'This Week' Transcript: Tony Blair

Plus, the 'This Week' roundtable.

September 5, 2010 —

AMANPOUR: Do you have regrets about Iraq?

BLAIR: You can't not have regrets about the lives lost. 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. And I say in the book the concept responsibility for me has its present and future tense, not just its past tense.

AMANPOUR: I guess no surprises. There's zero apologizing for what happened in Iraq. You stick to your contention about the weapons of mass destruction, and if it wasn't weapons of mass destruction, then you say at least the byproduct would be getting rid of Saddam Hussein, and wouldn't the world be a better place without him? But you also talk about not comprehending the complexities that were going to be unleashed in Iraq. What precisely?

BLAIR: What I think we understand more clearly now is -- and this is something I didn't understand fully at the time of 9/11 -- in a sense, at that point you think there were 3,000 people killed in the streets of New York in a single day. And I still think it's important just to hold that thought in our mind, because I always say about this, the important thing is, if these people could have killed 30,000 or 300,000, they would have.

And that really changed the calculus of risk all together. But what I understand less clearly at that time was how deep this ideological movement is. -- this 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.

AMANPOUR: In your book your wrote that this is not something to be combated on an electoral cycle, this will take a generation.

Do you think everybody gets it? I mean, you see President Obama now faced with drawing down in Iraq, faced with ramping up in Afghanistan, but still putting a deadline on. What sort of message does that send as to the commitment to fight this?

BLAIR: 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.

But in general terms, I think the answer to your question is no, I think a lot of people don't understand that this is a generational-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?

AMANPOUR: on Afghanistan in your book, you say, "What's happening is really simple. Our enemies think they can outlast us. Our enemies aren't alone in thinking that. Our friends do, too. Therefore, the ordinary folk think, I should make my peace with those who are staying, not with those who are going." I mean, I was there and I saw colonels and generals and soldiers and resources being deployed from Afghanistan to Iraq, and it had an impact.

BLAIR: I mean, I think there is an issue that is perfectly legitimate to talk about there.

AMANPOUR: Do you think the Americans took their eye off the ball there?

BLAIR: Well, I think people thought the thing was on a more benign trajectory than it turned out to be. I mean, that is the truth.

AMANPOUR: people were wrong

And I think, as I say, 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.

AMANPOUR: Given the focus on Afghanistan today wouldn't it have been better// to not have diverted billions of dollars, the amount of resources, the amount of attention to Iraq. You could have waited.

BLAIR: I think what I would say to that is, it's a difficult question to answer but supposing we'd left Saddam --

AMANPOUR: But you could have contained him that was my point

BLAIR: Yes, I know but this is the issue and I think it's a really important issue. I don't think we would have contained him.

AMANPOUR: Why not?

BLAIR: Because the sanctions were crumbling --

AMANPOUR: But they were crumbling before 9/11.

BLAIR: Exactly.

AMANPOUR: Right after 9/11, all the countries who you were trying to keep on board, people like China, Russia, the French, even the left-winged chatterati, they would much preferred sanctions and containment to invasion.

BLAIR: Absolutely. But if you analyze the resolutions on sanctions and I was involved in all this, what actually happened was that they got watered down.

So my point to you is very simple. If we hadn't taken out Saddam, there would have still been consequences. Now what they are, we don't know. I can say I think he would have been a threat competing with Iran and someone else might say to me, well, actually he would have just been contained. We don't know. But my view was in the circumstances after 9/11, you had to send such a strong signal out on this issue. And incidentally don't ignore what actually did then happen. Libya gave up its WMD program. You know, Iran went, actually at the time, after 2003, went back into talks. North Korea rejoined six-party talks. You know, there was a lot that happened. And I personally felt, and I still feel, incidentally, that the single biggest threat we face is the prospect of these terrorist groups acquiring some form of nuclear, chemical, biological capability.

