Saturday, September 8, 2007


Tony Blair left Britain better than he found it, and now the bombers in Baghdad and the tabloids in London are someone else's problem. Of course, he isn't done being a world leader, with his most ambitious diplomatic mission just beginning.

The garden of the British high commissioner's residence in Pretoria commands a fine view of the South African capital, an unlovely town distinguished by a lone architectural jewel, the Union Buildings with their semi-circular limestone colonnades. Cannon salvos and a white-gloved honor guard had welcomed the U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair earlier in the day to this colonial-era monument, home to the presidency, and I had thought: He will miss the heady pomp of office even after a decade as prime minister. He will miss the red carpets, the tensed bayonet-clutching soldiers, the gun salutes, the leaders like Thabo Mbeki waiting to usher him into the inner sanctums where history gets shaped. Power is adrenaline; the Sicilians say it is better than sex.


In an interview with Men's Vogue, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair discusses his new role as special Middle East envoy for the diplomatic Quartet.


He fixes me with that gaze and says, "Look, it won't happen without someone there in the Middle East. The only reason we got the breakthrough in Northern Ireland was that we did in the end focus on it with such intensity over such a period that every little thing that went wrong—and everything that could go wrong did at some point—was all the time being managed and rectified. Jonathan Powell, my chief of staff, once said to me that the important thing about this is that at any time we can't solve it, we have to manage it, until we can start to solve it again. What you never do is let the thing govern itself."

Call this the bicycle approach to peacemaking: If you don't keep moving forward, especially when the bombs go off, everything topples. But, I put it to Blair, had the Bush administration not done the exact opposite with Israel-Palestine: allowed the mess to fester because Washington is a one-issue town and the issue has been Iraq? He pauses a moment—unusual in a man of such fluid articulateness—before saying, "Put it this way: I am glad they have now focused. Because my view of the Middle East is that we are on a long-term mission to sort it out. If you look at extremism in Pakistan or Chechnya or other parts of the world, extremism on the streets of Spain or France or wherever, it wasn't born there but imported in."

No comments: