15 JUNE 2008

Even before he left as U.K. Prime Minister, Tony Blair was eager to do other jobs. The BBC open microphone of "Yo Blair" fame at G-8 Summit overheard him plead with President Bush for a role in the Middle East. At the time he was nicely but firmly told to leave it to Condi. Still, after leaving government, he pushed a variation on that theme as a special representative or "high" envoy of the Middle East Quartet -- a worn out formula for meeting to designate future meetings. Still, he got a phone call or two with Ban Ki-moon whose eager staff helpfully indicated how usefully they had reviewed the way forward. He also managed a visit to Luxor with his son Eon, loaded with special treatment for the special envoy for anything. Averting Gaza, of course, Mr. Blair joyfully joined some members of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, including of course the Chief Negotiator with No Negotiations to Conduct, Sa'eb Ureikat and the impressively patient and readily available, President Abbas. By the time the Palestinians warmed up to a new Blair formula, the man swiftly disappeared to join a bank in New York as a valuable consultant, reportedly at a one million dollar reward. You'd think that would have been enough except that there was talk about Mr. Blair as President of Europe. His friend, President Sarkozy, floated the idea as the former British Prime Minister was one of the first to visit in Paris to present his congratulations. It may have also been one way for the new French leader to nicely irritate his new counterpart in London. But then, as political billiard games go, it was German Chancellor Merkel who nixed it. Suddenly, the restless retired politician turned up in New York with a politically correct new venture: Tony Blair Faith Foundation. The former Anglican currently Catholic Blair told a press conference early June that his new "charity" will, of course, "enlist religion as a force for economic development and conflict resolution, rather than violence and strife." Never mind that he himself is a subject of controversy in that field, particularly in the Middle East. He enlisted his old friend and partner in the now outdated yet formerly trendy Thirdway, former U.S. President Bill Clinton. It was not clear who was -- or intends to -- exploit whom between those two politicians in squeezing every drop of financial contributions and media coverage. It was truly impressive yet scary to see the two of them work the crowd and wrap themselves with the mystery of faith. Both are capable networkers and notorious fundraisers. Particularly, as the situation seems likely, if Mr. Clinton does not get to re-enter the White House as the first (or second) spouse, Mr. Blair has found himself a companion on the road to Kazakhstan.

There is no doubt that Tony Blair is an exceptionally talented man. It is also understood that having spent so much time in the limelight and decision-making, he finds it extremely difficult to let go nicely. It is a pity that someone with so much potential seems to be dithering his way around so publicly to the point of awkward embarrassment. Let us hope that his brilliant mind will overcome his restless heart.