AMANPOUR: Although many would say that that is a worst-case scenario, and it is speculation because there isn't really any evidence to support that --

BLAIR: No, here's the problem, Christiane. And it really is a problem. I don't know, and you don't know, and you're making a calculation of risk. And the thing is, when you're sitting in the hot seat of decision making, you've got to decide. Maybe if they got them, they'd never use them. But I don't think if I was a leader today and, certainly, this is the view I took as a leader then, I take the risk. that's the problem, that's where Iran is so difficult, you know? I had someone say to me just literally the other night, they said to me, come on, look, supposing Iran gets the nuclear weapon. it's not the end of the world I mean, Why should they want to use it? Why would they want to cause all that destruction?

Why would they - no. It's a perfectly sensible argument, you hear? And who knows they may be right. All I know is, if I was a decision maker, I wouldn't take the risk.

AMANPOUR: So, what would you do?

BLAIR: 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.

AMANPOUR: So, you see a military possibility against Iran?

BLAIR: I don't want to see it --

AMANPOUR: But you're saying it has to happen.

BLAIR: I - I don't want to see it, but I'm saying I think you cannot exclude it because the primary - the primary objective has got to be to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.

AMANPOUR: Talking the way you're talking reminds me of this passage in your book in the lead up to the Iraq war.

You talk about Vice President Cheney at the time, quote, "He would have worked through the whole lot, Iraq, Syria, Iran, dealing with all their surrogates in the course of it, Hezbollah, Hamas, et cetera. In other words, he thought the world had to be made anew and that after September 11th it had to be done by force and urgency." So, would he have gone through all that lot?

BLAIR: He didn't say that in those meetings but you know Dick was always absolutely hard-line on these things. I think he would openly avow this. His world view was that the world had to be remade after September the 11th. But you can't dismiss that Cheney view and say that's stupid. It's not. It may require amendment, you may disagree with it but --

AMANPOUR: Is it possible?

BLAIR: well... 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. But that is not always going to have a hard power solution it.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about your relationship with President Bush, many people thought that you wouldn't get on, precisely because of the difference of your politics.

BLAIR: We continue, obviously, to disagree on certain aspects of politics, like climate change or even the Middle East peace process from time to time. And I'm a Democrat, not a Republican. But on the central question after September 11th, of security, we were in agreement.

AMANPOUR: You say: "George W. Bush was very smart. He had an immense simplicity in how he saw the world. Right or wrong, it led to decisive leadership."

BLAIR: Yes, it -- it did. And I -- I think, you know, it's easy to mock that simplicity. And it's easy to ignore the strength that sometimes comes with that. And 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.

AMANPOUR: Let's move on to Bill Clinton. You describe President Bill Clinton as your political soul mate. Why is that?

BLAIR: I think he was one of the first people really to understand, to articulate how progressive politics couldn't be a rainbow collation, that you had to stand up and be connected with people, not activists, simply.

AMANPOUR: And you say he was one of the smartest political minds you ever came across?

BLAIR: Oh, he's phenomenally smart. I think the smartest politician I ever came across, yes, I would say, Bill Clinton, yes.

AMANPOUR: You obviously had also a lot of dealings with him at the height of the troubles when he was involved in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, there was the impeachment. How did you see him get through his political life at that point?

BLAIR : By the most extraordinary strength of character. I mean, I came across him in some of the worst parts of all them impeachment business. And his ability somehow to kind of refocus on the job and get it done. I remember sitting there thinking I could not do that if all that was going on around me. I just couldn't do it. But he did.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about your view of why he got himself into this situation.

"I was also convinced that his behavior arose in part from him 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."

His curiosity led to that?

BLAIR: Look, I think probably what I wrote is what I wrote. I think if I try explaining it I'll get into difficulty. I think that there are people who are -- part of his genius of a politician is he is extraordinarily curious about people.

AMANPOUR: you do address the issue of sex and politicians. You basically say, you know, in terms of why they take this risk.


AMANPOUR: You say, "My theory is it's precisely because of the supreme self control that you have to exercise to be at the top. Politicians live with pressure... " Et cetera. So?

BLAIR: So that's what you do, really?

AMANPOUR: What, go and have affairs?

BLAIR: No. You live with pressure.

AMANPOUR: No. And then you say, "your free bird instincts want to spring you from the prison of self control. Then there's the moment of encounter. So exciting, so naughty, so lacking in self control."

