Tony Blair defends Iraq invasion and praises Bush's 'simplicity'

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on ABC's This Week restated his belief that the West is locked in a generational struggle with radical Islam. He warned that the public has yet to grasp what that means, even though he declined to criticize President Obama's decision to set a timeline for the war in Afghanistan.


"I think it's perfectly sensible to set the deadline, provided it's clear that, as it were, that is to get everyone focused on getting the job done," Blair said. "But in general terms ... I think a lot of people don't understand that this is a generation- long struggle. And I think one of the things we've got to have and one of the debates we've got to have in the West is, you know, are we prepared for that? And are we prepared for the consequences of it?"

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The wide-ranging interview touched upon many other themes - Blair's relations with Bill Clinton, alcohol and politicians, Princess Diana and the royal family. But the war on Iraq remains the most controversial aspect of Blair's leadership from 1997 to 2007.

As in his new memoir, "A Journey," Blair regretted the loss of life in the war but made no apologies for the decision to invade Iraq.

He said that after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, leaders in the U.S. and Great Britain realized that terrorists would have killed 30,000 or 300,000, if they could have.

"I personally felt -- and I still feel, incidentally -- the single biggest threat we face is the prospect of these terrorist groups acquiring some form of nuclear, chemical, biological capability," he said.

While acknowledging that there's no way to be certain of others' intentions, he said he and President George W. Bush had to make new risk assessments after the attacks.

"In the circumstances after 9/11, you had to send such a strong signal out on this issue," he said.

For the same reason, he said the West should keep all options on the table when trying to get Iran to curtail its nuclear ambitions.

"I don't want to see (a military option), but I'm saying you cannot exclude it."

Blair also praised the former U.S. administration. He said George W. Bush possessed a "simplicity" that enabled decisive leadership.

"A decision like the surge in Iraq, you know, I can't think of many people who would have had the courage to take that decision in the way that he did."

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