Scroll down to read: How can Blair possibly be given this job? and Everybody Hates Blair
One of life's more desolate occupations is former prime minister. When Tony Blair leaves Downing Street on Wednesday he may keep a car and a bodyguard, but there will be no more scrambled telephones, massed cameras or summits. Like Wagner's gods deprived of Freya's golden apples, politicians cut off from power find their vitality draining away, and so the departing prime minister's friends are wondering what sufficiently important and revivifying job can now be found for him. What's to be done with Tony?
In the past, saying goodbye to No 10 hasn't always meant saying goodbye to Westminster: Balfour and Douglas-Home both came back as foreign secretary years after they had been prime minister. However, in Blair's case it seems most unlikely that he will be invited into Gordon Brown's ministry of all the talents (which is already turning into a club that no one wants to join). Blair displays less enthusiasm for British politics all the time. He won't go to the House of Lords, which is "not my style", but the Commons was never really his style either, as he showed by attending much more rarely than any other prime minister.
What he has always loved is cutting a dash on the international stage, and that may be where he is looking for job opportunities. Three have already been floated: head of the World Bank in succession to Paul Wolfowitz, first full-time president of the European Union, and special envoy to the Middle East. This is a truly impressive array of sits vac. Alas, it's hard to say for which of them Blair is most unqualified.
In the Financial Times, his paper before he went to work as an aide to Kofi Annan at the United Nations, Edward Mortimer urges Bush to choose Blair for the World Bank: he is a "larger than life" leader, still at the height of his powers, and well known for his interest in the "welfare of the world's poor". But even if that imposing testimonial were accurate, there is a problem. Whatever the proximate cause of Wolfowitz's departure, he had been unwanted by many if not most of the bank's staff from the beginning.
As the Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff said on the BBC World Service, Wolfowitz is a clever man, but he had no experience in banking, no knowledge of development, and, "as an architect of the Iraq war, no credibility". All of that applies a fortiori to Blair, even if he seems unaware of it. He is still in deep denial, not only about the extent of the catastrophe in Iraq but of the degree to which his own reputation has been engulfed for ever in those bloody sands.
The notion that Blair might become the first full-time EU president was also aired in the FT (that establishment notice board and job centre), which reported that the plan has the backing of Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, who in turn has won the approval of Angela Merkel, the German prime minister. It's true that they have reason to be grateful. When history looks back at the past 10 years, nothing will seem more astonishing than the way that, at successive elections in other European countries, a Labour prime minister has openly supported the candidates of the right. He deserves a reward.
But here again there is a problem. That FT report acknowledges in deadpan fashion that "Blair remains a divisive figure". He is deeply unpopular in most European countries, including those governed by his friends Sarkozy and Merkel: in polls, 53% of French respondents and 64% of German ones said he would be wrong for the job.
You could not ask for a better illustration of the imperious arrogance of what Jean-Pierre Chevènement, the French politician and contrarian, calls "the soi-disant elites" who rule Europe. Before the French and Dutch referendums two years ago, Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg, said: "If it's a yes, we will say 'On we go'; and if it's a no, we will say 'We continue'." In that same spirit, Sarko and Angela want to find a job for their friend Tony, and who cares what the mere voters think?
And yet, in the end, there is an easy winner when it comes to choosing the most ridiculous of all these touted jobs. The idea that Blair should become a peace envoy in the Middle East, in what the New York Times calls a "visible attempt at laying the groundwork for a Palestinian state", is in a class of its own for sheer absurdity. That is not less so for President Bush's support, nor for the fact that Blair has already applied for the job.
In his slightly deranged speech at the 2001 Labour conference he had some of his more addle-pated followers quivering with excitement when he said: "The starving, the wretched, the dispossessed, the ignorant, those living in want and squalor, from the deserts of north Africa to the slums of Gaza, to the mountain ranges of Afghanistan: they too are our cause." Then, at his final conference speech last autumn, he said he wanted to devote himself "to advancing peace between Israel and Palestine".
Leave aside what he has actually done for the wretched of Afghanistan and Gaza in the past five years: he simply has no inkling of how he is seen in the Middle East. After Iraq, the culminating events came last summer. With Israel bombarding Lebanon, with most Labour MPs wanting an immediate ceasefire, and with barely a fifth of British voters thinking the Israeli action justified, Blair would not budge an inch from his support for Bush and Ehud Olmert.
On top of that we had the hilarious "Yo, Blair!" conversation overheard in St Petersburg, with Blair the forelock-tugging messenger boy for the White House: "I don't know what you guys have talked about, but as I say I am perfectly happy to try and see what the lie of the land is." He could go ahead of Condoleezza Rice "if she needs the ground prepared as it were ... Because obviously if she goes out, she's got to succeed, as it were, whereas I can go out and just talk".
Last December Blair did go out to the Levant and just talk. Commenting at the time (again on the invaluable World Service), Marc Sirois, of the Beirut Daily Star, said that the prime minister's mission was as pointless as it was ignominious. He had "sacrificed what credibility he ever had in this part of the world" by abdicating any responsibility he ever had toward the conflict. Blair couldn't possibly act as an honest broker, since "he is identified so strongly by Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular as somebody who supports the policies of the Bush administration ... George Bush might be hated here but at least he's respected. Tony Blair doesn't even have respect." And this is the man to succeed, as it were, in bringing peace to the Holy Land?