BLAIR: Yes. So I'm trying to say -- it's one of the things you come across when you're a political leader obviously that you see people you hope you never get mixed up in some of that. But you see that situation develop.

People today want to know so much more about their politicians. If they do they've got to understand they're also human beings and you've got to be somewhat forgiving therefore of the human frailty. I think. That's my view.

AMANPOUR: You talk about the human frailty of alcohol, as well. You say the relationship between alcohol and prime ministers is a subject for a book all on its own.


AMANPOUR: What was your relationship with alcohol?

BLAIR: well, It's a good question. I started to write about it in the book, thought about it, actually. You've got to be careful writing about these things.

AMANPOUR: but was it a prop for you...did it become a prop for you? You talk about a stiff whiskey or a gin and tonic before dinner. A couple of glasses of wine.....Not excessively excessive. I had a limit but I was aware that it had become a prop.

BLAIR: Yes you've got to be careful of it becoming a problem. At some points it can be. now I was never quite sure, because sometimes it's a relaxation at the end of the day and.... this year for the first time, my wife's been on me to do this for ages, I gave it up for lent. so went for the six weeks without it. It was interesting. (laughs)

AMANPOUR: you talk about Cherie, your wife, giving you support and soothing you. You say: "On that night, the 12th of May, 1994, I needed that love that Cherie gave me selfishly. I devoured it to give me strength. I was an animal following my instinct, knowing that I would need every ounce of emotional power and resilience."

BLAIR: Yes, I'm going to blush now

AMANPOUR: It's a bit racy, that, yes?

BLAIR: Yes, I'm going to blush now so...you write these passages and they stay in. And then when you read them in the cold light of day, you think hmm. Should I really have written that in that way? but anyway.....

AMANPOUR: I'm struck by so much of the tone of the book, you sort of going from kind of gung ho courageous bravado to really gut wrenching fear because you had this amazing passage about prime minister's questions:

"the Prime minister knows I was given no sight of that dossier I wasn't even contacted, so he can retract that for a start. (cheers)

"PMQs was the most nerve-wracking, discombobulating, nail-biting, bowel-moving, terror inspiring, courage-draining experience in my prime ministerial life, without question."

BLAIR: It was terrifying, absolutely terrifying. In fact, one of the funny things is when people in the -- the U.S. often say to me, you know, don't you miss prime minister's questions? And miss prime minister's -- it's like asking a guy, you know, who's been on the rack for 10 years whether he'd like a stretch....

AMANPOUR: How did you get over it?

BLAIR: I ended up understanding it was also a physical exercise this prime ministers questions so I -- I used to eat differently and take a banana to give me energy before going in. And you have to confront what is the fear. And the fear is -- the fear, in the end, is being made to look completely ridiculous, which is a very human fear.

AMANPOUR: Do you still feel it at that time every week?

BLAIR: Absolutely. Every week at three minutes to 12 on a Wednesday, wherever I am in the world, there is a chill that comes upon me. It hasn't left yet.

AMANPOUR: Shortly after you became prime minister, you met Princess Diana. what did you think of her?

BLAIR: She was an extraordinarily, engaging, amazing, beautiful, iconic figure.

AMANPOUR: you said that Buckingham Palace sort of saw her as a threat.

BLAIR: Well, they admired her, but she was such a -- in one sense she was such a different type of person that for a very traditional monarchy, this was a -- you know, as I say, it was a kind of meteor coming into what had been a fairly well disciplined, well ordered ecosystem. And -- and that obviously had a big impact on her with big consequence.

AMANPOUR: And when she died, that created a whole another set of -- of realities. You called her the people's princess and you also had to kind of get the queen and Buckingham palace to understand there was a huge wave sweeping the country

BLAIR: People felt an enormous sense of loss. And so I think what was very important was -- was for the monarchy to be able to, at that sort of supreme point of difficulty, to just pivot somewhat and come to a -- an understanding with the people, where they reached out and accepted that there was that -- that strength of emotion.

(QUEEN) "I for one believe there are lessons to be drawn from her life and from the extraordinary and moving reaction to her death.."

And, in the end, the queen did that, I think, magnificently, actually and did it with a pretty flawless instinct in fact. but it was difficult for me because I was a new prime minister and I didn't really know the queen.

