Tony Blair’s role in the Irish peace process has been widely cited as relevant expertise for his new role as Middle East envoy for the ‘quartet’ of the US the UN, Russia and the EU.
One of the roots of the process was the British Government’s willingness to hold a dialogue with the IRA. Alistair Crooke, a former MI6 officer involved in the early phase of that dialogue, argued for a similar engagement with Hamas, Hezbollah and other Islamist groups in a Prospect piece last year that accurately predicted US intentions in Palestine:
the US is seeking to build a militia of 3,500 men around the office of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to enlarge the presidency staff and to channel as much of the expenditure and work of the government as possible through the presidency. The US aims to create a shadow government centred around the president and his Fatah party as a counterpoint to a financially starved Hamas-led government–which will, US officials hope, prove ineffective and wither. Officials associated with Vice-President Cheney’s office talk openly with Fatah visitors about the desirability of mounting a "soft coup" that will restore the more pliant Fatah to power on the back of a humanitarian crisis. (Prospect via Policy Exchange)
Crooke’s argument was a later countered by a critical piece in the same magazine from Policy Exchange’s Dean Godson:
Nor is Crooke the first of his breed to suffer from a kind of Stockholm syndrome—starting to see the world through the eyes of his captors. The best known ex-spook to have spoken out on how to deal with insurgents is Michael Oatley, who was the key MI6 contact for the IRA and who sought to induce them to adopt a more political path. Both Oatley and Crooke are vexed by the notion of demanding swift decommissioning of arms by terrorists. And both adopt the terminology of the enemy: Oatley does not refer to Northern Ireland, but to "the north." Both indulge insurgent narratives: Crooke speaks of Hamas and Hizbullah "completing the process of decolonisation." (Prospect via Policy Exchange)
Tony Blair’s approach cuts across that logic. He succeeded in Ireland by talking to republicans, yet in the Middle East his approach is much closer to Godson’s. One of the clearest examples was his refusal to call for a ceasefire in the Lebanon War last year.
The bankruptcy of that position was exposed when the Israelis ultimately sough a ceasefire themselves, just as the bankruptcy of Godson’s anti-agreement position on Ireland has been exposed by the DUP’s willingness to enter Government with Sinn Fein.
Unless Blair returns to the approach that succeeded in Ireland, his role in the Middle East will remain nothing more than a cruel joke.