EU presidency would be bully pulpit for Blair

Tony Blair is the most likely candidate, but would he preach his personal views, or commit the EU to intervention?

A new force and factor may be about to emerge in international affairs.

It is the European Union, an economic and political grouping of 27 member states that hitherto has been mainly concerned with trade and regional matters.

Two new developments may be about to trigger a more active international role for this coalition.

One is Ireland's Oct. 2 ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, which empowers and legitimizes the EU in new ways.

The second is the treaty's creation of a permanent presidency, the likely incumbent of which is said to be former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Although several other lesser-known candidates have been mentioned, Mr. Blair is the odds-on favorite. He was recently the special envoy to the Middle East of the "quartet," the EU, the United Nations, the United States, and Russia.

Also under the new system is the new office of a high foreign-policy representative. If Blair, who has star power on the international circuit, does become president he would probably seek to inject new presence and purpose for the EU on the global scene.

A Blair "brand" upon the EU would be significant.

Blair is a proponent of intervention – military intervention if necessary – not only when a nation's interests are directly engaged, but in the case of a humanitarian crisis or gross oppression of a civilian population.

He says that was the situation in Afghanistan under Taliban rule after 9/11, since the "regime had allowed Al Qaeda to operate training camps," and also because of "its cruelty, its suppression of women, its use of the drug trade." It is proving, Blair says, "to be a battle needing to be rewaged," despite declining public support.

NATO nations have been increasingly edgy about the current war in Afghanistan. They are reluctant to heed US appeals to send more NATO troops there. If Blair becomes president of the EU, would he choose to argue – let alone succeed in persuading – that some of its member states contribute greater economic or military effort in Afghanistan?

Blair was a sturdy supporter of the US war in Iraq, and continued as such even in the face of strong opposition from segments of the British electorate. His stance cost him dearly.

Yet, as he said in a speech at the time: "I do not seek unpopularity as a badge of honor. But sometimes it is the price of leadership and cost of conviction."

He has become increasingly reflective and religious since leaving the British premiership, establishing a Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which works for understanding between the different faiths of the world.

In a little-publicized speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs last April, he said: "I am older, better educated by the events that shaped my premiership, but I still believe that those who oppress and brutalize their citizens are better put out of power than kept in it. Should we now revert to a more traditional foreign policy, less bold, more cautious, less idealistic, more pragmatic, more willing to tolerate the intolerable because of fear of the unpredictable consequences that intervention can bring?"

He concedes the current contest against jihadist extremism will take longer and is therefore much tougher. But "the principle is the same."

Blair has maintained that the extremists feel that: "Islam has lost its way, but the authentic basis of Islam, as laid down in the Koran, is progressive, humanitarian, sees knowledge and scientific advance as a duty, which is why for centuries Islam was the fount of such invention and innovation. Fundamental Islam is actually the opposite of what the extremists preach." He went on to say:

"Our job is to support and partner those Muslims who believe deeply in Islam but also who believe in peaceful coexistence, in taking on and defeating the extremists who don't."

If Tony Blair does indeed become president of the EU, he will be given a pulpit to reach a significantly larger audience for his views on intervention against oppression.

John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, writes a biweekly column for the print Weekly edition.

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