AMANPOUR: You talk about going up to, I think, Balmoral in Scotland, have the annual royal barbeque. The queen was actually there stacking dishes?

BLAIR: there's an annual event, which is the prime minister goes and spends a weekend with the queen at Balmoral the procedure there is that the cooking and the cleaning up is done by the royal family itself. So you have a slightly odd situation where you're sitting there and you're obviously very nervous around the queen, who you've grown up with and so on. And -- and Prince Philip is doing the cooking and the queen is stacking the plates and doing the washing up. It's a slightly unnerving experience, actually. But it was -- I mean they do it very graciously in a really lovely way.

AMANPOUR: Well, on that note...

BLAIR: Yes. Well, thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: Thank you, Tony Blair, for joining us.

BLAIR: Thank you.



OBAMA: No one can doubt President Obama's support for our troops or his love of country and commitment to our security.

MCCAIN: What he should have said, "I opposed the surge. I was wrong."

BOEHNER: Some leaders who opposed, criticized, and fought tooth and nail to stop the surge strategy now proudly claims credit for the results.

BIDEN: If John Boehner or anybody else wants to say the surge did this, fine. Fine. The fact of the matter is, we're not there yet.


AMANPOUR: The debate on Iraq, one of the foreign policy topics we'll get to on the roundtable this morning with George Will, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, Mary Jordan, editor and former London bureau chief of the Washington Post, and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.

Welcome to you all.

And, of course, while the president did spend a lot of this last week on foreign policy, he's going to be turning to domestic policy and, most notably, the economy in this coming week. So let me start. He's going to have a big speech in Cleveland on Wednesday. What does he have to say, George?

WILL: Well, he has to say that things are going to get better fast, but he can't plausibly say that. In December 2007, when the recession began, at that point to now, Americans have lost about $10 trillion of net household wealth because of the housing values and 401(k)s and all the rest.

Furthermore, they had at that point -- they were very highly leveraged. They had $2.6 trillion of household consumer debt. Now it's only down to $2.4 trillion, which means they're still slowly shedding debt.

Furthermore, only 25 percent of Americans tell people that they think their income will be better next year than this year. All of these add up to the reasons why they're not spending and why, therefore, corporations are sitting on a sum of money twice as large as the stimulus.

AMANPOUR: Before I get to -- go ahead, Paul.

KRUGMAN: No, I mean, this is -- this has the feeling of a nightmare, something that you saw coming. Back in January '09, when Obama was first announcing his plans, a number of us said, you know, this is not commensurate with the scale of the crisis. It is, in fact, as bad as George said.

And what's going to happen is that this is going to bring some improvement, but then it's going to fade out in the middle of 2010. And instead of saying, well, we need more, the public is going to say, "Well, that didn't work." And so you're going to lose all of your ability to move forward.

They haven't helped by pretending up until just about a month ago that it was all working, that it was all on track. And so he's in a very difficult position. He really needs to somehow stake out a position saying, look, there are things we can do. Those other guys, the other party, are standing in the way of it. I don't have any faith he's going to do that.

JORDAN: I think they did oversell their position about how quickly things would get better. So he's got to go in there and say, look, we're on a path, and we are going to get better. And remember, folks, that 1982, when Reagan just started out, it was exactly the same point. He was two years into his term. The unemployment was well over 10 percent, and it did come out of it.

So, I mean, this was a big crisis. And it's going to take time.

FRIEDMAN: Clearly, you know, Christiane, there are these immediate issues of stimulus, tax cut, what do we do to get more people working? But there's also some huge structural ones.

You know, we are at a moment -- excuse me -- of two inflection points, one where globalization has never been more intense, walls coming down, economies integrated, and at the same time, technology rapidly churning old jobs and creating new jobs at the same time faster than ever.

So you're at a moment where you need more education than ever to get those good jobs and more people around the world can compete for those good jobs. And, you know, certainly what Paul and George have said, we need more stimulus, whatever mechanism we do.

But we have a structural problem here that I think the president is also going to have to address and face.

KRUGMAN: Yes, I just -- can I say, we are fully into the trap. Whenever you have a severe recession, people start saying, "Well, this is structural. It's going to be a long time. You can't cure it." What we need is more demand.

