Blair gets a rocket

May 19, 2007

Tony Blair seems driven by unfinished business. His visit to America offered closure on his formal relationship with George Bush. Returning westward, he made an unexpected visit to Iraq. His arrival in Baghdad’s green zone closely followed a rocket attack

The official line offered is that the visit and the attack were not (directly) connected. Meanwhile, in the UK, the leadership transition from the Blair to Brown is marked by the sound of popguns. And a Prince is denied the chance to fight for his country

The dilemmas of leadership

While Tony was saying goodbye to George Bush, the British Press was working up a story concerning the non-show of Prince Harry in Iraq in the near future. The essence of this story is that the Sandhurst-trained Prince is by all accounts a committed Army officer. His career would have taken him and his men into action in Iraq. This was originally sanctioned, but this week the decision was reversed.

According to the BBC, General Sir Richard Dannatt said the prince’s deployment would pose a threat to him and those serving alongside him …

The announcement, which represents a U-turn on an earlier decision, was made amid reports militant groups in Iraq planned to kill or kidnap the prince …Clarence House said Prince Harry was “very disappointed” but would not be leaving the Army as a result.

Sir Richard’s dilemma is easy to appreciate. The deployment of Harry was always open to re-appraisal in light of most recent intelligence. These suggested the likelihood of unacceptable risks to Harry and his men. Non-deployment would invite public reactions and adverse publicity for the Army and its leadership.

From a leadership perspective, this seems illustrative of the notion that sometimes there are situations in which there are no satisfactory solutions, only the need to take a decision that will be criticized.

Republic, a group which campaigns for an elected head of state, said the decision showed that “the prince should never have joined the Army … This is a scandalous waste of taxpayer’s money, brought on by the Windsor family’s obsession with linking themselves to the military.”
Former Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Portillo also criticised the MoD for “terrible vacillation” over the issue, and Tory MP Desmond Swayne – a former Territorial Army officer in Iraq – said the decision was a victory for Iraqi insurgents.

Blair’s dilemma

Anyway, Tony Blair arrives in Iraq intent on other matters. In some ways his leadership dilemma is also illustrated by a sense that he is being forced into actions that offer little in the sense of ‘solving’ problems, for Blair, for his successor, or their party.

He raised the possibility of his resigning his leadership of party and government in 2004. Since then, the issue returned to figure all-too-prominently on the media agenda. Like some suspect tailed by enemy forces, he has never been able to shake them off.

It is not clear how he might have handled the matter more effectively. I haven’t seen any convincing suggestions in the hundreds that have appeared. Maybe, just maybe, he had become a hostage to his own dreams of legacy. Even now, the most popular explanation of his sustained efforts over the final weeks of his Premiership is that of his yearning for a significant place in political history.

Poets always knew of the destructive power of over-vaulting ambition. I could go back to Shakespeare, Goethe, or on a slighter scale, Wilde.

But it seemed as least as appropriate for the wannabe pop-idol to remember The Beatles and their haunting refrain

Can’t buy me lo-ve,
everybody tells me so
Can’t buy me lo-ve,
no no no,