Blair on Iraq on Newsnight in full
The BBC has put up a video and released a transcript of the rest of Tony Blair’s interview with Kirsty Wark, about 15 minutes long, which will be broadcast on Newsnight tonight. Here is the transcript:
00:00:01: Kirsty: When was the moment that you knew that there were no weapons of mass destruction?
00:00:06: Blair: The moment that we knew that the intelligence was wrong was obviously when the Iraq survey group finally reported. Although it’s very important that people understand what they did report and what they didn’t. Their eventual findings were that yes he’d put his programme into abeyance but that he’d retained the intent and retained the expertise. And I personally have no doubt at all that had had we backed off he would have been back to it again.
00:00:28: Kirsty: But you couldn’t go to war on an intention. You had to go – The only way that you could invade Iraq was if you were absolutely certain the only legal basis was certain that he had WMDs – not an intention.
00:00:39: Blair: Yes. No. Exactly and that’s why I say to people, because you know, how many times have we been over this argument, if people want to see the intelligence we relied on the simplest thing, frankly, is that they read the joint intelligence committee reports that are now freely and publicly available.
00:00:52: Kirsty: But exactly a year before the invasion, you wrote to your chief of staff Jonathan Powell that – what was it you said – we have to reorder the story and the message because increasingly it should be about the nature of the regime. So you can see – because that came out obviously at Chilcot – you can see why people felt they were misled because a year beforehand you were thinking of what is the best way to make the case.
00:01:19 – Blair: Well of course if you, if you are, I mean you’re obviously going to think of the best way to make the case if you believe in it but…
00:01:25: Kirsty: Is that a case of making the case, and finding the evidence.
00:01:27 Blair: No of course not.
00:01:28: Kirsty: Or trying to find the evidence to fit that?
00:01:31 – Blair: As I say if you are in any doubt, if your, your problem is a is a deceit problem look at the Joint Intelligence Committee reports. The point is this however. The nature of the regime. And this is why this, this distinction between the nature of the regime and the use of WMD [has] always been a, well not so much a false one but one lacking in common sense. The reason why we fear Iran with a nuclear weapon today, is in part, because of the nature of the Iranian regime. If the Iranian regime were a democracy with a, with a benign view towards the rest of the region, we still probably wouldn’t want them to have a nuclear weapon but it would be a completely different proposition.
00:02:14: Kirsty: But the, but the thing was that even then you know you’ve got Saddam then but you’ve also had Assad’s father, WMD in Syria. You know abuse of human rights then. You know the thing is you can’t, in a sense you either, you, you, you go in with WMD. It matters surely. Sorry it matters then, and it still matters, about whether or not there were WMD because it’s a question of trust between politicians and the public isn’t it?
00:02:45 – Blair: It is a matter of trust and when the allegation was first made that people had been deliberately misled we had a six-month government inquiry. It was the first time government and the intelligence services, everybody gave evidence at. It took six months; the judge that we put in charge of it was someone of impeccable integrity, nothing to do with politics. That was the Hutton inquiry. When he came out with the verdict that there was no deception, people didn’t like it so they trashed the report and trashed the judge. So I agree with you of course it’s a serious issue about trust and politics. The fact is that there have now been five different inquiries into the same issue and, as I say, the simple thing is if you are a member of the public and you don’t know whether you were deliberately misled or not go and read the joint intelligence committee reports.
00:03:31: Kirsty: But isn’t it terrible, in a way, that in this country now we cannot go to war on the basis of intelligence again, can we?
00:03:37 – Blair: Well I think you know. I don’t think it whether we go to war on the basis of intelligence or not is really the issue. I think what is the issue, frankly, after Iraq and Afghanistan is whether we disregard the price of any such intervention as too high.
00:03:58: Kirsty: Well yes and I was wondering about that because after Iraq do you think that you could ever make a case for moral intervention? I mean you talk about Iran and you talk about Syria…
00:04:10 – Blair: Yes of course. Yes. And, and Look at what is happening in Syria today; now because we don’t have troops there it’s not on our television screens every night in the same way. If this carries on much longer in Syria there will be virtually as many people, proportionately, killed in Syria as in the whole of the conflict since Iraq. Since 2003 in Iraq and we are at the beginning of this process now. You have a dictator there, who is literally wiping out whole villages using scud missiles and heavy artillery and right we are not intervening.
