Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is facing criticism back home for his decision to lead his nation into war in Iraq -- a decision Blair says he does not regret, even though weapons of mass destruction never were found after the 2003 invasion.
He sat down with "Good Morning America's" Ron Claiborne this week to talk about Iraq, as well as his second act as a Yale professor teaching a class on faith and globalization as part of his Tony Blair Faith Foundation.
Ron Claiborne: The U.S. and the U.K. went to war on the basis of the belief that there were weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam had them and could deploy them quickly, which turned out apparently not to be the case. Does that therefore invalidate having gone to war?
Tony Blair: For me, the question you're still left with is: Was Saddam a threat and was it right to remove him? When I look back on the years of the interaction between the international community and Saddam, the two wars that he began, the United Nations resolutions that were flouted ... when you look at that and you look at the destruction -- I mean the use, for example, of chemical weapons, whole villages wiped out in one day as a result of the use of chemical weapons against his own people -- my views, spending a lot of time out there in the region now, I think you can at least argue the case that the region is safer without him than with him.
Claiborne: But we went to war on the basis [of weapons of mass destruction].
Blair: And we've got to accept that that intelligence turned out to be wrong, and, that is obviously, a point that's not merely legitimate to make, it goes right to the heart of it. On the other hand, I think it's important then not to go to the other extreme and say, "Well this was someone who was basically not a danger and a source of instability in the region," because I believe that he was. And personally, I think there would always have been a time when you'd have to deal with him.
Claiborne: Is Tony Blair, speaking for bringing together of faiths, is there an inconsistency with someone who supported the war which in many cases created divisions between the Islamic world and the western world?
Blair: Well, there are some people who look at it like that -- although, funnily enough, I find out, particularly in the Middle East, the people who were suppressed under Saddam were themselves Muslim and were not allowed, if you were a Shia, in fact, to worship properly. I think that there is an appreciation also of the fact that a lot of the terrorism that we've seen, for example in Iraq or Afghanistan, is actually visited by other Muslims on Muslims. The first decision I took about war and peace was in respect to Kosovo, where we went to help Kosovo Albanians who were Muslim against a Christian orthodox government. As I say to people: It wasn't done because of religion, it was done because of what we thought was right and wrong.
Tony Blair's Legacy
Claiborne: At the end of the day, when the story of Tony Blair's life is written, no matter what your foundation and your efforts in bringing together faiths do, probably the headline will be: Tony Blair, who led the U.K. into the Iraq war and subsequently left power when he lost his popularity because the war was very unpopular in the U.K. Is that your legacy?
Blair: I think when people ask me about what's my legacy, what do you leave behind, I think you, a judgment over a period of time.
Claiborne: One hopes.
Blair: Well, I think actually that is what happens. I stand by the decisions that I took there. Likewise, in respect to the domestic political program, where also, of course, we made major changes in the U.K., and issues like Northern Ireland and so on. But I think there's something else as well, which is that, even after you leave office today-- I mean, I've been fortunate in a way to leave office young enough, and I've still got a lot of energy to create something new as well, and something for the future. People will speculate about what the legacy is, and I've not been out of office now even two-and-a-half years. So, I reckon there's a longer period of time to look at this, but I would say on Iraq that the question ultimately will be this: whether, when people look back, they see a country that has managed to achieve what its people actually want, which is to have a democratic form of government, or not. And if they have been able to do that, and I think the elections next year will be a very important part of that, then I believe that over time that these judgments will be slightly more nuanced in terms of how people see the plus and the minus.
'Professor Blair' -- Tony Blair's Second Act
Claiborne: Professor Tony Blair. Tell me what teaching is like, what the experience has been like, what it's like interacting with students.
Blair: I absolutely love it. I mean, I'm not sure how much they learn from me, but I learn a lot from them. And first of all, I think compared with our generation -- and I think you and I are about the same generation -- [I] find them so smart. I don't think my guys at Oxford were as smart as these young people here at Yale. I think they're really clever, really switched-on, and the questions they ask I find immensely stimulating. I mean, I have thought a lot about what I'm doing and the role of faith in the modern world as a result of the stimulus I've received from doing this teaching.
Claiborne: Faith and Globalization is the name of the course. Why did you want to teach a course in that? What is that class about?
Blair: My view after my time in politics is that the 21st century will not be about a battle of political ideology. These issues to do with left and right are important; we're still gonna have Republicans and Democrats and so on. But actually, the critical issues that could determine whether the 21st century is secure and peaceful, or divisive and violent, are issues to do with cultural or religious ideology. And so the purpose of what I'm doing with my foundation is to try and put forward a set of programs that lead us to explore the issues to do with the world of religious faith and globalization today and also create at a grassroots level through education programs the ability for people of different faiths to coexist peacefully with each other.
Claiborne: Well, as a practical matter, how do you achieve that? It is a noble goal, certainly, to bring people of different faiths together around their shared values, but too often it seems that they're being brought into conflict by believing that their faith is the true faith and anyone with another idea is the enemy or fool.
Blair: Absolutely. I mean this is the key question. So what are we trying to do, we're, doing three things. First of all, we have a program for education at a school level in different countries, where what I want to do is part of the religious, educational, cultural education. Kids in different countries of different faiths -- we use the Internet to link them up together, to do an interaction between them. So the other day I was participating in a class in Delhi, a class in the north of England and a class in Palestine. So you bring people together and they talk about their different faiths, how it moves and motivates their lives and so on. So educate-- I mean, this is just starting, as a program. We're now in 12 countries; we want to build it over time. But my view is if you want to deal with this extremism, education, as much as traditional issues to do with security, is the answer.
Tony Blair on Faith
Claiborne: In your 10 years as prime minister, to my knowledge, you didn't talk a lot about your faith, but clearly it is an important part of your life. Why did you not [talk about it] then?
Blair: I did talk about my faith, but our country's different from the U.S. in this sense. I mean, I always say to people, "You know, when the president ends a speech to the American people, they'll say, 'God bless America.'" You know, when I wanted to say, "God bless Britain," the system went, "You know, no, you can't say that."
Claiborne: But was your faith a factor? Did it inform your political judgments and decisions in any way?
Blair: Sometimes people say to me, "Well, did you take decisions of world peace, or did you believe in changing Britain in the way we changed it because of your faith?" No, that's not how my faith played a part. My faith did play a part though obviously in-- I mean it's part of who you are, if you're someone of religious faith, it's not incidental. It's part of what you believe in. And certainly, I found my faith a source of strength in different times. It's more that it helped provide a resilience and a strength when it came to taking difficult decisions.
Claiborne: One final question: Tony Blair, is he a happy man today? A happier man than when you were prime minister?
Blair: Happy is maybe not the right way to describe how I feel about my life either then or now. But if part of happiness is about a sense of purpose, then I have a huge sense of purpose. I had it when I was in office. I have it now. And I think the saddest thing about anyone's life is if they don't have that sense of purpose and that drive to fulfill that purpose. I feel more energetic and motivated and enthusiastic about what I'm going to do with my life now than I honestly think I've ever felt. So in that sense, yeah, I would say I'm very lucky to feel like that.