Alexander Chancellor: History Should Come Down Hard on Tony Blair for Embracing Gaddafi

[Alexander Chancellor is a Guardian columnist.]

In the light of subsequent events, Neville Chamberlain's effort to appease Adolf Hitler is usually portrayed as one of the most shameful episodes in modern British history. But surely Tony Blair's love-in with Colonel Gaddafi was worse. Chamberlain never pretended to like Hitler. He certainly never embraced him. His aim was to prevent war by reaching an accommodation with a man whose full infamy he did not appreciate. He was naive to believe he could rely on Hitler's promises, and he was culpably indifferent towards the fate of the Czechoslovaks, but the prospect of another war between Britain and Germany seemed so terrible (as, indeed, it turned out to be) that his policy of appeasement can at least be understood. As Winston Churchill, the arch-opponent of appeasement, said in his House of Commons eulogy to Chamberlain after his death in 1940: "Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights, and strove to the utmost of his capacity and authority, which were powerful, to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged. This alone will stand him in good stead as far as what is called the verdict of history is concerned."

If the verdict of history has not, in fact, been kind to Chamberlain, it should be even harsher to Blair. For Blair, when he first shook hands with Gaddafi at their desert meeting in 2004, knew very well what a monster he was. During 35 years as Libya's dictator, Gaddafi, though not to the extent of Hitler, had proven himself to be vicious, murderous and corrupt – a "mad dog", as Ronald Reagan called him. Blair's justification for that ghastly embrace was Gaddafi's promise to give up weapons of mass destruction, but there was no good reason to believe such a promise of a man who had previously spent years fostering terrorism against both Britain and the US. The most convincing reason for – and only visible result of – their rapprochement was the promotion of Britain's oil and other commercial interests in Libya, and for this the British government was not only willing to forget about Gaddafi's support for IRA terrorism and the shooting of PC Yvonne Fletcher in 1984, but even willing to press for the release of the Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only person convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing in which 270 people, mostly Americans, died. And this was a government that came to power in 1997 promising an "ethical" foreign policy....

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