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Blair’s criticism of the Afghan withdrawal is a robust defence of Western militarism 

August 25, 2021 at 3:33 pm

Former UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair arrives at Downing Street in London, United Kingdom on 8 November 2020 [Tayfun Salci/Anadolu Agency]

The architects of the “war on terror” have hit back following the humiliating US withdrawal from Afghanistan. From the political leaders who sanctioned never-ending wars to the intellectual high priests in journalism, academia and think tanks who cooked it up, exponents of Western imperialism have been doing the media rounds over recent days in a desperate bid to salvage their reputation.

They blame everyone but themselves for the ignominious ending to the occupation championed by neoconservative ideologues whose goal under the Project for the New American Century was to remake the Arab and Muslim world through the aggressive use of US military might in a bid, so they claimed, to enforce freedom and democracy. The disastrous end to the invasion of Iraq should have been the final nail in the coffin to the reputation and careers of the “high priests of war” who set America on a course towards not one but two humiliating defeats. Instead, the many decades of inflated threats and overstated dangers have been a source of personal gains.

Such has been the case, possibly because there was a final hope of vindication in Afghanistan, seen by many as “the good war” as opposed to “the bad war” in Iraq. Or perhaps it’s simply the case that our modern society is suffering from a deep sickness whereby war and conflict are the way to personal gain and success. In economic terms, the war in Afghanistan has been a massive boon for US defence contractors, which is probably the kind of perverse political situation former US President Dwight D Eisenhower had in mind when he warned Americans to guard against the “unwarranted influence” of the “military-industrial complex”.

The intervention by Tony Blair about the withdrawal of US troops has probably caused the most controversy. For days, many people have watched in fury as the two-decade long campaign in Afghanistan comes to an end accompanied by a conspicuous silence from the former British prime minister, one of the architects of the war on terror.

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Blair has been a constant presence over the past two decades, domestically and across the Middle East, which cannot be said about his buddy George W Bush. In stark contrast to Blair, the former US President released a very short statement in which he called for American unity in helping Afghan refugees. Offering neither blame nor mind-numbing justification for the course on which he set America, Bush appeared content that his legacy has been tarnished even more.

When he finally mustered the courage to offer his views in a lengthy essay over the weekend, Blair not only slammed US President Joe Biden’s move to complete the troop withdrawal as “imbecilic”, “tragic”, “dangerous” and “unnecessary”, but also defended his own record and, to much dismay, doubled down on the neoconservative agenda. Writing for the Institute for Global Change that bears his name, he repeated the case for ongoing military intervention to curb the spread of what he called “Radical Islam”. He was neither contrite nor self-reflective while warning that the West is at risk of losing its pre-eminent position in the world if it fails to stand up to the threat posed by “Islamism” and groups like the Taliban.

With arguments that appeared to be frozen in time, Blair rehashed the same talking points cooked up by neoconservative ideologues and think tanks two decades ago to justify America’s never-ending wars. “Islamism is a long-term structural challenge inconsistent with modern societies based on tolerance and secular government.” He painted a picture depicting the threat from “radical Islam” emanating from every corner of the globe.

Sections of the far-right also subscribe to a version of this view in what is often referred to as the great replacement theory. They believe that there is a worldwide Muslim conspiracy to destroy Western civilisation and replace the “white race”. The way to deal with the threat posed by Muslims, the argument goes, is through the mass mobilisation of the “indigenous” white population and acts of terror against Muslims and anyone aiding their cause.

There is no evidence that Blair agrees with such a hateful, racist and violent conspiracy theory. However, as with any pernicious ideology, its growth and evolution requires respectable and mainstream figures to believe in and promote what might be termed a sanitised version.

In his essay, Blair did just that. He argued that the fight against radical Islam is a “strategic challenge” which the West must face in the same way that it faced and defeated “Revolutionary Communism”. His logic is that, unlike the threat from communism, the West does not recognise radical Islam as a civilisational challenge requiring a similar level of will and determination. Regarding the defeat of communism Blair pointed out that, “We understood it was a real menace and we combined across nations and parties to deal with it.”

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The battle to defeat communism “lasted more than 70 years”, with tremendous determination from the West to vanquish the totalitarian ideology. “Throughout that time, we would never have dreamt of saying, ‘well, we have been at this for a long time, we should just give up’,” Blair argued. The West, he wrote, is in danger of losing the battle for civilisation against an equally menacing totalitarian ideology. “This is what we need to decide now with Radical Islam. Is it a strategic threat? If so, how do those opposed to it including within Islam, combine to defeat it?”

Continuing with his overstating of the danger, Blair explained that not confronting radical Islam was also a policy decision with risks. “We have learnt the perils of intervention in the way we intervened in Afghanistan, Iraq and indeed Libya. But non-intervention is also policy with consequence.” He urged the West to move forward with the “sense of rediscovery that [we] represent values and interests worth being proud of and defending.”

Following the publication of his essay, Blair gave a lengthy interview to Sky News in which he repeated the arguments for continued Western intervention. A stream of articles followed which condemned the 68-year-old and his lack of remorse over what many view as a clear policy disaster of his making to add to the disastrous invasion of Iraq.

Does Blair’s bold and unapologetic intervention have anything to do with his lucrative post-parliamentary career? Since he stepped down as Prime Minister in 2007 Blair has set up various bodies advising some of the most authoritarian regimes in the world. He is not only said to have profited personally from inflating threats and overstating the dangers of Islamism — a term that is often simply shorthand for political activism by Muslims — but has also continued to peddle the neo-con agenda to shape Western policy towards Islam and Muslims. Perhaps Blair more than most of his discredited ideological bedfellows exemplifies the saying, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.