I've been -- I've been looking at polling (inaudible) from 1938. This actually kind of resembles 1938, when -- when FDR cut back too soon, and the economy went back to recession. People were deeply pessimistic. They said it's never going to recover, it's going to last for a decade or more, that, you know, just more demand won't do it, budget deficits are -- we need to cut that budget deficit.

Then we were, in a way, very fortunate. The war came along and took off all the restraints and we had a recovery and it was not structural. We just didn't have enough demand.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you sort of the atmospherics, which actually possibly go to the heart of the matter, as well. You talked about what was going on during Ronald Reagan's time at a similar point in his presidency, but at that time -- and people are writing about -- writing about now, they point to Ronald Reagan using his presence, boosting the optimism of the American people, talking about American exceptionalism, and getting the economy back.

Is there sort of a disconnect between what the president has done and how he's sort of affecting the mood of the people?

WILL: I don't think this is a communication problem. Parties in power that start having trouble, they say, "Nothing's wrong with our message. We just need to be more articulate about it."

I think the country has decided about this president that they were -- betrayed may be too strong, but somehow deceived. They didn't think they voted for this. And that's why they have, in a sense, tuned out.

Combined with his strategy of communication, which is to have no strategy at all. Strategy means you do some things and not other things. You have priorities. He is in the country's face all the time talking, and people have been...


JORDAN: But I think they -- I think people don't know what "this" is yet from this president.


JORDAN: And that's the uncertainty. And that's why there's no demand. People are not spending. And that's why people -- businesses don't want to hire. It's the uncertainty.

KRUGMAN: I've -- I totally disagree with all of that. People are not -- businesses are not hiring because there's no demand. There's no demand because consumers took an enormous hit. This is not a problem that's a problem of lack of confidence. This is a problem of fundamentally things are bad, there's too much debt, you need to give the economy a boost so that people can get out of that.

But what is true on all of this is that Obama has had no vision. He has not articulated a philosophy. What is Obama's philosophy of government? He wobbles between sounding kind of like a liberal. Then he says, well, the conservatives have some points, too. He concedes the message.

There's never been anything like what Reagan did, which was to say, "We've been on the wrong track. We're going to follow a very different track. That's going to change things. You need to, you know, support us in this."

AMANPOUR: Can I just ask you? Because some commentators, some articles were writing about the figures this week, the unemployment figures, which were slightly less bad than people expected, and they say that the word of the week should be, A, reassuring on that, and also that the figures show that, in fact, there won't be a double-dip recession, which everybody was predicting last week there would be.

KRUGMAN: It's a -- my basic reaction is, who cares? You know, if unemployment rises, who cares if we technically have a second recession? It doesn't really matter for the -- for the people. It doesn't matter for -- for the politics even, right?

So in a way, I'm in the camp that says that that, you know, less bad, things getting worse more slowly than expected was actually a bad thing, because it removes some of the urgency about doing something.

AMANPOUR: Let me pull this -- put this poll up on the economy. Basically, they were asked, do you think Democrats or Republicans in Congress would do a better job of dealing with the economy? And 38 percent said the Democrats, 49 percent said the Republicans.

Question is, let's say -- and now people are saying they could lose the House and, indeed, the Senate -- what would that economic plan be? What is the articulation of that?

FRIEDMAN: I think one of the sad things about -- in polls like that for me, Christiane, is that, you know, I wouldn't mind if the Republicans were winning because they had a better idea there. But, I mean, to me, the two ideas I hear is that the stimulus didn't work that we've done so far, the $787 billion. I think that's false. It clearly did create what Paul is talking about, some more demand, maybe insufficient.

And, secondly, you know, it just doesn't seem to me the Republicans have some -- to say we need just tax cuts, OK, that's going to solve everything, to talk about tax cuts without talking about long-term offsetting budget cuts, what you're going to cut by way of services, not being honest about that -- well, a tax cut without offsetting budget cuts is -- is nothing more than passing on more debt to the future. So don't tell me they're winning with a better plan.

