Tony Blair's Ruination, And Hillary Clinton's Real Problem

For the past seven years, the British government has done something the Obama administration opted against, mounting a painstaking official inquiry into the origins and conduct of the Iraq War. On Wednesday morning, the report of the Iraq Inquiry landed in London with the impact of a political hydrogen bomb.

It even got a little news media coverage here in the US, home of the actual inventors of the Iraq War. It should have gotten a lot more, because the target of the report was by far Bill and Hillary Clinton's greatest global ally in the first Clinton presidency. His woes mirror theirs, with the only major distinction being his much more central role in pushing the Iraq invasion and the vastly greater focus on how the Iraq debacle unfolded in the British media and political systems than in the US.

Definitively blown away, perhaps for all time, was the reputation of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, the longtime friend of the Clintons and the Labour Party's most electorally successful leader in its history. Blair had become highly controversial as the Iraq War unfolded; popular anger and distrust rose and hardened even as he won a third, final and ultimately foreshortened term as prime minister in 2005.

Tony Blair's near two-hour response to the Chilcot Report on the Iraq War. More than half of it consists of a press conference.

Though Blair gamely appeared for two hours, most of it in press conference mode, to respond to the report presented by Whitehall mandarin Sir John Chilcot, his evident regret was to no avail. For, as it dawned on me while watching the performance somewhat incredulously on the BBC as it unfolded, Blair never actually admitted that he was wrong to push Britain into the world historical blunder that was the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It seemed obvious that no one was going to forgive him if he refused to admit that he was wrong. And what was he apologizing for if not the disaster he helped to create?

For it was the invasion of Iraq that halted what had been a brilliant run for Blair as prime minister. And it was the invasion of Iraq that cast his evident empathy and earnestness in a new and quite damaging light.

As the debacle, embraced by virtually the whole of Blair's till then popular Labour government, unfolded, and as Blair's hyping of simply ludicrous claims became evident, faith in political elites fell precipitously. The hollowing of the economy for most, well underway even since the days when Blair and the Clintons embraced and promoted a "Third Way" politics of mostly pro-corporate centrism, only accelerated with the financial crash. That big post-financial crash winners turned out to be financiers largely aligned with the Clintons and Blair -- who themselves became rich after leaving office -- only added to the popular cynicism and outrage.

There was a time when it seemed Blair, who won a sensational landslide victory in 1997 to end 18 years of Conservative dominance in the UK, would become the premiere world statesman. His theme song, D:Ream's 'Things Can Only Get Better' seemed, for the most part, to come true in his early years as prime minister.

The national health service was strengthened, education reforms were undertaken, major environmental moves were made on climate change and renewable energy, a Northern Ireland peace accord was achieved, among other things. And Blair also moved decisively on successful military interventions in the Balkans -- where he pressured an initially balky Bill Clinton administration to do more -- and Sierra Leone. These were bold yet very well-considered moves, quite unlike Iraq, and ended up helping the great mass of people in the affected areas.

But it all came undone for Blair after Iraq. His coziness with the City of London, the British equivalent of Wall Street, was viewed in a more outraged light and the usual problems of political hackery involving unwarranted perks were spotlighted in the glare.

Worse still, the bonds of trust in the political class, which had seemed strong given Blair's empathetic gifts -- which more than matched those legendarily attributed to his friend and ally Bill Clinton -- were burnt to a crisp.

If anything, the deeper disappointment which Blair engendered with what was widely regarded as his betrayal on Iraq gave a heavy boost to a not entirely rational dismissal of the credibility of elites.

Which is precisely what drove Brexit, the recently enacted referendum to take Britain out of the European Union.

Riding a wave of Tony Blair-inspired enthusiasm after 18 years in the wilderness, the British Labour Party put out this 1997 pre-election broadcast built around the Blair/New Labour theme song, "Things Can Only Get Better."

Indeed, as a definitive behind-the-scenes look at how the Remain campaign went wrong -- i.e., how the modernizers ironically missed the future -- published recently in the Guardian, makes clear, leaders of the Leave vote, entrenched conservative elites themselves pulling off a coup against their supposed friend Prime Minister David Cameron, quite cynically used the post-Iraq/post-Blair skepticism of the electorate to dismiss any expert opinion undermining their opportunistic agenda.

Hillary Clinton faces a similar dynamic. Donald Trump is no party leader, but he is even more an entrenched financial elite, and an even more breathtakingly opportunistic figure than any in Britain.

Her one saving grace over her old friend Tony Blair is that she is not as stubborn as he. For Blair, unlike Clinton, at least on Iraq, simply won't admit the obvious.

How did he come to make such a monstrous mistake? That's still mysterious, even after Sir John Chilcot's exhaustive report. The mystery has caused no end of desperate attempts to make sense of it all. Former Blair friend Robert Harris took a stab at an explanation in his best-selling roman a clef novel 'The Ghost,' made into a quite excellent Roman Polanski-directed thriller called, for more literally minded Americans, 'The Ghost Writer.'

That Blair, spoiler alert, was really an unwitting CIA agent seems rather fanciful, especially since the CIA, to the extent there is only one version of CIA, wasn't really for the Iraq project, not being utterly daft.

Whatever the cause, and some Bush biographers suspect that his and Bush's shared religiosity was a factor, the result has been sad and tragic.

Can Hillary overcome the massive reaction against the culture she's so much a part of? Fortunately for her, and us, Trump's opportunism is itself every bit as monstrous than Tony Blair's mistake. Probably more so, because, and this is very much part of the tragedy, Blair really was a force for good. Until he wasn't.

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