This morning brings the remarkable news that Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has gone to work as a part time consultant for the huge JP Morgan investment bank, at a salary estimated at a million dollars a year.
What I find remarkable is not so much the news as the apparent lack of reaction to it.
It's not just a question of a British leader leaving his nation's top office for employment in a sprawling company with worldwide interests -- everyone does that these days -- but the fact that Blair is doing it -- while at the same time continuing official duties in a very sensitive and financially key part of the world.
Blair is not being hired by Morgan for his economic skills, which were never impressive. As JP Morgan's chief executive Jamie Dimon announced frankly, "There are only a handful of people in the world who have the knowledge and relationships that he has." Such relationships are key to Blair's current official duties.
Thanks to pressure from his friend George Bush, Blair was handed a very sensitive assignment: Middle East envoy working on behalf of the US, Russia, the UN and the EU. Though supposedly focused on Palestinian development, Blair's activities necessarily involve top level contacts with leaders throughout the world, particularly the leaders of the Middle East, leaders flush with trillions of dollars in assets, leaders making enormous deals and investments around the globe -- the kind of deals that are Morgan's bread and butter.
Is it not conceivable there might be a slight conflict of interest, at least a whiff of impropriety, in Blair's twin roles as peace maker and deal maker? When Blair's diplomatic appointment was announced, many in the Middle East and elsewhere questioned the former PM's ability to act as an honest broker in the region because of his unequivocal support for George Bush in the war in Iraq, and failing to call for a halt to the Israeli bombing of Lebanon last summer. They had a point.
Blair's million dollar job with J.P Morgan provides skeptics with further ammunition.