"The kaleidoscope has been shaken," Tony Blair told a Labour Party conference in
October 2001. "The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they
do, let us re-order the world." Those should have been astonishing words.
George W. Bush had already pledged "to answer these attacks and rid the world
of evil" -- all the evil in the world, vanquished at a sweep. Blair spoke more
softly but betrayed an appetite just as fierce: the craving of the technocrat
and the aesthete to reduce the variety of the world to a single benevolent
The kaleidoscope of Blair was a necessary cover for the crusade of Bush. He
imparted to the Iraq war a gloss of philanthropy, a generous fervor, an
impression of a clean conscience; and his eager eloquence sapped the
determination to resist the war among a good many initial doubters.
Bush and Blair seem to have discovered early the truth about their friendship.
Blair was as much the superior of Bush in mental grasp as he was his inferior
in self-will and masculine charm. The cartoonists grasped easily, as the
commentators did not, the underplot of male dominance and pliable submission.
You can see it in some footage of their 2002 meeting at the Crawford
ranch -- Bush in his denims, shoulders bulked, arms swinging as he saunters;
Blair a step or two behind, bobbing politely, eyebrows raised, mouth half-open,
dressed in a turtleneck.
To the usual lineup for a war of aggrandizement, Blair, by his glamour and his
gift for conveying fine feelings, brought along a new constituency of romantic
interventionists. These were liberal journalists and policy intellectuals, many
wishing they had lived in better times to fight against the Fascists or
Communists; former young men of the Sixties, brave now in their middle years
and, after Kosovo, hungry for more good wars. The deep bench of the Iraq war
party disclaimed George Bush but loved to cite Tony Blair as proof of the
ultimate decency of the devastation.
"Hand on heart," Tony Blair asked in his farewell speech to be pardoned for the
sincerity of his mistakes (if there were mistakes). But, hand at the switch, he
never doubted the right of the great powers to decide by force the destiny of
lesser powers. Merely going along with Bush has always borne with it a
prerequisite of fever and panic. The binge thinking and slurred explanations
and avoidance of honest reckoning and reality are too giddy for some tastes.
Having Blair on board gave a promise of accountability; but the promise was
rhetorical and meant little to its maker.
There is something sad about the utterness with which President Bush has proved
unequal to his job. It makes him oddly hard to dislike -- putting a damper on all
jeering and pert sarcasm. Blair's is a different and more ordinary case. "When
a man's fancy gets astride of his reason," wrote Swift in A Tale of a Tub,
"the first proselyte he makes is himself; and when that is once compassed, the
difficulty is not so great in bringing over others... For cant and vision are
to the ear and the eye, the same that tickling is to the touch." The cant and
vision of Tony Blair were tickled when he saw the kaleidoscope shaken and the
pieces of the world in flux.