Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Ideas above his station

For an update on this post, see here.

Prime minister Tony Blair is grandly telling anyone that will listen – not least the Guardian that he hopes a plan to bring about a ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon would be ready within the next few days.

Speaking with all the authority he can muster, in what the faithful Guardian describes as "his strongest comments yet on the crisis," Blair has called the latest surge of violence in the Middle East a "catastrophe" for Lebanon and urged both sides to call a ceasefire.

This is the man who last year spent £2 million last year on air travel as he jetted off around the world, playing the world statesman, the man who loves to be pictured with "his" troops to demonstrate how important and powerful he is.

Yet, as Israel and the US together struggle to find a way through the morass, with Condoleezza Rice declaring that, "It is time for a new Middle East," both parties are entitled to look askance at this preposterous little man.

In the manner that Joseph Stalin is famously said to have asked an adviser, dismissively, "How many divisions does the Pope have?", they might ask, "How many helicopters do you have?"

It is this "helicopter test" which perhaps illustrates the yawning gap between Blair's rhetoric and his performance. Having committed troops to Iraq and then Afghanistan, without a thought for their equipment, his government has been told in no uncertain terms that more equipment is needed, especially heavy-lift helicopters.

So it was that yesterday, secretary of state for defence Des Brown triumphantly announced that he was going to send another two Chinooks to Afghanistan.

We now learn from the Scotsman, though, that troops will be waiting another three months before they hear the sound of whirring blades. As we remarked earlier, so depleted is our helicopter force that Browne is having to scavenge one from the Falklands and has managed to "tease out" one from the UK. But the first is not due to arrive in Afghanistan until September and it will take until October for the second to arrive.

Thus it is that the great actor on the world stage can only muster a couple of helicopters when the chips are down, and then the cupboard is bare. From a great nation, when we could field an army of millions, how the mighty have fallen. But, for Mister Blair, as long as he can prance and posture, he does not seem to register that he has ideas somewhat above his station.

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