September 13, 2006
Much was made of the fact that the two Hizbullah men in Cabinet, Mohammad Fneish and Tarrad Hamade, pointedly stayed away from Monday’s meeting with visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Various pundits and politicians argued that the boycott indicated a deepening split within Premier Fouad Siniora’s disparate government. That may or may not be true, but no informed observer would have predicted any other reaction by Fneish and Hamade in light of the fact that during the war Israel, Blair openly positioned himself as Hizbullah’s enemy – and therefore Lebanon’s.
As the Israeli Air Force was raining death and destruction on innocent civilians across this country, Blair was indifferent because all he could think about were the Hizbullah rockets headed the other way, weapons which caused a tiny fraction of the casualties and damage sustained in Lebanon. In addition, Blair jumped on yet another American bandwagon by helping to delay a UN cease-fire resolution. To make matters worse, he also allowed stopovers in the United Kingdom by US cargo jets carrying more bombs for the Israelis to drop on Lebanese women and children. So disgraceful was his conduct that several junior ministers in his own government have resigned in protest. Given the disdain he has earned at home, it was only natural that principled individuals like Fneish and Hamade would refuse to sit down with him: It was the least they could do and still hope to retain their dignity.
Lebanese officials who did meet with Blair are the ones who have some explaining to do. The pressures of high office are great, but so are the responsibilities. The best course of action would have been to inform Blair that his visiting this country would serve no purpose other than to provoke anger. Having failed to do so, the next best option would have been to follow Speaker Nabih Berri’s example and arrange to be “out of town.”
The purpose of Blair’s visit remains a mystery. He is on his way out of office and may have been looking to bolster his legacy as a statesman, but if that was the case he has failed spectacularly by having failed to appreciate the scorn with which he is viewed in Lebanon. He uttered a few platitudes about supporting the government, but no one will take seriously a few pats on the back from a man who will soon be a private citizen. Perhaps the truth lies in his promise to supply weapons for the Lebanese military: Given his unbending support for US President George W. Bush’s warmongering ways, Blair might be thinking of a new career arranging arms deals for one of the many Western defense contractors that stand to reap billions by replenishing Israeli stocks expended in the cause of shattering Lebanon, a cause he worked studiously to facilitate. All things considered, it would be more appropriate if he retired quietly to the British countryside and opened small business like a butcher’s shop – or a kennel.