AP Interview: Blair says post-9/11 battle not over

By David Stringer

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Sept. 9 2011 4:50 a.m. MDT

Britain's former Prime Minister Tony Blair is seen during an Associated Press interview at a hotel in London, Friday, Sept. 2, 2011. The international statesman most closely tied to the response to the Sept. 11 attacks, believes the decade-long struggle to contain the threat from Islamic extremism is far from over, despite the killing of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.

Kirsty Wigglesworth, Associated Press

LONDON — Tony Blair, the international statesman most closely tied to the response to the Sept. 11 attacks, believes the decade-long struggle to contain the threat from Islamic extremism is far from over, despite the killing of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.

The former British prime minister, who famously vowed to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the United States and took a leading role in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in the face of domestic unease, told The Associated Press that potent threats still persist — including in nations swept by the revolutions of the Arab Spring.

"It's completely wrong," to think the struggle to defeat extremist ideology is won, Blair said in an interview. "We shouldn't be under any doubt about this at all. Unfortunately, as I say, this ideology is far broader than the methods of al-Qaida."

"You look at Lebanon, for example and how Hezbollah have taken control there, you look at the activities of Hamas. Yemen I'm afraid, it's a long way off being resolved," Blair said. "Even in a country like Pakistan, with some strong institutions by the way, that it's still an issue, so the struggle is by no means over, but it's the right struggle to be engaged in."

Blair also expressed concern over the uprisings which have shaken the Middle East and North Africa, insisting that the West must act as "players and not spectators" to help democracy flourish from the Arab Spring.

"We've got a long way to go because some of the people getting rid of these regimes don't necessarily want the same thing as others getting rid of them," Blair said, questioning the possible role of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt's future.

"These people will need our help and support in transitioning to proper democracy," Blair said. "That isn't just about the freedom to vote in and out your government, it's about freedom of the media, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, about open markets — and there's a long way to go on that I fear."

With the hunt on for Moammar Gadhafi, Blair acknowledged his horror over the Libyan's repression of his people, even as he defended his own instrumental role in returning Gadhafi to the international fold — a deal sealed with a handshake in a 2004 meeting inside a tent.

Blair said "it was shocking and it's a profound shame" to see Gadhafi use violence against his own people in an attempt to cling to power.

But he said his Libya policy made the world a safer place.

"People saying 'don't you feel you shouldn't have dealt with Gadhafi now', of course we should deal with him, because we got him to change his policy on nuclear and chemical weapons, which was vitally important for the world security, and instead of sponsoring terrorism, they were cooperating in the fight against it," he said.

"The trouble is that the external policy change wasn't matched by the internal one," Blair said. "Then when he brutalizes his own people, then the action against him is completely justified."

Blair insisted that he had been right to join the U.S. in confronting the terrorism threat after 9/11, despite warnings from his own spy chief that combat overseas risked radicalizing a generation of Muslims at home.

"The fact that when we were prepared to stand up with America against this terrorism these people then want to target us more, that's not a reason for leaving the front-line and letting others do the fighting. That's not my view of life, I'm afraid," Blair told the AP in an interview.

Eliza Manningham-Buller, director of domestic intelligence agency MI5 between 2002 and 2007, has repeatedly claimed that Blair paid too little attention to warnings that the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq would fuel homegrown terrorism.

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