Political death of a usurper
Monday July 14, 2003
An unwinnable war in Iraq and the deceit that led to it have destroyed the credibility of the prime minister
"Now does he feel/ his secret murders sticking on his hands;/ now minutely revolts upbraid his faith-breach;/ those he commands move only in command,/ nothing in love: now does he feel his title/ hang loose about him, like a giant's robe/ upon a dwarfish thief."
Thus Angus spoke of the Scottish usurper Macbeth, whose ambition led him deep into a river of blood. Less poetically, Clare Short, Mo Mowlem and Robin Cook are saying much the same of their former cabinet colleague. I predicted before the war that Iraq would be the political death of Tony Blair, and it is now almost Shakespearean how the pain from his self-inflicted wounds is written across his face. It is as if he is physically diminishing before our eyes as his authority bleeds into the sands of Iraq.
Each new day brings another stab at Blair's credibility: former cabinet members in public, current ministers in private, using the round of summer parties to distance themselves from the fading king. >From Hans Blix, the BBC and the press, from two former heads of the joint intelligence committee and now, perhaps fatally, from across the Atlantic, fall blow after hammer blow. Suddenly, comparing the two main war leaders to wolves - which has got me into such difficulty with the Labour hierarchy - seems very tame indeed.
Always travelling light on ideological baggage, never having won or wanted the affection of the Labour clan, Blair's main asset was his "Trust me, I'm a regular guy" reputation. Now it is gone and will never be recovered.
That Iraq was lynched by Bush and Blair has become plain as a pikestaff. Take the saving of Private Jessica. Said at first to have been shot and held hostage by Iraqi doctors, and now revealed to have been in their care after a road traffic accident, her story serves as a metaphor for the mendacity so deep and treacly-black it might be an oil sump: from the 45-minute warning to the banks of the Niger and the sweepings of the internet floor.
In their occupation of Iraq, the US and British armies have entered the gates of hell. Soon it will be 100 degrees at midnight in Baghdad, but there will be no respite from the need for full body armour. In two weeks, armed attacks on coalition forces have nearly doubled to 25 per day. More than 200 have been wounded and over 40 killed in combat since "victory" was declared by President Bush. Morale among US forces is dropping towards Vietnam-type levels, with heavy drug consumption, and commanders turning a blind eye to the prostituting of Iraqi women. No doubt the spectre of troops "fragging" overly strict officers is on their minds.
So hot is the welcome to these "liberators" that the US has now evacuated its forces from both the vast campus of Baghdad University and from the hub of the sharpest armed action, in Fallujah. The latter gives the lie to the repeated calumny that those fighting the occupation are merely "Saddamist remnants". In truth, Fallujah is the heartland of the Jubbur tribe, arch-enemies of Saddam whose leaders were purged by the Takriti Ba'ath party bosses more than a decade ago.
No fighting in this area could take place without the Jubbur, so it must be more than nostalgia for the old regime that is fuelling it. Throughout the Calvary of Vietnam, resistance was routinely described as coming from unrepresentative "hardline elements" or outside the country's borders. The deeper Johnson and Nixon sank into the quagmire, the more they spread the war, to neighbouring Cambodia and new killing fields. Look out for "hot pursuit" operations in the months to come into Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
In Vietnam, the Americans installed a succession of puppet governments in whose name they could claim to be fighting. Though as bereft of electoral legitimacy as a Jeb Bush Floridian plebiscite, the Vietnamese juntas had a social base. Yesterday's jokers, the "Iraqi Governing Council" - handpicked by Iraq's US governor, Paul Bremer - make South Vietnam's General Thieu look like an authentic national leader. Without hundreds of thousands of foreign troops, they would be swept away in a gale of derision.
Iraqis want Britain and America out of their country, that much is abundantly clear. Only independently supervised elections to a constituent assembly can produce Iraqi leaders fit to face the outside world and rebuild their country.
Tony Blair can run around the world on grand diplomatic tours. He can bask in the adulation of the Republican right in the US Congress. But he cannot hide from the fact that he has lost the plot at home. He has entered that twilight which saw the departure in tears of Mrs Thatcher in a taxi from the Downing Street she once bestrode like a colossus.
The foreign affairs select committee was wrong when it said the jury was out on the Blair war. Both the public and the Labour movement jury has already returned its verdict of guilty. Mr Blair will soon exit the political stage; it would be better t'were done quickly.