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'Stripped of power, he gives impression he is not to be trusted'

Fool or knave - take your pick - Tony Blair was being audacious when he used St George's Day to share his latest thoughts on the dangers posed by Islamic extremism.

Tony Blair's days as a popular politician are well and truly over
Tony Blair's days as a popular politician are well and truly over

Few would doubt that the problem exists but the choice of the day of England's patron saint summoned up all sorts of unhelpful imagery - from George and the Dragon to Henry V and the Battle of Agincourt.

It could also be claimed that in his warmongering past the former prime minister was the creator of many of the ills he was outlining to a coterie of investors and commentators.

What he had to say was not startling, namely that there is a moral obligation for the West to take seriously the expansion of Islamist ideology because it "still represents the biggest threat to global security of the early 21st century". So far, so run of the mill, but it was the context that counted and that's what was wrong with the timing of the speech.

One of the central planks in Blair's argument was the need to address the crisis in Syria through military intervention. Not only did this ignore the fact that the illegal interference in Iraq in 2003 exacerbated Islamic extremism across the Middle East, but once again his advice seemed to be a question of the West sticking its nose into places where it was not wanted. Moreover, by inadvertently associating the idea with the cross of St George, Blair introduced the concept of crusade, which is anathema to most Muslims.

He then went on to make a case for the West to put aside its differences to work with China and Russia against a common enemy. Did he not understand that the moment he was making this fanciful gesture Russia was in the process of breaking international law in its dealings with Ukraine? Or that President Vladimir Putin has given military aid and diplomatic succour to the Syrian leader President Bashar al Assad? As for China, its record on human rights is nothing to write home about.

Inevitably the speech generated a good deal of bile among the political commentariat. For many, Blair is one of the most hated figures in modern times, reviled for his adventurism in Iraq and disliked for his money-making on the international circuit, which has seen him cosy up to clients such as Kazakhstan. Put simply, he does not encourage confidence and even a once grateful Labour Party considers him an uncomfortable presence. It is small wonder that last week's speech provoked further outrage.

On one level the former prime minister deserved it. In addition to the visceral dislike occasioned by his policies in the Middle East, Blair does not come across well and has grown worse since stepping down from office. Stripped of the trappings of power, he gives the impression that he is not to be trusted, sleekit.

Yet the toxicity of Brand Blair is not the whole story. Little of what he said last week was new. We all know that extremes of any kind pose a threat, especially when they are linked to religion. As for the case for military intervention in Syria, it has been well rehearsed and disregarded as we recognise the folly of going to war without a workable plan. Blair's concept of muscular liberalism (as it is termed) has been found wanting and since the Iraq fiasco there is little appetite for gung-ho military activity. Just ask any senior British army commanders who saw their plans disappear in Helmand, taking with them treasure and lives.

Recent history damned any hope Blair would be taken seriously. The world has shed the Shakespearean urge "to let slip the dogs of war" at the behest of a leader whose trust has been forfeited. That at least has been a lesson worth learning.

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