Meet the Press   |  April 28, 2013

David chats with Tony Blair on Bush legacy

NBC’s David Gregory talks with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair about the U.S.-Britain relationship during his tenure.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> covering the dedication of the bush presidential library and i had a chance to catch up with former bri british prime minister tony blair to talk about his thoughts on the middle east , the bush legacy, and some of the big foreign policy tests now facing president obama . you are in this pivot point politically of being so closely associated with president clinton politically, the new labor party , at a time he was refashioning the democratic party . and yet your legacy will forever also be intwined with president bush and his response to the war on terror . it's a very interesting place in political history .

>> there was a british prime minister when he was once asked what is the toughest thing about being prime minister he said events, dear boy , events. what happens is something comes of a game-changing nature or world-changing anywnature like 9/11 and everything changes. i was very closely associated with president clinton and still have a good and strong relationship with him because we were both progressive politicians of a centrist persuasion. when president bush first came in, frankly, in basic political terms, i really didn't have a lot in common. after 9/11, though, i thought it was really important our two countries stood together and i thought it was important that we took on this new menace with strength.

>> it was churchill who said during world war ii always stay close to the americans. and there was a moment in the bush presidency before the invasion, just weeks before at that now infamous meeting, and i'm told president bush said to you at a very delicate time for you politically back home, called you tony, presumably, said, back out if you need to. don't do this. don't stand by me when you have to go back and address parliament if it's going to cost you your leadership. tell me about that moment.

>> he did say that. he made it clear that he understood the huge political difficulties i had, and that i shouldn't, as it were, put my own premiership on the line. more important in a way, to him, i think, that i stayed. my attitude was, you know, there are lots of things in politics where you'll compromise and maybe back off exactly what you think you should do. these are often the run of the mill every day types of issues. when it comes to issues of war and peace and life and death , i think -- i came to the conclusion your proper obligation to your observe can country is to do what you think is right. i thought it was right to be with the u.s. at that moment in time and, you know, if i ended up losing my premier shship, that was that. but i didn't want to stay on a basis i wasn't on this issue of this importance and at the sighsiveness to the world, i didn't want to stay. i wanted to do what i thought was right. i thought the world had changed after 9/11 and that we had to take these decisions together.

>> in this library the president has decided not to separate out iraq . iraq is presented as part and parcel of the war on terrorism , which is how he saw it. but won't history judge that as a false impression that this was a war of choice that became a misa misadventure in the eyes of so many?

>> i think in the controversy around that, around how you categorize it, will remain. what i thought was removing sad saddam happened within a matter of weeks. you then spent the next eight, nine years in a different type of battle. and that was a battle against precisely the forces that are trying to destabilize the middle east today. al qaeda on the one side, iran on the other side, and this toxic cocktail, if you like, of religion, politics, ethnicity, tribalism. so i never said the two things would lead in that direct sense, 9/11 and iraq , i think the difficulties we end up encountering in iraq were difficulties that arose from precisely this force of terror unleashed by religious extremism. and i think that's, frankly, what we still face today if you see what's happening in syria today. that entirely encapsulates it as it does across north africa , yemen, further afield, countries like pakistan and iran.

>> it's striking as the president was opening his library today, there emerged reports out of syria that the assad regime may have used chemical weapons , a red line for this administration. what lessons did did you learn, did president bush learn, that you hope president obama takes into can account?

>> i think the lessons are really tough, you see, and very difficult. and i think the trouble is the lessons themselves are subject to great and heated debate. my view is that in the end the whole of the middle east and beyond is undergoing this period of huge transition where you have these dictatorial regimes whose time is up you. on the other hand, the battle for the future is between what i would call the modern minded types of people, the people who took to the streets first in egypt, who want what we want. but against them are various groups, islamist groups, that i'm afraid don't have the same concept, democracy or freedom that we do. and if any of them get hold of the potential to engage in mass destruction , we've got a huge problem on our hands.

>> and look what we're dealing with in the united states , the boston bombings, the prospect of home grown terror.

>> as we found in the uk.

>> britain has a lot of lessons to share about that.

>> no, are of course. and the fact is this ideology is being pumped around websites, is being encourage d by people in many different parts of the world. and it's there and it's very hard for us to deal with. the first obligation of a government that's trying to protect its people, but then you've got to cast out this ideology. i think this is very similar to the fight we faced in the 20th century against fascism and commu communi communism. it's an ideology. it's not one command and control center. you're not talking about a country, but you are talking about an ideology based on a possession of religion which has an enormous force. if you don't deal with this issue, this long-term question, ideology based on the religion of islam, you are going to end up fighting this for a long time.

>> you saw president bush up close as a man during very difficult times for any leader. talk about your relationship, what it was like to sit there today and this moment of finality even for a former president at the dedication of his library.

>> well, i thought it was a great advertisement for america today. you had five presidents including president obama , and all behaving with a sort of graciousness and civility towards each other i thought was fantastic. and president obama put his finger on it when he said it's impossible to know george bush and not like him. often people say to me back home, come on, you didn't like him really, did did you? i say, you can totally disagree with him but as a human being he is someone of immense character and genuine integrity. so, you know, you can say -- people have different views about decisions but there's very few people who don't like him and respect him as a person.

>> prime minister, thank you very much.

>> thank you.