So Tony Blair was on This Week with Christiane Armanpour , plugging his new memoir "A Journey: My Political Life". Surprisingly, no one pelted him with eggs or shoes during the interview, nor were the words "war criminal" even mentioned, which must have been such a nice change of pace for the Poodle.
No, people like Tony Blair appear on these kinds of shows simply because they know no one will ever ask them truly uncomfortable questions -- not even Christiane Armanpour, who, instead of asking him about the death of Dr. David Kelly, pumps him about why politicians have affairs, asks about his relationship with alcohol and simply blows past his assertion that Iran must be stopped from getting a nuclear weapon. For a minute, I thought I was watching "Oprah":
AMANPOUR: Do you have regrets about Iraq?
BLAIR: You can't not have regrets about the lives lost. I mean, you would be inhuman if you didn't regret the death of so many extraordinary, brave and committed soldiers, of civilians that have died in Iraq, or die still now in Afghanistan. And of course you feel an enormous responsibility for that, not just regret. And I say in the book the concept responsibility for me has its present and future tense, not just its past tense.
AMANPOUR: I guess no surprises. There's zero apologizing for what happened in Iraq. You stick to your contention about the weapons of mass destruction, and if it wasn't weapons of mass destruction, then you say at least the byproduct would be getting rid of Saddam Hussein, and wouldn't the world be a better place without him? But you also talk about not comprehending the complexities that were going to be unleashed in Iraq. What precisely?
BLAIR: What I think we understand more clearly now is -- and this is something I didn't understand fully at the time of 9/11 -- in a sense, at that point you think there were 3,000 people killed in the streets of New York in a single day. And I still think it's important just to hold that thought in our mind, because I always say about this, the important thing is, if these people could have killed 30,000 or 300,000, they would have.
And that really changed the calculus of risk all together. But what I understand less clearly at that time was how deep this ideological movement is. -- this is actually more like the phenomenon of revolutionary communism. It's the religious or cultural equivalent of it, and its roots are deep, its tentacles are long, and its narrative about Islam stretches far further than we think into even parts of mainstream opinion who abhor the extremism, but sort of buy some of the rhetoric that goes with it.
Just curious, Tony: Have you, too, noticed the similarities between the violent Islamic fundamentalists, and the American fundamentalist Taliban?
AMANPOUR: In your book your wrote that this is not something to be combated on an electoral cycle, this will take a generation.
Do you think everybody gets it? I mean, you see President Obama now faced with drawing down in Iraq, faced with ramping up in Afghanistan, but still putting a deadline on. What sort of message does that send as to the commitment to fight this?
BLAIR: I think it's perfectly sensible to set the deadline, provided it's clear that, as it were, that is to get everyone focused on getting the job done.
But in general terms, I think the answer to your question is no, I think a lot of people don't understand that this is a generational-long struggle. and I think one of the things we've got to have and one of the debates we've got to have in the west is you know are we prepared for that, and are we prepared for the consequences of it?
AMANPOUR: on Afghanistan in your book, you say, "What's happening is really simple. Our enemies think they can outlast us. Our enemies aren't alone in thinking that. Our friends do, too. Therefore, the ordinary folk think, I should make my peace with those who are staying, not with those who are going." I mean, I was there and I saw colonels and generals and soldiers and resources being deployed from Afghanistan to Iraq, and it had an impact.
BLAIR: I mean, I think there is an issue that is perfectly legitimate to talk about there.
AMANPOUR: Do you think the Americans took their eye off the ball there?
BLAIR: Well, I think people thought the thing was on a more benign trajectory than it turned out to be. I mean, that is the truth.
AMANPOUR: People were wrong
And I think, as I say, the best way to look at this is, if you analyze it by analogy or reference to revolutionary communism, the fact is you wouldn't have said at any point in time when we were facing that threat, well, you're not telling us we're going to have to spend a few more years on this, are you? People would have said, well, we'll spend as long as we need to spend, I'm afraid, and that's just it.
AMANPOUR: Given the focus on Afghanistan today wouldn't it have been better to not have diverted billions of dollars, the amount of resources, the amount of attention to Iraq. You could have waited.
