Alex Massie

The Feeble Mugabe Gotcha

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Step forward the FT's Jim Pickard:

Some sceptics have often asked why Tony Blair was happy to help rid the world of some dictators and not others. The example most often cited is that of Robert Mugabe, who could have been deposed with even less effort than Saddam Hussein.

Blair tries to justify the contradiction in his book, far from convincingly.

“You need to ask if such action is feasible and practical. People often used to say to me: If you got rid of the gangsters in Sierra Leone, Milosevic, the Taliban and Saddam, why can’t you get rid of Mugabe? The answer is: I would have loved to; but it wasn’t practical (since in his case, and for reasons I never quite understood, the surrounding African nations maintained a lingering support for him and would have opposed any action strenuously).”

What does he mean by this? That a joint US-UK (or Nato, or UN-backed) invasion would have been rebuffed as neighbouring states rose up to defend the aged dictator from the former colonialists? Does he really expect us to believe that he was intimidated by Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa?

The statement implies that - au contraire - the invasion of Iraq was welcomed elsewhere in the Middle East. But I don’t remember celebrations in Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and thereabouts when Baghdad fell. Do you?

In any case, most of the time this question is not prompted by any genuine concern for Zimbabwe, far less by any support for the idea of toppling Mugabe. On the contrary it's an anti-war argument (or anti-Iraq war argument) dressed-up as a plea for Blair to start more, not fewer, wars. It is, then, a bogus question.

Nor, whatever else one may think of him, is Blair's response unreasonable. You may not think Saddam posed much of a threat but in 2003 plenty of people (me included) did. Chances are that you were more concerned by him then than you now pretend. No-one, whatever his ghastliness, was hreatened by Mugabe. (Apart from the poor Zimbabweans of course.) So there was never any real agitation for "dealing with" Mugabe and many of those who pretend there was, or should have been, would have been among the first to complain had Blair sent the Paras in to Harare. 

And it might have had to be the Paras, you know. Since invading a landlocked country without the assistance of Zimbabwe's neighbours would have been a tricky enterprise. Just as invading Iraq without Saudi and Kuwaiti co-operation would also have been difficult. (That's before you think of any other logistical details. Where would the troops have come from?)

All this before one considers if there was any call for the former colonial power to reoccupy Zimbabwe. It's a theoretically possible action but not a practical one. And everyone knows this.

Lord knows, there are enough grounds upon which to criticise Blair without having to revert to cheap rhetorical sniping of this sort (even on a blog!). All governments are organised hypocrisies but it's ridiculous to condemn them for their inconsistencies when, had they been consistent, you'd have condemned them for their consistency too. In other words, this sort of stuff doesn't even rise to Gotcha status. It's a Pretend Gotcha.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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