British Prime Minister Tony Blair Defends Iraq War

Tony Blair i i

British Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks during a joint press conference with President Bush at the White House, May 17, 2007. AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption AFP/Getty Images
Tony Blair

British Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks during a joint press conference with President Bush at the White House, May 17, 2007.

AFP/Getty Images

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The Disappearing 'Cuppa'

It is a fine tradition, the great British "cuppa." But in an increasingly cosmopolitan London, it seems to be more and more difficult to get a decent cup of tea. One Morning Edition staffer, who grew up in London, asked Prime Minister Blair why.

In Depth

British and American leaders have praised the deep relationship between the two countries. But no one has offered as much enthusiasm, or risked such political cost, as Tony Blair.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's alliance with President Bush in the Iraq war is one of the defining characteristics of Blair's long tenure in office. As he stood next to President Bush in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday in what likely was his last meeting there, talk again focused on the war.

But Blair told NPR after the Rose Garden news conference that he hopes that partnership isn't the only thing for which he'll be remembered.

In an NPR News exclusive interview with Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep, Blair talked at length about issues of global importance: from Iraq and terrorism to global climate change and other issues.

"There's so much else that's happened, in the U.K. — there's a whole set of things that are very big changes for us indeed," Blair said. "But I've got no difficulty with the conflict in Iraq being a major part of what I've done."

He said he is proud of the choices he has made.

"It was right to remove Saddam, it was right to give the country a chance to have the democratic process, and it's right now to try to fight people who, by terrorism, are trying to disrupt that process."

Blair has been unwavering in his support of the war, and despite public outcry, he hasn't lost patience.

"The reason why people in Britain and people in America have lost patience, to an extent, is because they see the carnage and bloodshed going on and they say, 'This is now four years after the fall of Saddam. So, if that is still happening, that must mean it's wrong, that we shouldn't be doing it.' My question is, why is this bloodshed happening?" Blair said.

He said the conflict is being driven largely by al-Qaida and Iranian-backed groups and "a small minority of extremists" in Iraq who are combining their efforts to cause as much damage as possible so people lose faith and lose patience.

"If we're confronted with something that's totally evil — to drive a car bomb into the middle of a crowded market and kill a hundred completely random, innocent men, women and children — [and] we end up saying, 'Since we're facing that battle and since it's tough and ugly and we're losing our troops and our forces and that's a tremendous thing of grief and anguish' ... [and] we then back away, we've handed an enormous victory to the enemy we're fighting."

Blair said that most war critics think the U.S. and British response to Iraq and terrorism provoked more terrorism, and only made the situation worse. But he disagrees with that assessment.

"The fact is, September 11 came before Afghanistan or Iraq," Blair said. "This terrorism has been a generation growing; it will take a generation to knock it out."

But Blair did have some criticism for the U.S. and British response, noting that terrorism can't be defeated by physical force alone.

"The only way you're going to knock out this terrorism eventually is not just through the force of arms, but through the force of ideas," he said. "And if there is a weakness in our position, it is ... that you need to construct an agenda that is about freedom, yes, and democracy, yes, but also about justice and about opportunity for people."

That's why it's important to also try to make progress in other areas, he said, specifically poverty in Africa, climate change and the Middle East peace process.

It will take a wide stance to battle global warming as well, Blair said. Even if smaller countries like Britain cut their emissions, it won't do much good without a similar commitment from bigger nations: China, the United States and India, he said.

"The reality is, if we shut down the whole of Britain — shut it down, nothing emitted — within two years, the growth in Chinese emissions would wipe out the difference we would make."

China's carbon emissions almost equal America's and in a few years will surpass that level, Blair said.

"This is why you've got to get the big countries in the deal. Britain can be the most radical country it wants to be — we're 2 percent of world emissions and it's falling as a percentage — [but] if you don't get China and India and America in this deal, you're not really where it's at, I'm afraid."

Looking back on his time in office, Blair said he isn't disappointed.

"I'm still immensely optimistic about the world and the possibility of changing it," he said.

He said one thing that has changed is the balance of foreign policy and domestic policy.

"When I came in 1997 ... you know, foreign policy was something in the bottom drawer. Now, I happen to think — it's just the way the world is today — that the line between domestic and foreign policy is world," he said.

"The nature of the world today, I'm convinced of this — the defining characteristic is interdependence. Yet politics — both left and right — hasn't really quite worked out the implications of that."

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