BLAIR: I think what I would say to that is, it's a difficult question to answer but supposing we'd left Saddam --
AMANPOUR: But you could have contained him that was my point
BLAIR: Yes, I know but this is the issue and I think it's a really important issue. I don't think we would have contained him.
AMANPOUR: Why not?
BLAIR: Because the sanctions were crumbling --
AMANPOUR: But they were crumbling before 9/11.
AMANPOUR: Right after 9/11, all the countries who you were trying to keep on board, people like China, Russia, the French, even the left-winged chatterati, they would much preferred sanctions and containment to invasion.
BLAIR: Absolutely. But if you analyze the resolutions on sanctions and I was involved in all this, what actually happened was that they got watered down.
So my point to you is very simple. If we hadn't taken out Saddam, there would have still been consequences. Now what they are, we don't know. I can say I think he would have been a threat competing with Iran and someone else might say to me, well, actually he would have just been contained. We don't know. But my view was in the circumstances after 9/11, you had to send such a strong signal out on this issue. And incidentally don't ignore what actually did then happen. Libya gave up its WMD program. You know, Iran went, actually at the time, after 2003, went back into talks. North Korea rejoined six-party talks. You know, there was a lot that happened. And I personally felt, and I still feel, incidentally, that the single biggest threat we face is the prospect of these terrorist groups acquiring some form of nuclear, chemical, biological capability.
Um, let's back up a minute there, Tony. "Libya gave up its WMD program." Let's look a little more closely at your implied cause-and-effect there:
In fact, former Clinton administration official Martin Indyk indicated that as early as May 1999, at the outset of secret negotiations with American officials, Libya offered to give up its WMD arsenal. At that time, Tripoli was suffering through major economic difficulties brought on by the ongoing international sanctions and flawed domestic economic policies. In particular, Libya was unable to import oilfield technologies necessary to expand their oil production due to the economic sanctions. Libyan President Qadhdhafi is said to have realized at some point that in order to relieve Libya’s economic strife, he needed to mend fences with the United States. Mr. Indyk has explained that at the time the U.S. government was more concerned with resolving issues related to the Pan Am 103 attack, including securing compensation for the victims’ families and getting Libya out of the terrorism business. It was assessed then that Libya’s modest chemical weapons arsenal and infant nuclear program were not an imminent threat, and as a result, there was no urgency driving the U.S. to accept Libya’s offer to surrender its WMD. This, in turn, raises questions about whether the Bush administration and Tony Blair’s administration in the United Kingdom chose to have Libya declare its intention to relinquish its WMD programs in December 2003 in order to imply the success of American and British actions in Iraq.
AMANPOUR: Although many would say that that is a worst-case scenario, and it is speculation because there isn't really any evidence to support that --
BLAIR: No, here's the problem, Christiane. And it really is a problem. I don't know, and you don't know, and you're making a calculation of risk. And the thing is, when you're sitting in the hot seat of decision making, you've got to decide. Maybe if they got them, they'd never use them. But I don't think if I was a leader today and, certainly, this is the view I took as a leader then, I take the risk. that's the problem, that's where Iran is so difficult, you know? I had someone say to me just literally the other night, they said to me, come on, look, supposing Iran gets the nuclear weapon. it's not the end of the world I mean, Why should they want to use it? Why would they want to cause all that destruction?
Why would they - no. It's a perfectly sensible argument, you hear? And who knows they may be right. All I know is, if I was a decision maker, I wouldn't take the risk.
AMANPOUR: So, what would you do?
BLAIR: I would tell them they can't have it, and if necessary, they will be confronted with stronger sanctions and diplomacy. But if that fails, I'm not taking any option off the table.
AMANPOUR: So, you see a military possibility against Iran?
BLAIR: I don't want to see it --
AMANPOUR: But you're saying it has to happen.
BLAIR: I - I don't want to see it, but I'm saying I think you cannot exclude it because the primary - the primary objective has got to be to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.
AMANPOUR: Talking the way you're talking reminds me of this passage in your book in the lead up to the Iraq war.