00:04:44: Kirsty: No. Do you think we should intervene?
00:04:46 – Blair: I, I think we should, as I have said on many occasions. I think we should. We don’t have to put our own boots on the ground but I do think we should be taking a far stronger line on Syria because I think in the end if we –
00:04:57: Kirsty: Who mandates that?
00:04:58 – Blair: Sorry let me just finish this point. If we don’t intervene in Syria and you carry on with this number of people dying, you carry on with the situation where increasingly, I think you’ll find, in the opposition forces it’s the more extreme elements that take charge. We are going to end up with a very, very big problem further down the line. So my view is when you debate the, the wisdom of intervention versus non-intervention, non-intervention is also a decision, it’s a policy and it has consequences.
00:05:30: Kirsty: Yes but if it’s not boots on the ground then is it, it is bombs from the air for example. What’s the, you’d have to have a legal basis for going into Syria wouldn’t you? You’d never get that through the UN.
00:05:39 – Blair: Well it’s very difficult to get it through the UN but –
00:05:41: Kirsty: So what would you do?
00:05:42 – Blair: I but sometimes we – look, look, sometimes we look at the UN Security Council as if it was the Supreme Court of Justice. I mean it’s a group of political leaders looking at their political interests. Now in my view, of course we should try and get a diplomatic solution. Even now we should be trying to work with the Russians, and the Chinese and others to get a way through. But there are things we could be doing to help change the balance of power in this struggle and my anxiety is that we’re about to learn, again, the lesson of the consequences of non-intervention. You know we went through this [with] the Rwandan genocide. We went through it again in Bosnia, we didn’t intervene, a quarter of a million people died before we finally realised in the end these are struggles in which our own interests, quite apart from the humanitarian aspect, are dramatically engaged. And I still think in respect of Iraq and Afghanistan, once those conflicts got beyond the regime change stage – you know Saddam was toppled, the Taliban were driven out of Afghanistan – and they then changed into these, these deep seated sectarian conflicts. You know we have an interest in ensuring that the sensible people win those conflicts.
00:06:54: Kirsty: Yes but problem is now is that we are pretty sure that Iran has weapons of mass destruction on some level, or it’s certainly on its way to getting them. As a result of what happened in Iraq, Iran is an absolute powerhouse in the region, this is the number one enemy of the West, the number one enemy of America and as a result of the problems in Iraq, Iran is gaining power and another foothold in Iraq.
00:07:16 – Blair: Right this is, in my view, the worst geopolitical argument I’ve, I’ve come across. Is this argument that somehow we should have kept Saddam in power in order to act as a bulwark against Iran? That was the policy of the West in the 1980s. We supported Saddam in his struggle against Iran; the consequences were a war in which there were a million casualties, and as I say hundreds of thousands of people who were killed, largely by the use of chemical weapons and other artillery from Saddam. Out of that, by the way, came two things: first of all the absolute belief by Saddam that the existence of chemical weapons was essential for his regime because that’s why he thought he’d managed to push back the Iranians and the Iranian nuclear weapons programme was born out of their belief after that struggle, that conventional weapons were not enough. So when you look back in history the idea that it’s a sensible policy to support people like Saddam to be a bulwark against Iran, it’s not the right policy. The right policy is you get rid of dictators like Saddam and then you confront Iran and hope that there’s change there too.
00:08:22: Kirsty: But you, you have to confront these countries, I would suggest, without putting any British forces anywhere near them because frankly the British public has no appetite for that. And obviously you saw Obama’s address; he’s not going on any foreign adventures either.
00:08:38 – Blair: Well I agree. There’s a huge reaction, of course there’s going to be, against any form of intervention. All I’m saying to you is you know that’s the argument now. Let’s wait and see how that argument is, particularly after what is happening in the Middle East. I mean look, just look at the Middle East today. You have Syria, as I say, which is a state of disintegration, with thousands of people dying every month. You have Iran trying to get nuclear weapons capability. Further afield you have Pakistan, Afghanistan in a state of great uncertainty. You have Yemen, you have Libya, and Tunisia and Egypt after their revolutions now with huge uncertainty as to what happens. You have the action Mali, you have Algeria.
00:09:16: Kirsty: You, you you, do agree with the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, and although you did support Mubarak, you do agree with the revolutions?
