Three is the tragic number

6/3/2006 9:04:38 AM

Two stories have dominated the political agenda as far as the media are concerned over the last two weeks. One has been Tony Blair's attempt to propagate his vision for the world. The other has been the woe of his deputy, the hapless John Prescott.

While our trivialising national media have been fixed upon Prescott's parvenu attraction to croquet as a means of expressing its own atavistic snobbery, little has been said about our Great Leader's musings on the future of the planet, a teleological triptych adumbrated in London, Australia and the United States. As much as one might be affronted by the deputy prime minister's travails, it is apposite to recognise his role as lightning conductor for his alter ego in Downing Street.

Blair's first speech in London was on that bogyman of latter day imperialism, the global terrorist. His second speech, given in Australia before President Bush's other arch ally, John Howard, was, by his own account, about "justice and opportunity for all". (Try telling that to the 90 new widows created each day in Iraq.) Finally, his Washington rhetorical tour de force settled on the themes of globalisation, and the reform of the Bretton Woods international institutions - and of the United Nations itself.

His argument is, in part, a retrospective justification of his own muscular approach to foreign policy. In this, be confuses his own political prejudices with the social, political, demographic and economic exigencies of our time. Thus, he can conflate, in one paragraph, terrorism and migration; in another, he fuses the emerging economies of China and India with the western legacy of environmental profligacy. Out of this is spawned his interventionist approach to international affairs - a curious line from a prime minister who abjures intervention domestically, where intervention is necessary to right the wrongs within his own polity.

But, as the prime minister urged us, in the third of his speeches, at Georgetown University, "let us go back to the immediate issue: Iraq". His practised line was repeated: that the war was about removing Saddam (wrong - it was sold on the erroneous basis that Saddam threatened us with weapons of mass destruction). He once more inferred that terrorism was an Iraqi problem before the illegal war was commenced. This is a purely American construct - no one saw Saddam as a sponsor of international terrorism in the fashion of al-Qaida other than the zealots of the present American administration.

Naturally, Blair did not "want to reopen past arguments". He sang the praises of the new Iraqi government whose members he had met - safely ensconced within the heavily guarded "green zone". His rhetoric became stratospheric about these guardians of Iraq's fledgling democracy, and their struggle to bring western concepts to the heart of the Arabic and Islamic world. Just one sentence, one line, mentioned the price being paid by ordinary Iraqis, the principal sacrificial lambs in this great geopolitical game. No mention of the daily assault of Sunni on Shia, or of Shia or Sunni; a stony silence on the Kurdish oppression of the Assyrians.

Instead, we heard the same tired cliches about Blair's worthy, if nebulous, aspirations for a better world. However, he should be more careful with the material that his speechwriters give to him: We have come to expect his consistent if misguided defence of the United States administration. He can hardly do less, given the way in which he has so firmly nailed his colours to Bush's mast. Yet his assertion that "the Taliban manipulated the drug trade" sits oddly with the facts. In their last year in power, heroin exports were down to 180 tonnes per annum. Four years after their deposition, their successors - American-backed warlords such as General Doshtum of the Northern Alliance - had taken western economic values to heart, and flooded their heroin markets with 3,600 tonnes.

Nor could the prime minister's trite references to the Israeli-Palestinian standoff be seen as objective. Pressure on Hamas was not balanced by pressure on the Israelis.

Perhaps most dangerous is his new-found enthusiasm for the reform of international institutions. It is not that they are not in need of reform; nor are his aspirations unworthy. Unfortunately, his neocon friends in the current American Administration have been agitating against the United Nations, for example, for nearly 30 years. Why else would John Bolton be appointed as US Ambassador to the UN if not to make it toe the administration's line? In truth, these political neanderthals of the Christian-Jewish right of American politics are more concerned with removing any block on American autonomy in international affairs than they are with any of Blair's more constructive objectives. The danger is that Blair's sensitivity provides a cloak for darker initiatives.

If that is so, Blair will come to be accused of that most fatal of political weaknesses - naivety. As he desperately fights for a legacy in the twilight of his hold on office, would he like History to view him as a knave or as a dupe? Surely, he would hope to be seen as neither.

Peter Kilfoyle has been a Labour M.P for Liverpool Walton since 1991. He has been a minister in the Cabinet Office and in the Ministry of Defence. Before entering parliament he was north-west regional organiser for the Labour Party. Prior to that he was a teacher. He is now married, with five children and remains a 'critical friend' of the present government.