Yesterday was exciting, not only did I get to while away the late night dancing to some determinedly old school djs at the Nightlife Preservation Community party, but I also was among the security cleared crowd at Tony Blair’s talk at the 92 Street Y.
Having been a History student and residing in the British empire during much of the reign of Blair, and most memorably during his decision to go to war in Iraq based on imaginary Weapons of Mass Destruction, I was very interested to see what he had to say for himself.
Charming to a tee, it was clear how he had managed (at least in part) to ascend to the highest level of office. Within the span of little over an hour he quoted Rabbi Hillel and Winston Churchill, did impressions of Americans who have mistaken him for the actor in The Queen and of his cockney friend who always gives him good advice.
Where was that helpful mate in 2003 when it came time to issue the command for war? Although Blair channelled him and his other cast of colorful cultural references to please the crowd, he was undeniably uncomfortable when Mathew Bishop the interviewer leading Blair’s Q&A asked him point blank if he regretted the decision.
Blair gripped his chair with both hands and stuttered through a long explanation of how he admits that the intelligence was faulty, but they believed it at the time and any way the world is still “better off without Sadam and his two sons ruling the country.”
When asked whether he thinks that the war in Iraq has actually increased Islamic fundamentalist terrorism and ill feeling towards the west, he said absolutely not. “The responsibility for terrorism lies in the hands of the terrorists.” he said.
At the moment the former PM’s main activities are his work with the recently formed Tony Blair Faith Foundation, the Africa Governance Initiative, the Climate Group and his position as a negotiater of sorts for peace in Israel/Palestine.
On climate, he seemed to grasp that it is a very real and pressing issue, yet one of the main solutions that he proposed is Nuclear power- in my mind a terrible idea.
On Africa, he said that aid alone is not enough, governments have to be taught (by him) how to operate. He proudly asserted that he is working on bottom up state building in Sierra Leone and Rwanda.
On the Middle East. “For Israel the only Palestinian state they will be able to accept is a secure and well-governed state.” Blair said. He is working on state building there as well. Well clearly Britain and its former leader know best. Perhaps those good old imperialist days are not yet over after all.
He said many additional things about religion, democracy and justice, but I am more concerned with what he didn’t say. Bishop actually selected my audience question, “What was the most significant mistake you made as Prime Minister?” Blair’s response, “That’s for me to know and you to find out.” A chilling thought.