You talk about Vice President Cheney at the time, quote, "He would have worked through the whole lot, Iraq, Syria, Iran, dealing with all their surrogates in the course of it, Hezbollah, Hamas, et cetera. In other words, he thought the world had to be made anew and that after September 11th it had to be done by force and urgency." So, would he have gone through all that lot?
BLAIR: He didn't say that in those meetings but you know Dick was always absolutely hard-line on these things. I think he would openly avow this. His world view was that the world had to be remade after September the 11th. But you can't dismiss that Cheney view and say that's stupid. It's not. It may require amendment, you may disagree with it but --
AMANPOUR: Is it possible?
BLAIR: well... it's possible over time with the right combination of hard and soft power, I think, to get to the point where nations that we regard or did regard as threats become allies. But that is not always going to have a hard power solution it.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about your relationship with President Bush, many people thought that you wouldn't get on, precisely because of the difference of your politics.
BLAIR: We continue, obviously, to disagree on certain aspects of politics, like climate change or even the Middle East peace process from time to time. And I'm a Democrat, not a Republican. But on the central question after September 11th, of security, we were in agreement.
AMANPOUR: You say: "George W. Bush was very smart. He had an immense simplicity in how he saw the world. Right or wrong, it led to decisive leadership."
BLAIR: Yes, it -- it did. And I -- I think, you know, it's easy to mock that simplicity. And it's easy to ignore the strength that sometimes comes with that. And a decision like the surge in Iraq, you know, I can't think of many people who would have had the courage to take that decision in the way that he did.
AMANPOUR: Let's move on to Bill Clinton. You describe President Bill Clinton as your political soul mate. Why is that?
BLAIR: I think he was one of the first people really to understand, to articulate how progressive politics couldn't be a rainbow collation, that you had to stand up and be connected with people, not activists, simply.
AMANPOUR: And you say he was one of the smartest political minds you ever came across?
BLAIR: Oh, he's phenomenally smart. I think the smartest politician I ever came across, yes, I would say, Bill Clinton, yes.
AMANPOUR: You obviously had also a lot of dealings with him at the height of the troubles when he was involved in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, there was the impeachment. How did you see him get through his political life at that point?
BLAIR : By the most extraordinary strength of character. I mean, I came across him in some of the worst parts of all them impeachment business. And his ability somehow to kind of refocus on the job and get it done. I remember sitting there thinking I could not do that if all that was going on around me. I just couldn't do it. But he did.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about your view of why he got himself into this situation.
"I was also convinced that his behavior arose in part from him inordinate interest in and curiosity about people. In respect of men it was expressed in friendship. In respect of women there was potentially a sexual element."
His curiosity led to that?
BLAIR: Look, I think probably what I wrote is what I wrote. I think if I try explaining it I'll get into difficulty. I think that there are people who are -- part of his genius of a politician is he is extraordinarily curious about people.
AMANPOUR: you do address the issue of sex and politicians. You basically say, you know, in terms of why they take this risk.
AMANPOUR: You say, "My theory is it's precisely because of the supreme self control that you have to exercise to be at the top. Politicians live with pressure... " Et cetera. So?
BLAIR: So that's what you do, really?
AMANPOUR: What, go and have affairs?
BLAIR: No. You live with pressure.
AMANPOUR: No. And then you say, "your free bird instincts want to spring you from the prison of self control. Then there's the moment of encounter. So exciting, so naughty, so lacking in self control."
BLAIR: Yes. So I'm trying to say -- it's one of the things you come across when you're a political leader obviously that you see people you hope you never get mixed up in some of that. But you see that situation develop.
People today want to know so much more about their politicians. If they do they've got to understand they're also human beings and you've got to be somewhat forgiving therefore of the human frailty. I think. That's my view.
AMANPOUR: You talk about the human frailty of alcohol, as well. You say the relationship between alcohol and prime ministers is a subject for a book all on its own.
AMANPOUR: What was your relationship with alcohol?
BLAIR: well, It's a good question. I started to write about it in the book, thought about it, actually. You've got to be careful writing about these things.
AMANPOUR: but was it a prop for you...did it become a prop for you? You talk about a stiff whiskey or a gin and tonic before dinner. A couple of glasses of wine.....Not excessively excessive. I had a limit but I was aware that it had become a prop.
