From The Herald http://www.theherald.co.uk/
It must be easy to stay cool among the glittering winter palaces of St Petersberg. All that snow-queen splendour would soothe any fevered brow. Especially if, like Tony Blair, you are in trouble hotter than July.
One might have though he would break a bit of sweat at Lord Levy's arrest. But the humiliation of his old tennis chum and chief bagman appears to trouble him little, despite facing the prospect of being the first Prime Minister fingered as part of a criminal investigation. Knacker of the yard is closing in and may soon rap on the door of No 10.
This weekend, Mr Blair received a public lecture on corruption from the most autocratic Russian leader since Leonid Brezhnev. Yet even this ultimate put-down seems not to have raised his temperature.
He looks forward to the next G8 summit, he icily told the BBC. He could easily have said he intended to "go on and on", like that Iron Lady he and his Russian hosts so admire. Mr Blair, it seems, is beyond embarrassment.
He also appears beyond compassion. We are all shocked by the images of desiccated Lebanese children. Perhaps our Prime Minister is similarly moved while he watches this terrible footage alone with Cherie in the gilded palace – complete with hot tub – provided for all the G8 leaders. His public comments are, however, an exercise in chilly detachment.
Unlike the heat in the cash-for-honours scandal, the conflagration in Lebanon is anything but metaphorical. Beirut so deserved its tentative peace and burgeoning prosperity. The cruel bombing raids on its civilians seem set to escalate, throwing up further dust and human body parts. An invasion by Israeli ground forces is threatened, as its inexperienced Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, attempts to flex some military muscle and show voters he can fill the soldier's boots of Ariel Sharon.
All of us with memories long enough will shudder at the consequences of another Israeli occupation of its northern neighbour. Certainly Hizbollah is the aggressor. Clearly its rocket attacks on Haifa are an outrage intended to provoke Olmert into shedding more blood and so help Hizbollah recruit more martyrs.
But it cannot be correct to retaliate against a sovereign state – Lebanon – for the misdeeds of an autonomous organisation operating within its borders.
Imagine if the British government in the 1970s or 1980s had bombed Dublin, killing more than 100 innocent people, many of them children. Would that have been a proportionate response to atrocities committed by IRA units within the Republic of Ireland?
Successive British governments may have despaired at attacks on shoppers on the UK mainland.
They may have used unsavoury tactics against republicans, yet it is inconceivable that Jim Callaghan or Margaret Thatcher would have reacted as Israel does in the name of self-defence.
Yesterday, Mr Blair embarrassed himself and the UK by being the only G8 leader to echo President Bush's flippant dismissal of the Lebanon crisis and civilian deaths. He compares poorly to President Chirac, who condemned Hizbollah's aggression but urged all parties to cease hostilities.
Chirac wondered aloud whether there was "some sort of will to destroy Lebanon, its equipment, its roads, its communications".
Compare that to our Prime Minister, snagged in the linguistic thickets of Bushland. His words might well have belonged to Dubya himself when he insisted an "arch of extremism" was threatening democracy and freedom in the region.
When the BBC's John Sopel asked him: "Do you think Israel is using excessive force, as the Russians clearly think?", he replied: "We've got to understand how this began. It began by Israeli soldiers being killed, some of the soldiers being kidnapped, rockets being fired from the Lebanon by Hizbollah into Israel. I don't think anybody really believes this is just about Hizbollah and Israel. We are very worried about the influence of both Syria and Iran in respect of this."
The G8 leaders' statement yesterday urged the release of the kidnapped soldiers and told Israel to show "utmost restraint" – attempting to bury the Bush/Blair bellicosity in a moderate, united front. It means nothing on the weary Arab street. From Mecca to Casablanca, the message is clear to all those anxious to find a grievance: America and its chief ally place a higher value on Israeli lives.
Cynics will note that nothing is said in London or Washington concerning the illegality of Israel's attack; the world's self-appointed policemen are in a fix on this. In attacking Iraq without a new UN resolution, Blair is fatally compromised. Even if he was inclined to confront Prime Minister Olmert, his case is already crippled.
Britain's credibility as power-broker in the Middle East is as dated as a globe painted red. Empire or no empire, we have still dispatched two warships to the Eastern Mediterranean. This only looks like gunboat diplomacy – or so the media is briefed. HMS Illustrious, an aircraft carrier, and HMS Bulwark, an assault ship, are really on a mercy mission to evacuate stranded UK citizens when the time comes.
That might seem entirely reasonable. Mr Blair has enough trouble at home and abroad to help his Texan best pal open up another front in the "war on terror". British soldiers are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention civilians on the streets of London. He wouldn't, would he?
Mr Blair has little left to lose. He is a man convinced of his historical destiny, even when events, dear boy, leave that legacy looking more tattered than triumphant. Battleships chugging towards Cyprus are not necessarily the speediest way to get our citizens out. The Paris government has already ferried the French to safety. The Greeks chartered a plane. The Spanish and others bussed their people to Syria.
The UK could have conducted similar evacuations, so why are our people still waiting? Interviews with stranded Brits suggested they were feeling rather alone. One student said the embassy told her to stay put and await instructions. Why does that student wait for the Royal Navy when she could have been taken out more quickly, with far less fuss? And why are we allowing our servicemen and women to be sitting ducks in waters where Hizbollah has already sunk Israeli ships? Does the government seriously believe that the Islamists do not see our troops as legitimate targets?
Perhaps this sounds far-fetched. Then again, so did a Scotland Yard investigation into the honours system culminating with the arrest of the Prime Minister himself. We live in times when conspiracy theories have a horrid habit of coming true.