"I wish everyone, friend or foe, well and that is that, the end." With those words, Tony Blair brought down the curtain on remarkable 10 years at the helm of the United Kingdom. All over the world, commentators are weighing in with their thoughts on Blair's legacy. Not to be left out, I thought I'd add a few thoughts of my own.
I can't help but think the Blair years will be viewed as an exceptional period in UK history, both for their incredible highs and frightening lows. Blair is, in many ways, the last of a breed- the kind of leader who leads by leading. In the days of obsessive opinion polling and neurotic fixation on popularity, Blair is to be commended for having the courage of his convictions. He has said that he always did what he thought was right, for better or worse. Unfortunately, the 'worse' got pretty darn bad.
For all his leadership ability, the early Blair years saw the rise of a media spin regime unprecedented in UK politics, and perhaps even among modern democracies. Managed largely through his lieutenants Alastair Campbell and Phillip Gould, the PR of Blair's labour party was aggressive, catering to newspapers while ignoring parliamentary procedure. Many have argued that Blair's spin is responsible for a rise in political cynicism in the UK.
Still, it is difficult to deny that Labour needed some new tricks to oust the Conservative Party and reverse the degradations of the Thatcher years. Sophisticated campaigning and media relations, coupled with Blair's charisma brought a welcome change to UK politics. Certainly, with such a rapacious national media, Blair needed to take an intelligent and proactive approach to the press. It is unfortunate that the Labour Party took their tactics too far, possibly damaging the political system in the process.
Even in his last days, Blair continued to take a controversial stance on the media. At a public lecture towards the end of his tenure, he advocated for the creation of new regulator for online journalism, criticized by many as a call for increased censorship.
Beyond the media hijinks, Blair's legacy on the foreign stage is his most contentious. On the one hand, he helped broker a lasting, if shaky, peace in Northern Island. That alone is a massive accomplishment. However, his successes have been obscured by the one defining decision of his political career- to lead his country and people into a bloody and demoralizing conflict in Iraq.
The decision to participate in the invasion damaged Blair in several ways. It compromised his ability to lead, since his decision to join the USA was based on either bad intelligence, a will desire to deceive his people, or both. It also cast him as a lapdog of Bush, something reprehensible to UK citizens. Most importantly, the conflict in Iraq has hurt Blair's country- both in terms of the loss of life, and the incredible anger felt by citizens towards their government. Blair's decision to invade Iraq may well erase any positive aspects of his legacy.
Despite all that, I can't help but like the guy. I mean, he's just so damn likable. And he seems determined to redeem himself in the eyes of history. If all goes to plan, Blair will become the Middle East Envoy for the international 'quartet'- The USA, Europe, United Nations and Russia- attempting to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. If Blair can make any progress in this holy grail of intractable conflicts, then he might, just maybe, escape the albatross of Iraq hanging around his neck.
So farewell, Mr. Blair. I suspect history will have to delay its judgment of you for quite a while.