Blair did not wish to repeat his misfortune, and agreed with the US that the captured Saddam Hussein be handed over to the embryonic civil authorities in Iraq. The execution of Saddam was a badly administered event which was made worse by the fact that Mr Blair was holidaying in Florida with a pop star at the time.
Mr Blair’s announcement of a reduction of British troop numbers in Iraq during February 2007, signals the commencement of a hasty exit strategy. As usual, the release of this negative news was massaged and presented as a redeployment of resources to Afghanistan where British troops are having some success against the Taliban. The reality is that Mr Blair and the UK electorate have wearied of the war in Iraq.
As the Blair era is coming to an end, it is opportune to explore his desire for glory on the world stage. In the heady days of 1997, both Tony Blair and his Foreign Secretary Robin Cook talked of an ethical foreign policy. This is a curious claim in that it presupposes that foreign policy could be customarily lacking in ethical principles.
The driving force for Tony Blair has apparently been his personal Christian convictions, although he is reluctant to speak openly on this issue. This is perplexing as his friend Sir Cliff Richard unashamedly bears public witness to his Christian faith, and the friends undoubtedly discuss this when Mr Blair enjoys Sir Cliff’s hospitality at his Caribbean mansion. There are reports that he takes medieval Christian texts to read on holiday. What has perhaps persuaded Mr Blair to remain a closet Christian is the fact that the BBC has refused to play some of Sir Cliff’s records. As Mr Blair wishes to epitomise cool and secular Britannia, he must live in fear of being portrayed as a Christian fanatic by the media.
In the case of Iraq, not only has Mr Blair precipitated a disastrous war but his justification for war was based on flawed and false arguments. No evidence has been found of weapons of mass destruction nor of the presence of Al Qaeda in Iraq. For many commentators, these mistakes should have prompted Mr Blair to resign. If one recalls the prelude to the Falklands war, the Defence Secretary John Nott offered his resignation over a relatively minor matter.
The Iranian seizure of British sailors in March 2007 clearly demonstrates how Mr Blair has mishandled Iraq. He has repeatedly stated that he will not support any US action against Iran. This has been noted by the Iranian authorities who have now exploited this perceived weakness, and will use it to maximum effect. Mr Blair’s strong words about the capture and detention of British troops in Sierra Leone have been conveniently forgotten.
The enduring question concerning the Blair era will be that of how he managed to remain as leader of the British Labour Party, that bastion of pacifism, in the light of his belligerent and calamitous foreign policy adventures.