BLAIR: Yes you've got to be careful of it becoming a problem. At some points it can be. now I was never quite sure, because sometimes it's a relaxation at the end of the day and.... this year for the first time, my wife's been on me to do this for ages, I gave it up for lent. so went for the six weeks without it. It was interesting. (laughs)
AMANPOUR: you talk about Cherie, your wife, giving you support and soothing you. You say: "On that night, the 12th of May, 1994, I needed that love that Cherie gave me selfishly. I devoured it to give me strength. I was an animal following my instinct, knowing that I would need every ounce of emotional power and resilience."
BLAIR: Yes, I'm going to blush now
AMANPOUR: It's a bit racy, that, yes?
BLAIR: Yes, I'm going to blush now so...you write these passages and they stay in. And then when you read them in the cold light of day, you think hmm. Should I really have written that in that way? but anyway.....
AMANPOUR: I'm struck by so much of the tone of the book, you sort of going from kind of gung ho courageous bravado to really gut wrenching fear because you had this amazing passage about prime minister's questions:
"the Prime minister knows I was given no sight of that dossier I wasn't even contacted, so he can retract that for a start. (cheers)
"PMQs was the most nerve-wracking, discombobulating, nail-biting, bowel-moving, terror inspiring, courage-draining experience in my prime ministerial life, without question."
BLAIR: It was terrifying, absolutely terrifying. In fact, one of the funny things is when people in the -- the U.S. often say to me, you know, don't you miss prime minister's questions? And miss prime minister's -- it's like asking a guy, you know, who's been on the rack for 10 years whether he'd like a stretch....
AMANPOUR: How did you get over it?
BLAIR: I ended up understanding it was also a physical exercise this prime ministers questions so I -- I used to eat differently and take a banana to give me energy before going in. And you have to confront what is the fear. And the fear is -- the fear, in the end, is being made to look completely ridiculous, which is a very human fear.
AMANPOUR: Do you still feel it at that time every week?
BLAIR: Absolutely. Every week at three minutes to 12 on a Wednesday, wherever I am in the world, there is a chill that comes upon me. It hasn't left yet.
AMANPOUR: Shortly after you became prime minister, you met Princess Diana. what did you think of her?
BLAIR: She was an extraordinarily, engaging, amazing, beautiful, iconic figure.
AMANPOUR: you said that Buckingham Palace sort of saw her as a threat.
BLAIR: Well, they admired her, but she was such a -- in one sense she was such a different type of person that for a very traditional monarchy, this was a -- you know, as I say, it was a kind of meteor coming into what had been a fairly well disciplined, well ordered ecosystem. And -- and that obviously had a big impact on her with big consequence.
AMANPOUR: And when she died, that created a whole another set of -- of realities. You called her the people's princess and you also had to kind of get the queen and Buckingham palace to understand there was a huge wave sweeping the country
BLAIR: People felt an enormous sense of loss. And so I think what was very important was -- was for the monarchy to be able to, at that sort of supreme point of difficulty, to just pivot somewhat and come to a -- an understanding with the people, where they reached out and accepted that there was that -- that strength of emotion.
(QUEEN) "I for one believe there are lessons to be drawn from her life and from the extraordinary and moving reaction to her death.."
And, in the end, the queen did that, I think, magnificently, actually and did it with a pretty flawless instinct in fact. but it was difficult for me because I was a new prime minister and I didn't really know the queen.
AMANPOUR: You talk about going up to, I think, Balmoral in Scotland, have the annual royal barbeque. The queen was actually there stacking dishes?
BLAIR: there's an annual event, which is the prime minister goes and spends a weekend with the queen at Balmoral the procedure there is that the cooking and the cleaning up is done by the royal family itself. So you have a slightly odd situation where you're sitting there and you're obviously very nervous around the queen, who you've grown up with and so on. And -- and Prince Philip is doing the cooking and the queen is stacking the plates and doing the washing up. It's a slightly unnerving experience, actually. But it was -- I mean they do it very graciously in a really lovely way.
AMANPOUR: Well, on that note...
BLAIR: Yes. Well, thank you very much.
AMANPOUR: Thank you, Tony Blair, for joining us.
BLAIR: Thank you.