00:09:23 – Blair: Of course I do, but I also say is the revolutions aren’t the end, they are the beginning. And what we are going to have to understand in the West is it’s OK to say well we’ll just disengage and let these countries try and get on with it and of course we are trying to do what we can to help those governments in Libya, and Tunisia and Egypt but it’s going to be a long, hard struggle and I would actually watch Egypt in particular. I mean I hope that in the end that can be stabilised but it may not. And what is happening now in Syria is, as I say, ghastly. All I’m saying to you: look, in the end, look, essential judgement is this, is the world going to be safer if you leave these countries really to their own fate in a sense– so there’s a dictator in power with an oppressive regime – why don’t we just leave them there? If the country rises up and throws them off, well that’s their decision. Or is it better to see the forces that are trying to destabilise the region and beyond, which in my view are forces linked by a common ideology based on a perversion of religion, based on this Islamism, or is it better to see those as part of a whole picture? Now that’s, that’s the essential difference, and the judgement of, of history will be made about this, not now because we are in the middle of it, it will be made later, but that’s the essential question. Are these separate struggles, not linked really, where you’ve got to take a, a case by case view, or is there something that fundamentally unites this process and where we should see ourselves as having a profound strategic interest in engagement? Now I am in the latter camp but you know there are plenty of people who’d say I’m wrong.
00:11:11: Kirsty: And there are plenty of people who would say you would never be supported by the country because you squandered it during the war in Iraq.
00:11:19 – Blair: The – look, what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan was difficult and long and bloody not because of getting rid of the regime but because of what happened afterwards. And what happened afterwards was not something that occurred naturally, it occurred by the intervention of outside forces linking up with internal forces. This is, as I say, precisely the problem you have everywhere in the region and beyond.
00:11:47: Kirsty: But in fact as a result of the war in Iraq, you might say, Al Qaeda is much more on the rise than it was.
00:11:53 – Blair: Well I don’t. Well certainly that’s highly disputable. By the way in Iraq, British forces and others did immense damage to Al Qaeda. But it’s the fact is the ideology is still there, which is my point. It’s a long generational struggle and the is question is it a struggle that we should be interested in and engaged or is it one that we say look we’ve had enough of all that, we’ll just stay out of it. And I totally understand why after long and arduous and difficult campaigns people in our country and America and elsewhere say let’s stay out of it. But as you’ve just seen by what is happening to France in Mali, it’s hard to stay out of it because in the end, I’m afraid, the problem’s still there.
00:12:35 – Kirsty: In your memoirs you write about redeeming something from the tragedies of the deaths in Iraq. In a way, is your role as the Middle East envoy some kind of attempt to atone?
00:12:47 – Blair: No. It’s because I believe. Look I set out straight after the September 11th I set out at the party conference speech a couple of weeks later, a global view which is a view I still hold. Which is that after 9/11 the calculus of risk had changed which is why from then on, in my view, we had to take a far tougher, stronger line against countries developing or proliferating nuclear chemical biological weapons. And secondly, I took the view that this ideology based on a perversion of the religion of Islam had to be confronted. And one part of confronting it is to deal with the long-running Israeli-Palestinians dispute. Not because it’s a cause of this extremism but because by resolving it you put a huge boost in place for the modern-minded view of the world. Which is really what is going on within the Middle East and elsewhere. It’s a, it’s a struggle between the closed mind and the open mind. The closed mind believes in religions run, a society run by religion and the open mind says no religion’s got its place in society but we should live together and in respect whatever faith we are. And we need an open-minded, tolerant, liberal and democratic view of the way we govern ourselves.
00:14:04: Kirsty: But do you think you’ll be redeemed?
00:14:06 – Blair: I’m, I’m, I’m less interested in you know my personal position in this. At least, At least keeping people’s minds alert to the possibility that what happened in Iraq was not some deceit or deception, it was actually a very difficult decision but it was a decision that became more difficult as a result of forces that are the same forces we are now facing in many different parts of the world. And I truly believe, I may be wrong but I can tell you I genuinely believe it, I think the only way we overcome those forces in the end is to stand up to them. And to stand alongside where I think the majority of people are, even in Iraq are today, which is on the side of tolerance and democracy but the struggle is long and hard and it’s going to take a, an immense amount of will and determination to win.
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