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Britons snort at Blair's award

President Bush awarded the Medal of Freedom to Blair, whose legacy is clouded by the Iraq war.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / January 15, 2009

Old pals: President George W. Bush bestowed America's highest civilian honor to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Tuesday.

Jason Reed/Reuters



Normally, an international statesman's acceptance of an award from an ally is cause for pride in their home nation.

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Tony Blair's receipt of America's highest civilian award at the White House Tuesday, though, was greeted with a chorus of disapproval in Britain, where anger at the former prime minister's decision to join the invasion of Iraq has not abated.

Many also questioned why Mr. Blair, who is now a Middle East envoy for the "Quartet" – the US, European Union, United Nations, and Russia – had time to go to Washington to collect the Presidential Medal of Freedom while the Israeli offensive was still under way in Gaza.

The award was called "sad and fitting" by Clare Short, a former member of Blair's Cabinet who resigned over Iraq. National newspaper headlines in Britain proclaimed: "The Spoils of war: parting gift for Bush's brother in arms" and "Poodle of honour."

Observers now widely claim Blair has been a failure in the envoy role, which was taken on after he stepped down as Britain's premier in June 2007, alongside activities ranging from lecturing on the lucrative international circuit to advising two major financial institutions, JPMorgan Chase and Zurich Financial Services.

Although his responsibility as envoy is largely limited to helping rebuild the Palestinian economy and institutions, rather than brokering a peace deal, since the start of the Gaza crisis Blair has been overshadowed by the peace initiatives of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. More damagingly, voices on the Palestinian side talk of Blair's irrelevance, including Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian parliament, who said this week: "If I am honest, I would say that his mission was a failure."

John Kampfner, the author of "Blair's Wars," says that the former prime minister's influence in the region has largely "collapsed" as a result of his role in the Iraq war, which "defines" his legacy.