Obama’s New Friend

Is it just me, or does this photo fill you with dread as well? Last week former Prime Minister Tony Blair stole a march on his successor and pretty much everyone else, in gaining an audience with President Obama. He may have been invited by Congress to the National Prayer Breakfast, but he and Obama wasted no time in becoming fast friends. And look at what Blair said:

Today, religion is under attack from without and from within. From within, it is corroded by extremists who use their faith as a means of excluding the other. I am what I am in opposition to you. If you do not believe as I believe, you are a lesser human being.

From without, religious faith is assailed by an increasingly aggressive secularism, which derides faith as contrary to reason and defines faith by conflict. Thus do the extreme believers and the aggressive non-believers come together in unholy alliance.

And yet, faith will not be so easily cast. For billions of people, faith motivates, galvanises, compels and inspires, not to exclude but to embrace; not to provoke conflict but to try to do good. This is faith in action. You can see it in countless local communities where those from churches, mosques, synagogues and temples, tend the sick, care for the afflicted, work long hours in bad conditions to bring hope to the despairing and salvation to the lost. You can see it in the arousing of the world’s conscience to the plight of Africa.

I’m sorry but this is nonsense – intellectually vapid garbage. It’s an attempt to spin his way out of the outrageous (and in modern times unprecedented) catastrophe of foreign policy which his faith had a immediate role in bringing about while he was Prime Minister. His direct attack on the forces of reason are the most telling – faith is contrary to reason. It’s in part an example of why we’re so interesting as human beings – we can be intensely rational an irrational at the same time. But noone’s suggested that there’s harm in the metaphysical – how else could we love, after all? The attack on his and Bush’s religiosity was directly because their faith was at the heart of their disinterest in questioning the run-up to and aftermath of the Iraq War. The evidence told them (and us) that there was no need, that Saddam was contained, that his WMD programmes had long since been abandoned, and that he posed no threat to the West. Yet he tries to paint those of us who attack him still on this as equivalent to religious fanatics? Just what planet is this man living on?! And for the record doing ‘good’ is not dependent on faith. He went on however:

But as someone of faith, this is not enough. I believe restoring religious faith to its rightful place, as the guide to our world and its future, is itself of the essence. The 21st Century will be poorer in spirit, meaner in ambition, less disciplined in conscience, if it is not under the guardianship of faith in God.

Dangerous words by a dangerous man, whose faith contributed to making the world a more dangerous place than at any other point in my lifetime. I realise that although his political job might now be to obtain peace in the Middle East, it was also the legacy as Prime Minister which he failed to secure. He has a lot to gain by rubbing shoulders with Obama – I hope Obama realises that despite Blair’s history with George Mitchell, the same is not true in reverse.

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One response to “Obama’s New Friend

  1. No matter how we try to separate religion/faith and politics, we often find that this is not always possible as even religion has it’s own politics (and vice versa, maybe).

    Here’s my analysis on this issue:

    While in UK, he may be often referred to as a “former” or “has-been”, this is not how the world see it. When he left Number 10, he may have left the British political scene (much similar to a boy who has out-grown a small town deciding to leave for the city) but only to take on bigger roles. (Although truth be told, some are still under the impression that he’s still the PM of UK.) For the rest of the world, he is not a “has-been” but rather the present and certainly on center-stage. When he lost his premiership, he gained an ever wider area of influence as his was no longer bounded by the interest of his country and its government. Indeed, he may well be at the center of the political stage with even more freedom and influence than other world leaders.

    One may say that these influences had been particularly evident in the recent month: with numerous heads of government and state present at Davos WEF 2009, his voice were evidently one of those that made the news (without causing a scene); at the Davos Philanthropic Roundtable, his influence is evident as well standing alongside long-time A-lister philanthropists; it is also interesting that it was him who stood along side Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy at Paris’ future of capitalism summit despite London being the financial capital; of course, the world is also focused of the Middle East where he seemed to be an essential part of the peace process as he is trusted by all interested parties.

    Think of any leader (western/eastern/middle-eastern) who is acknowledged and/or trusted/respected by ALL the important players (internal and external) of the peace initiative in the middle-east and it is clear that he is a (if not the) KEY figure in this initiative. And the world is watching closely. And with his initiative on climate change where he is reported to be giving a report at the G8 meeting this year, it is clear that he has influence on his matter as well. And of course, we cannot deny his influence over the initiative in Africa. And, the maybe the most controversial, is the Faith Foundation carrying his name that have been received with enthusiasm in the US and will probably be received likewise elsewhere.

    Of course, more than Europe, the world is also keeping an eye on the possibility of the creation of the permanent EU Presidency. It seems clear that Tony Blair would of course be the reasonable choice for the position given his good working relationship with (not to mention he is taken seriously by) Washington, Delhi, Beijing and Moscow which is most essential to EU.

    I think much more than building up Tony Blair for EU presidency, (reading between the lines) Merkel and Sarkozy (in Paris summit) seem to be testing the ground with the possibility of Blair as EU president. And likewise, the meeting with Obama is essential and strategic for both parties. On Obama’s side, it alleviated the pressure of having the choose which EU leader to meet first without undermining relations and as Blair is closest to EU presidency, it is also strategic. (And I won’t be surprised if he had been in touch with the Quartet Envoy as the middle east is one of his most important foreign policies.) On the Blair side, it crushed rumors that Obama wishes to displace him as Middle East envoy which only asserted that he is still in charge. Moreover, it sent signals that even though Obama had been critical of the Bush administration and the war on Iraq, this will not stand in the way between Washington and the Office of Tony Blair which will strengthen his candidacy for EU presidency. The academe, it seems, also respects him on an age when politics/politicians are rarely respected in these halls. (Although I can see the reason behind the fascination: here is a guy who after 10 years of changing the UK, is on a quest to change the world in various aspects and seem to be going on through it in lightning speed and continues to hold the ears of the rich and powerful and leave the rest of the world in wonder.)

    Actually, at a closer look, the American president stands to gain more with his praises for his “good friend Tony”. Right now, as a key player in the middle east, Obama needs him on his side and this alliance will only be of much greater benefit to Blair when the Lisbon Treaty is ratified (and it isn’t yet).

    Obama is correct in saying that Blair has “done it first and probably better than [he] will do” for very few can attain this huge influence over the world. Obama may well be the president of the most powerful nation in the world yet he is bounded (and held accountable) by the interest of his nation and his people. Blair’s “example for so many people around the world of what dedicated leadership can accomplish” goes well beyond the borders of UK and his time at Number 10. And if I were Obama, I would certainly want to learn from the man who had done it all.

    Brits may say his legacy is Iraq, but in the eyes of the rest of the world, he’s only just beginning. It’s too early to be talking about legacies this early on.

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