Tony and Muammar: a rewarding friendship

BlairMiddleEast_1792762cThis week, we’ve been looking over some of the spectacular revelations contained in investigative reporter Tom Bower’s book Broken Promises, which was excerpted recently in the Daily Mail. The book’s subject is Tony Blair, and suffice it to say that Blair will never look the same again. Of course, from the very beginning there were those who saw through Blair’s slick image and smarmy rhetoric and recognized a cheap, sordid creep on the make; what’s important about Bower’s book is that he establishes incontrovertibly that this fellow whom many saw, back in the day, as the man who rescued the Labour Party and, in the process, Britain itself, is pretty much every abhorrent thing he was ever accused of being – and then some.

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Tom Bower

During the past near-decade, as Bower shows, Blair has had his sticky fingers in the pockets of pretty much every tinhorn developing-world dictator and dicey international zillionaire you can think of. But even in this sorry chronicle of covetousness, his relationship with Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi is a standout. Bower puts it very neatly: while to most Britons, Qaddafi was simply evil – the terrorist-in-chief who’d ordered the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988 – Blair saw him as “an opportunity.” (But then again, is there anyone whom Blair hasn’t looked at without first wondering if he was beholding yet another opportunity?)

In 2004, after Qaddafi agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction in return for Western aid, Blair was quick to visit him in Tripoli. The tête-à-tête was a success – birds of a feather, etc. – and, to quote Bower, “the two remained in touch.” Two years later, when “an English judge refused to deport two Libyan dissidents back to Libya, where they faced an uncertain fate,” Prime Minister Blair took time out of his busy schedule to commisserate with his erstwhile terrorist buddy: “I am very disappointed at the court’s decision,” he wrote.

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Muammar Qaddafi

In 2007, only a few weeks before his resignation, Blair paid another visit to his desert buddy. The timing was no coincidence. Blair brought with him the chairman of BP and a top counterintelligence officer from MI6. Blair’s purpose, writes Bower, was “delicate”: he wanted to “placate” his pal “by promising the release from a Scottish jail of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan convicted for his involvement in the Lockerbie bombing.”

Blair, alas, wasn’t able to swing the mass murderer’s release. But the main question is: why would Blair want or need to “placate” Qaddafi? Plainly, because he’d already begun to transition into his post-prime ministerial career – a career in which, he perceived, with his splendid guile, his cozy ties to Qaddafi could prove profitable.

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Tim Collins

Sure enough, the next year Blair was back in Libya, introducing his chum the colonel to some folks from J.P. Morgan, who wanted a Libyan trade license. They got it. On yet another visit to Libya, Blair traveled on Qaddafi’s own jet, bringing with him an American billionaire, Tim Collins, who thought he was on a humanitarian mission. Once he and Blair were alone with Qaddafi, however, the dictator encouraged the billionaire to invest in a Libyan beach resort – and Blair, to Collins’s astonishment, metamorphosed before his eyes into a seedy salesman, urging him to buy in. “The former Prime Minister, Collins realised, was trying to earn a commission,” reports Bower. Collins was “outraged that he’d been brought to Libya under false pretences,” and later read Blair the riot act, telling him: “This guy Gaddafi is bat-s*** crazy. I’d rather go hungry than deal with a guy who’s a complete lunatic.” Collins “drove to the airport alone.”

An admirable response. For Blair, however, Qaddafi’s nuttiness was not a bug but a feature. Manifestly, he perceived Qaddafi’s lunacy as yet one more thing he could exploit to line his pockets. If there’s any sign of human character in evidence here, it’s the fact that at least he was loyal to the end to his vile comrade: when the Libyan people finally turned against their leader, Blair asked Prime Minister David Cameron to give Qaddafi safe haven. Cameron, to his credit, responded with a big, fat no, and Colonel Qaddafi was left to the mercy of the people he – and Blair – had exploited. Rebel militia killed him, put his corpse in a grocery freezer, then publicly displayed it for four days so that the victims of his oppression could know a taste of justice. There’s no reason to believe Blair owned the freezer and rented it out to the rebels, but there’s no reason not to believe it either. 

Tomorrow: Blair and Qatar.

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