Tony Blair “believes that the arc of history still bends towards progress and enlightenment,” a recent profile in the New Statesman proclaimed.
The former prime minister’s casual attire and views on the popular TV show “Strictly Come Dancing” were carefully noted by the London weekly, eager to publicize his re-engagement in British politics. Blair’s reverential interviewer did not shy away completely from the Iraq war, yet seemed more concerned about its effects on Blair’s own wellbeing than about its actual victims.
By using the phrase “arc of history,” the interviewer was probably invoking Martin Luther King’s aphorism “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” A reputedly serious magazine twisted the words of a civil rights leader to laud a war criminal.
With just a few exceptions, the mainstream press has failed to properly scrutinize Blair’s activities. Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, phony intelligence was treated as incontrovertible by stenographers masquerading as journalists. After Blair left Downing Street, the stenographers labeled him a “Middle East peace envoy.”
Blair stepped down as an “envoy” last year. There are still many questions about his post that have not been properly examined. Here is one such question: who precisely did he serve?
Formally, Blair was a representative of the Middle East Quartet – the US, European Union, United Nations and Russia. In reality, many of his activities appear to have either been directed from or closely watched by Washington officials.
That fact was implicitly acknowledged now and then – such as when John Kerry, the secretary of state, tasked Blair with drawing up a plan for boosting investment in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Blair was not a full-time envoy; his lucrative activities as a corporate lobbyist meant he was often away from his quartet desk. Who, then, was running his office in Jerusalem?
Penchant for praise
As well as being the largest donor to the Quartet envoy’s office – providing $13.5 million between 2007 and 2013 – the US supplied some of its top personnel.
Robert Danin was head of Blair’s office from 2008 to 2010. Danin, who had previously worked in both the State Department and the National Security Council, shared Blair’s penchant for praising Israel when it did not deserve any praise.
For example, when Israel agreed in 2010 that a small number of trucks carrying goods could be allowed into Gaza, Danin claimed there had been a “positive step forward.” Danin avoided saying publicly that Gaza was under an Israeli siege.
Today, Danin makes his living as an “expert” with the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank.
He has used that position to advocate that the relationship between Israel and the US should be properly consummated. Writing in the journal Foreign Affairs earlier this year, Danin recommended that the Israeli government seek a formal pact with the US.
Entering into a treaty-based alliance with the US would “not necessarily have a significant practical effect on Israeli freedom of maneuver,” he argued. That is a fancy way of saying that Israel would still be able to behave with impunity in oppressing the Palestinians and bombing its neighbors.
Hugging Israel tighter
Another career diplomat, Gary Grappo, succeeded Dannin as Blair’s head of office. Grappo’s bio states that he had previously led the “super-sized political division” at the US embassy in Baghdad.
Grappo’s faith in imperial aggression remains strong – despite being exposed to its messy consequences. In a 2014 opinion piece, he advocated that the US be more forceful in “fighting and defeating terrorism, especially the jihadist-kind that pervades much of the Middle East.”
By displaying greater vigor “US foreign policy might also regain the moral and political high ground, where America and its friends want it to be,” he added. Unless I missed something, Grappo did not state when the US last commanded the moral high ground.
Grappo has now moved on to manage his own firm, Equilibrium International Consulting. Its website promises “sober, balanced and insightful perspectives” on the Middle East to firms and institutions dealing with the region.
For their sake, I hope that there is more balance and insight in what he tells his clients than in what he writes. Many of his comments parrot official US and Israeli propaganda – such as his patently absurd allegation that Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza was “launched” by Hamas.
Grappo, who has also served in Riyadh, pays particularly close attention to Saudi Arabia. Last year, he suggested that Saudi Arabia and Israel should liaise on security and intelligence matters.
The case admittedly has a perverse logic: the Israeli and Saudi ruling elites are both proficient in abusing human rights, so they might as well swap notes. The ongoing Saudi war crimes in Yemen bear some similarities to Israel’s offensives against Gaza and Lebanon.
Grappo, however, did not express himself in such crude terms. Instead, he tried to convey the impression that his motives were altruistic. Greater cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Israel would “set the stage for the first-ever meaningful and constructive dialogue about the Palestinian question,” he wrote.
He also wants the US to have the same kind of bond with Saudi Arabia that it has with Israel. His rationale – based on observations he made while working for Blair – is that “the US was always far more succesful in getting the Israelis to do things that they felt uncomfortable doing” when it embraced them as tightly as possible.
Alas, Grappo has not specified what results American hugging can yield.
Under Barack Obama’s presidency, the US embrace of Israel has become tighter than ever. The awarding of a $38 billion military aid package to Israel is the most tangible manifestation of that embrace.
Tony Blair was included within that embrace and never showed any desire to be released from it.
・First published by The Electronic Intifada, 12 December 2016.