If they were looking for a mea culpa, the protestors and egg- and shoe-throwers who, on Saturday, greeted former British Prime Minister Tony Blair at his first public book signing will be sorely disappointed. In an exclusive interview on "This Week" with anchor Christiane Amanpour, an unrepentant Blair danced around questions of whether he had any regrets about Iraq.
"You can't not have regrets about the lives lost," Blair told Amanpour. "I mean, you would be inhuman if you didn't regret the death of so many extraordinary, brave and committed soldiers, of civilians that have died in Iraq, or die still now in Afghanistan. And of course you feel an enormous responsibility for that, not just regret," he said.
But Blair, whose memoir"A Journey: My Political Life" went on sale on Thursday, said he did not fully understand the depth and breadth or "tentacles" of Islamic fundamentalism that nearly tore Iraq apart. He now sees the fight as a long generational struggle akin to the West's fight against communism in the second half of the 20th century.
Blair said that before 9/11 he did not fully grasp "how deep this ideological movement is. ... [T]his is actually more like the phenomenon of revolutionary communism. It's the religious or cultural equivalent of it, and its roots are deep, its tentacles are long, and its narrative about Islam stretches far further than we think into even parts of mainstream opinion who abhor the extremism, but sort of buy some of the rhetoric that goes with it," Blair said.
"I think a lot of people don't understand that this is a generational-long struggle," he added.
Speaking about the threat of extremism in Afghanistan, he said that the "best way to look at this is, if you analyze it by analogy or reference to revolutionary communism, the fact is you wouldn't have said at any point in time when we were facing that threat, 'well, you're not telling us we're going to have to spend a few more years on this, are you?' People would have said, 'well, we'll spend as long as we need to spend, I'm afraid,' and that's just it."
Blair spoke with Amanpour in Washington, D.C., where he met with leaders from the Middle East and President Obama in his official capacity as a representative of the Quartet for Israel-Palestine.
Blair said that if he were still a "decision maker" he "wouldn't take the risk" of letting Iran acquire a nuclear weapons capability.
"So, what would you do?" Amanpour asked.
"I would tell them they can't have it, and if necessary, they will be confronted with stronger sanctions and diplomacy. But if that fails, I'm not taking any option off the table," he said.
"So, you see a military possibility against Iran?" Amanpour asked.
"I don't want to see it," Blair said, "but I think you cannot exclude it because the primary objective has got to be to prevent the nuclear weapon."
In his book, which weighs a hefty 700 pages, Blair wrote about former Vice President Dick Cheney: "He would have worked through the whole lot, Iraq, Syria, Iran dealing with all their surrogates in the course of it -- Hezbollah, Hamas, etc. In other words, he thought the world had to be made anew, and that after 11 September, it had to be done by force and with urgency. So he was for hard, hard power. No ifs, no buts, no maybes. We're coming after you, so change or be changed."
Amanpour asked him about his take on Cheney. Blair said the Vice President "was always absolutely hard-line on these things. ... His world view was that the world had to be remade after September the 11th," Blair told Amanpour.
"You can't dismiss that Cheney view and say that's stupid," he said. "It's not. It may require amendment, you may disagree with it but --"
"Is it possible?" Amanpour asked.
"It's possible over time with the right combination of hard and soft power, I think, to get to the point where nations that we regard or did regard as threats become allies," Blair continued. "But that is not always going to have a hard power solution it."
Some juicy excerpts from his book:
Blair on Bill Clinton's philandering: "I was…convinced that his behavior arose in part from his inordinate interest in and curiosity about people. In respect of men, it was expressed in friendship; in respect of women, there was potentially a sexual element."
Blair on Princess Diana: "[T]hough not, as I say, at all party political, she had a complete sense of what we were trying to achieve and why. I always used to say to Alastair [Campbell]: if she was ever in politics, even Clinton would have to watch out. She was also strong-willed, let us say, and was always going to her own way. I had the feeling she could fall out with you as easily as fall in with you. She knew the full range of the power of her presence and knew its ability to enthrall, and most often used it to do good; but there was also a wildness in her emotions that meant when anger or resentment were weaved together with that power, it could spell danger. I really liked her and, of course, was as big a sucker for a beautiful princess as the next man; but I was wary too."
Blair on the 2008 presidential election: "[I]t was John [McCain] who was articulating a foreign policy that could be called wildly idealistic, prepared to risk dissent and even conflict for the cause of freedom. Barack [Obama] was the supreme master of realism, cautioning an approach based on reaching out, arriving at compromises and striking deals to reduce tension."