By Sean Matgamna
A couple of weeks ago Tony Blair tried to frighten opponents of George W Bush's war on Iraq by conjuring up the ghost of Neville Chamberlain, the pre-World War Two British Tory prime minister and "appeaser" of Hitler.
Those who oppose war now, he said, when it is still possible to "take out" Saddam Hussein with little cost (except to the tens of thousands of Iraqi children and many other innocent Iraqis who will die in the US/British blitz) are in the same position as those who appeased Hitler through most of the 1930s, blundering towards World War 2.
In fact, it is not the opponents of war, but Blair himself who is playing Neville Chamberlain-to George W Bush and the American hyperpower.
The appeasers allowed Hitler's Germany to rearm in defiance of the Versailles Treaty; to defy the decision that the Rhineland would remain a demilitarised zone; to intervene in the Spanish Civil War by sending "volunteers" and airplanes to help the fascist side; to annex Austria, and to carve up Czechoslovakia.
When the great powers met at Munich in September 1938, Britain and France were bound by solemn treaties to defend Czechoslovakia. They chose to sell out the Czechs-"a people at the other end of Europe about whom we know very little", as Neville Chamberlain put it-rather than have a showdown with Hitler.
Neville Chamberlain came back to Britain brandishing a piece of paper which, he said, meant "peace in our time". Almost exactly a year later, Hitler invaded Poland, and this time Britain and France honoured their treaty obligations and declared war on Germany. Sixty million people died in World War 2.
Blair explained that Chamberlain, far from being a bad man, had the best of intentions. But he was weak and deluded.
Chamberlain, like a large part of the British Establishment, was horrified by the prospect of a new slaughter like that which in World War One, less than a generation earlier, had been inflicted on a high proportion of the "officer class" as well as on millions of soldiers.
The British Establishment felt vulnerable and weakened in the world. The brute military fact is that as late as the Munich crisis, they were not ready for war. Thereafter they turned seriously to getting ready.
After the fall of France, and the Nazi conquest of Western Europe in 1940, a very large part of the British Establishment favoured peace with Hitler on the best terms they could get. Winston Churchill, and not the appeaser Lord Halifax, replaced Chamberlain as prime minister in May 1940 only because the Labour Party refused to join a coalition under Halifax.
Blair's analogy gets all the roles and the actors wrong. Saddam Hussein is indeed comparable to Hitler. It is not too far wrong to call Iraq a fascistic state. But Iraq is not, even in its region, what Germany was as an economic and military power in Europe and the world.
The great preponderant power is the USA. The great "appeasement" of the last period has been Blair's appeasement of that power and of its right-wing government.
As Robin Cook said in his resignation speech, if George W Bush had not stolen the presidential election in 2000 from Al Gore, then Blair would not now be passionately arguing for immediate war on Iraq.
Blair is the eloquent, sophisticated monkey on a leash here, Bush the apeish organ-grinder.
At every single point what Blair has said and done has been determined by the logic of his decision to accommodate to the American hyperpower.
Of course the USA is not Nazi Germany. George W Bush is not Hitler or even Saddam Hussein, and those on the left who pretend that he is are not doing the anti-war cause any good at all. Yet the truth is that, all proportions guarded, Tony Blair resembles not so much even the appeaser Chamberlain, who finally drew back and prepared to fight Hitler, as Hitler's junior accomplice Mussolini, who hooked Italy to the German juggernaut in 1940.
That is not the role Blair has wanted to play, but it is the one he now plays. He has not drawn back.
He jumped to Bush's side last year to play the role of America's good friend in Europe-and simultaneously Europe's friendly but restraining hand on George W's elbow. Blair helped Colin Powell persuade Bush to "go the UN route" rather than act unilaterally. So did the fact that America needed time to deploy its forces. But in order to help "restrain" Bush, Blair has progressively surrendered all independence and turned himself into Bush's accomplice and pander in Europe and at the UN.
Blair's basic "solution" to the fact of the USA's predominant strength has been to play chief toady to the bully-to let the USA have its way, but cover it up by lining everyone else up behind the USA, and make the UN its pliant tool.
And it was always only a matter of going through the motions-play-acting. Blair wanted the USA to pretend it was acting multilaterally, while all the time the best he could hope for was to persuade the hyperpower that it could bribe and bully the Security Council to bestow its authority on what the USA would do anyway.
With such fictions, Blair hoped to avoid a rupture between the USA and Europe, stop the US administration tearing too much of the fabric of UN, and stop it treating "international law" with too open contempt.
He wanted to stop the Bush administration doing to the UN what the US Congress did to the League of Nations when it was being set up after World War 1. US president Woodrow Wilson was a prime mover in setting up the UN's predecessor-and then the isolationists back home repudiated it, kept the USA out, and made the League a lame duck from the start.
Bush and his cronies are anything but isolationists, of course. The "Bush doctrine" proclaims America's right to take pre-emptive action all around the world to disarm and pulverise states. The pretext of "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq is just the "best good reason", not the real one. The real goal is not to grab direct control of Iraqi oil but to assert the USA's status as an autonomous world power, able to do what it likes.
The USA's rulers reckon they can handle whatever happens in this war, and, in their own way, secure stability in the region.
There is talk now about the UN having a big role in "reconstructing" Iraq-though US firms have cornered all the contracts for reconstruction work. Thus Blair still hopes even now to diminish the damage to the "world structures".
Of course, the reality of the United Nations has always been that the big powers-and those the USA has protected, in the first place Israel-either got their way or would ignore any decision they didn't like. What is new is that the instinct of the Bush administration has been to avoid even going through the motions. Blair-and Powell-embroiled it in a manoeuvre that has only the more brutally exposed the realities of US power and the feebleness of the UN.
Those who said they would not support war without a "second" UN resolution, but would support it if the USA could bully, bribe and cajole enough UN votes were people looking for a bit of sham and pretence that would justify them in surrendering their consciences to the Bush administration.
The big continental powers in the European Union have chosen to resist an overweening USA rather than dress up what it chooses to do in pseudo-UN pseudo-legality. Blair has played the appeasing Chamberlain role and the junior-partner Mussolini role all in one.
For Blair nothing has gone according to plan. The logic of the game he has been playing now forces him to take his place in a war which, left to himself, he would not have chosen, certainly not now. Seeking to avoid a US-Europe rupture by turning the UN and Europe into American stooges, he has created serious divisions within the European Union. Seeking to save the UN structures, he joins Bush in treating the UN with contempt. Claiming that what they are doing does after all have UN legality, he backs Bush in the absurdity of claiming that not the Security Council but the hyperpower should decide when to make war in the UN's name.
It is a thin hypocrisy-and the US administration will scarcely bother to try to uphold it. But Blair will. He may even find that the UN fiasco into which he helped draw Bush will make the Americans, in future, distrust their "loyal" British toady.