Tony Blair’s rear guard to Armageddon

Ten years ago, I lobbied House of Commons member Glenda Jackson — the great British actress who had turned to politics — and asked if England was fully informed about the apocalyptic, millennialist, religious visions rising in America, especially from rural folk-radio preachers in the Appalachian hills and hollers where I’d spent the previous decade. For more than 10 years before the millennium, they were claiming Apocalypse was at hand, that Saddam Hussein was the Great Satan, that an American war in the Middle East would bring ultimate victory and jump-start the Second Coming. The world would end, the Rapture would occur and woe to the recalcitrant Jews left behind.

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Did England know this, as millions of Americans who watched former Southern Baptist minister Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network did? Had England read the millennialist Left Behind books as tens of millions of Americans had? Were they aware that Washington lobbyists and neocon apparatchiks were pitching this bizarre and innocent hysteria as a political front to encourage the invasion of the Middle East? Were they aware that President George W. Bush, a benign New England Protestant turned Texas evangelical, was fully in sympathy? Were they indeed aware that since northern American universities ditched ROTC in the '60s, America’s military officer class was left to many who shared this fundamentalist vision, including top military brass?

England shared in these delusions as a rear guard slouching toward Armageddon.

Blair today calls on governments to recognize that religious extremism (not ours)  has become the biggest source of conflict around the world, The Guardian reports. Writing in the Observer, he argues that "there is one thing self-evidently in common: the acts of terrorism are perpetrated by people motivated by an abuse of religion. It is a perversion of faith."

"It was not the lack of sufficient knowledge about history and religion which led to the Iraqi debacle,” he says, “but the lack of restraint among politicians who had all the relevant information at their fingertips.”

Better to read former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates's account in Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War: “ ... we had simply had no idea how broken Iraq was before the war - economically, socially, culturally, politically, in its infrastructure, the education system, you name it.”

The millennium has come and gone; the apocalypse has not materialized. Gates’s observations are vitally important in understanding the process of the war and in setting the record straight. His book starts after the onset of the war when he was summoned to duty after the catastrophic original failures, failures shared by America and England.

As Blair and company rise in hindsight to interpret their actions, it would be good to hear from other professionals of Gates's rank who were vocal in opposition from the first. People like Gen. Wesley Clark; Jim Webb, a former Virginia senator and secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan; Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell; and Gary Hart, a former senator representing Colorado, who spoke here in northern New England at several colleges and gave a prescient analysis of how it would go.

England’s share of blame might be less than the others' when it is considered that Bush/Cheney’s calling up of old Britannia was the debt to be paid by England for America’s defense in World War II. Consider as well that that debt was paid in full this year when Parliament refused to jump in on an overnight decision to invade Syria dreamed up by Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and President Barack Obama.

Quigley is a prize-winning writer who has worked more than 35 years as a book and magazine editor, political commentator and reviewer. For 20 years he has been an amateur farmer, raising Tunis sheep and organic vegetables. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and four children. Contact him at quigley1985@gmail.com.