No, really, there is only one place for Tony Blair. America beckons, where so many people have still not seen through him, with a lecture circuit on which he can easily rack up $100,000 a time (and Cherie can top up with not much less, as she has already begun doing), and where he has another friend who owes him one. If, after all the prime minister has done for Rupert Murdoch, the munificent magnate can't stump up a few million dollars for Blair's ghost-written memoirs, there's no gratitude.
Here is a politician who has failed in everything he has ever tried to do in the Middle East
I suppose that astonishment is not the word for it. Stupefaction comes to mind. I simply could not believe my ears in Beirut when a phone call told me that Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara was going to create "Palestine". I checked the date - no, it was not 1 April - but I remain overwhelmed that this vain, deceitful man, this proven liar, a trumped-up lawyer who has the blood of thousands of Arab men, women and children on his hands is really contemplating being "our" Middle East envoy.
Can this really be true? I had always assumed that Balfour, Sykes and Picot were the epitome of Middle Eastern hubris. But Blair? That this ex-prime minister, this man who took his country into the sands of Iraq, should actually believe that he has a role in the region - he whose own preposterous envoy, Lord Levy, made so many secret trips there to absolutely no avail - is now going to sully his hands (and, I fear, our lives) in the world's last colonial war is simply overwhelming.
Of course, he'll be in touch with Mahmoud Abbas, will try to marginalise Hamas, will talk endlessly about "moderates"; and we'll have to listen to him pontificating about morality, how he's absolutely and completely confident that he's doing the right thing (and this, remember, is the same man who postponed a ceasefire in Lebanon last year in order to share George Bush's ridiculous hope of an Israeli victory over Hizbollah) in bringing peace to the Middle East...
Not once - ever - has he apologised. Not once has he said he was sorry for what he did in our name. Yet Lord Blair actually believes - in what must be a record act of self-indulgence for a man who cooked up the fake evidence of Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" - that he can do good in the Middle East.
For here is a man who is totally discredited in the region - a politician who has signally failed in everything he ever tried to do in the Middle East - now believing that he is the right man to lead the Quartet to patch up "Palestine".
In the hunt for quislings to do our bidding - ie accept even less of Mandate Palestine than Arafat would stomach - I suppose Blair has his uses. His unique blend of ruthlessness and dishonesty will no doubt go down quite well with our local Arab dictators.
And I have a suspicion - always assuming this extraordinary story is not untrue - that Blair will be able to tour around Damascus, even Tehran, in his hunt for "peace", thus paving the way for an American exit strategy in Iraq. But "Palestine"?
The Palestinians held elections - real, copper-bottomed ones, the democratic variety - and Hamas won. But Blair will presumably not be able to talk to Hamas. He'll need to talk only to Abbas's flunkies, to negotiate with an administration described so accurately this week by my old colleague Rami Khoury as a "government of the imagination".
The Americans are talking - and here I am quoting the State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack - about an envoy who can work "with the Palestinians in the Palestinian system" to develop institutions for a "well-governed state". Oh yes, I can see how that would appeal to Lord Blair. He likes well-governed states, lots of "terror laws", plenty of security - though I'm still a bit puzzled about what the "Palestinian system" is meant to be.
It was James Wolfensohn who was originally "our" Middle East envoy, a former World Bank president who left in frustration because he could neither reconstruct Gaza nor work with a "peace process" that was being eroded with every new Jewish settlement and every Qassam rocket fired into Israel. Does Blair think he can do better? What honeyed words will we hear?
I bet he doesn't mention the Israeli wall which is taking so much extra land from the Palestinians. It will be a "security barrier" or a "fence" (like the famous Berlin "fence" which was actually called a "security barrier" by those generous East German Vopo cops of the time).
There will be appeals for restraint "on all sides", endless calls for "moderation", none at all for justice (which is all the people of the Middle East have been pleading for over the past 100 years).
And Israel likes Lord Blair. Indeed, Blair's slippery use of language is likely to appeal to Ehud Olmert, whose government continues to take Arab land for Jews and Jews only as he waits to discover a Palestinian with whom he can "negotiate", Mahmoud Abbas now having the prestige of a rabbit after his forces were crushed in Gaza.
Which of "Palestine"'s two prime ministers will Blair talk to? Why, the one with a collar and tie, of course, who works for Mr Abbas, who will demand more "security", tougher laws, less democracy.
I have never been able to figure out why the Middle East draws the Balfours and the Sykeses and the Blairs into its maw. Once, our favourite trouble-shooter was James Baker - who worked for George W's father until the Israelis got tired of him - and before that we had a whole list of UN Secretary Generals who visited the region, frowned and warned of serious consequences if peace did not soon come.
I recall another man with Blair's pomposity, a certain Kurt Waldheim, who - no longer the UN's boss - actually believed he could be an "envoy" for peace in the Middle East, despite his little wartime career as an intelligence officer for the Wehrmacht's Army Group "E".
His visits - especially to the late King Hussein - came to nothing, of course. But Waldheim's ability to draw a curtain over his wartime past does have one thing in common with Blair. For Waldheim steadfastly, pointedly, repeatedly, refused to acknowledge - ever - that he had ever done anything wrong. Now who does that remind you of?