Charlie Rose Talks to Tony BlairBy
What have you learned about the way the world works since you left office that you wish you had known when you were Prime Minister?
The first is that power is shifting east—and fast. This is not a cliché. It is a reality and it's transformative. And it has huge implications for the West. The second is that I've got a clearer understanding of [Islamic] extremism now and how what is effectively a global movement with an ideology operates.
Exactly what have you learned about radical, violent fundamentalists?
That the problem is not simply the extremism. One of the mistakes is in thinking that if you deal with the extremists, you deal with the problem. My view is that the problem is a particular narrative about Islam that is shared by a far broader spectrum than we think. That narrative is basically that Islam is under oppression from the West and that by the leadership of Muslim countries being in alliance with the West, they are somehow complicit in the betrayal of their religion. It's a narrative that has to be challenged inside and outside.
How far away is your thinking from [Samuel] Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations?
I don't think there is a clash of civilizations, but I think the issue he raised is essentially correct. I don't think the 21st century will be a century of political ideology. I think it will be a century of religious or cultural ideology with the potential to divide and cause conflict.
Doesn't your book come down agreeing with Dick Cheney?
I agree with his view that the world had to be remade as a result of September 11, although I would do it [with] a far greater combination of hard and soft power.
What's interesting to me is that even though Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11, for you the invasion of Iraq was inevitable after 9/11.
It is true that while Saddam wasn't responsible for [the attacks] ... you can't understand anything about the decision I took after 9/11 without understanding that this was not just [about] the 3,000 people who died that day but the fact that if it could have been 30,000, they would have killed 30,000 or 300,000. What that means is you're dealing with a completely different type of terrorist threat, and that immediately raised the issues to do with nuclear, chemical, and biological proliferation. And the place to start was Iraq ... because Saddam was breaching the U.N. resolutions and used chemical weapons in the Iran war, used them against his own people; thousands died as a result of it.
What would have kept you from supporting an invasion of Iraq?
That's really simple—a genuine change of heart. ... You could have drawn the conclusion that because [Saddam] didn't have an active program, he had no intent, when actually we know now that he kept the scientists together, kept the know-how, kept the laboratories going, and his desire was to restart [production of weapons of mass destruction] once he got rid of the sanctions. And since oil prices in the next few years rose significantly, he would have had the money, the intent, and the know-how. I've never accepted this idea that had we simply left him there, he would have retired into comfortable old age and obscurity.
Are you convinced that history will be on your side?
You can never be convinced about these things, but yes, in the end. As I always say to people, there are two issues with Iraq. One is the whole question of WMD: [We] said there was an active program, and there wasn't. Therefore no casus belli, as it were. The second thing, though, that looms even bigger for people is the difficulties [after] we then went into in Iraq. Saddam was removed in two months. By the middle of 2003 we were there with full U.N. authority, U.S. and U.K. troops. Had it been like Kosovo, for example, probably there wouldn't be an issue today.
If the war was successful and quick?
And had then stopped.
But doesn't that say something about the leadership of you, President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Cheney, and others? You were not wise enough to appreciate the possibilities.
Well, the interesting question is if you had foreseen that al-Qaeda would come in, that Iran would operate in the way it did, would you then have backed off?
And the answer is no.
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