Compliant and subservient: Jimmy Carter's explosive critique of Tony Blair
Tony Blair's lack of leadership and timid subservience to George W Bush lie behind the ongoing crisis in Iraq and the worldwide threat of terrorism, according to the former American president Jimmy Carter."I have been surprised and extremely disappointed by Tony Blair's behaviour," he told The Sunday Telegraph.
"I think that more than any other person in the world the Prime Minister could have had a moderating influence on Washington - and he has not. I really thought that Tony Blair, who I know personally to some degree, would be a constraint on President Bush's policies towards Iraq."
In an exclusive interview, President Carter made it plain that he sees Mr Blair's lack of leadership as being a key factor in the present crisis in Iraq, which followed the 2003 invasion - a pre-emptive move he said he would never have considered himself as president.
Mr Carter also said that the Iraq invasion had subverted the fight against terrorism and instead strengthened al-Qaeda and the recruitment of terrorists.
"In many countries where I meet with leaders and private citizens there is an equating of American policy with Great Britain - with Great Britain obviously playing the lesser role.
"We now have a situation where America is so unpopular overseas that even in countries like Egypt and Jordan our approval ratings are less than five per cent. It's a shameful and pitiful state of affairs and I hold your British Prime Minister to be substantially responsible for being so compliant and subservient."
The outspoken attack by the former Democratic president shows the extent of the alienation between the Labour Party and its traditional Democrat allies in America.
It will embarrass the Prime Minister on his return from his summer family holiday in Barbados and comes as Mr Blair prepares to make a defiant speech warning his party that it risks losing the next election if it does not unite behind him.
As friends of the Prime Minister mounted frenzied briefings in his defence yesterday, the Downing Street spin machine appeared to run out of control. A statement first put out on Friday was reissued, in which Mr Blair made a desperate defence of his Government, insisting that "after nearly a decade in office the PM is convinced that his Government has the experience and authority to meet these challenges".
Later officials at Downing Street admitted that they had simply redated the identical statement before sending it out to the press.
At 81, Mr Carter - the 39th American president, from 1977 to 1981, and the winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize - plainly has no intention of sitting on his porch and nodding quietly away as the sun goes down over his peanut farm. He has just published a book, Faith and Freedom, in which he savages the American administration for leading the country into insularity and intolerance.
"We've never before had an administration that would endorse pre-emptive war - that is a basic policy of going to war against another country even though our own security was not directly threatened," he said. In his book, President Carter writes: "I have been sorely tempted to launch a military attack on foreigners."
But had he still been president, he says that he would never have considered invading Iraq in 2003.
"No," he said, "I would never have ordered it. However, I wouldn't have excluded going into Afghanistan, because I think we had to strike at al-Qaeda and its leadership. But then, to a major degree, we abandoned the anti-terrorist effort and went almost unilaterally with Great Britain into Iraq."
This, Mr Carter believes, subverted the effectiveness of anti-terrorist efforts. Far from achieving peace and stability, the result has been a disaster on all fronts. "My own personal opinion is that the Iraqi people are not better off as a result of the invasion and people in America and Great Britain are not safer."
Asked why he thinks Mr Blair has behaved in the way that he has with President Bush's belligerent regime, Mr Carter said he could only put it down to timidity. Yet he confessed that he remains baffled by the apparent contrast between Mr Blair's private remarks and his public utterances.
"I really believe the reports of former leaders who were present in conversations between Blair and Bush that Blair has expressed private opinions contrary to some of the public policies that he has adopted in subservience."
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