KRUGMAN: The Republicans are deeply unserious here. They want to cut taxes. They say they're against deficits. They have no plan for offsetting spending cuts. They have no -- no plan to make this work and certainly no plan to get the economy moving again. You know, they're just not serious.

WILL: Well, they would disagree. They would say that they have a serious plan, that people like Paul Ryan and others -- I know you're down on Paul Ryan...

KRUGMAN: Yes, indeed.

WILL: ... but not all of the people who disagree with you are fools or knaves or foolish knaves. He has a -- he's a serious man with a serious plan.

JORDAN: Well, the fact that the Republicans are going to do so well, really, it's just the history. The president's party always gets shellacked in midterms. It's only twice, 1934 and 2002, that the president's party actually gained in both the House and the Senate.

WILL: But it's worse than that, because the Republicans start from a historic trough right now, having just suffered two wave elections, a wave election being one in which a party loses 20 or more seats in the House.

AMANPOUR: Let's go to this generic ballot, since this is affecting politics, obviously. There is a preference among registered voters for Democratic candidate 41 percent, the Republican candidate 51 percent, and that seems to be a huge sort of gap for the first time.

WILL: It's worse than that, because as you say, that's a poll among registered voters. If they had filtered -- and they know how to do this -- for likely voters, they think it would have been a 14-point spread. The 10-point spread is the record that Gallup has had in 40 years of polling midterms.

FRIEDMAN: You know, Walter Shapiro had a column the other day which I think made a good point. Look, I'm for more health care. I'm glad we've extended it to more Americans. But the fact is, there is a real, I think, argument for the case that Obama completely over-read his mandate when he came in.

He was elected to get rid of one man's job, George Bush, and get the rest of us jobs. I think that was the poor thing. And by starting with health care and not making his first year the year of innovation, expanding economy and expanding jobs, you know, I think, looking back, that was a political mistake.


JORDAN: So what does he have to do -- what does he have to know now...


JORDAN: ... one-term president?

KRUGMAN: He needs now to say it's the other guys who are blocking action. He needs to lay out a philosophy. I'm not sure if there's any way he can save the House, but if he can, he can do it not by actually changing the economy in the few weeks remaining, but by -- by making this an issue. Do you really want these guys' economic plan? And then he's campaigned for it.

I don't -- by the way, you know, the first thing he did was the stimulus, was not health care. He did -- and -- but the -- the fatal thing was, A, it was too small, and, B, they kept on claiming that it was -- it was just right way -- you know, until about a month ago, they were claiming it was just right, nothing more needed to be done.

AMANPOUR: So let me go to something quite extraordinary. On the Politico blog, "The Playbook" by Mike Allen, he actually singles out not even a column that's out now, but one that's coming out in a couple of days in the Washington Post by Richard Cohen, who talks about President Obama in terms of the incredible shrinking president. You remember that, you know, in the '90s, there was that famous Time magazine cover about Bill Clinton at about the same time, in terms of midterm elections.

He said the folks who ran a very smart presidential campaign in '08 have left the defining of the Obama presidency to people on the edge of insanity. But then he goes on to talk about his Oval Office address this week about Iraq, about turning to Afghanistan and the economy.

And he says, "It was only his second Oval Office address, and so great importance was attached to it. He should have had something momentous to say." Is that fair?

FRIEDMAN: I think it is fair. You know, one of the criticisms certainly I've had -- and many others have had -- this is not, I think, original -- there's been no narrative to this administration. To me, I think Barack Obama was elected for one thing, which I'm not sure he ever fully understood, to do nation-building at home, to do nation-building in America.

To me, it was a central tent pole. Under that was health care, jobs, you know, economy, innovation, education, energy, OK? He's never tied it together, it seems to me, under one single narrative. And then, therefore, he's fought each issue against a different constituency.

There's never been a unifying message. I've worked here since 1989. I personally -- just as a reporter, a columnist in Washington -- have never seen a worse communicating administration, just at the basic, technical level of, "Hey, we've got a good plan. You know, maybe someone out there would be interested in writing about it," not since I've been to Washington.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about your area of -- of investigation, which is a lot of foreign policy, particularly the Middle East peace process. They did have something to show today, or rather this week, and I'm going to put up some of what the principals said when President Obama convened, the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.


NETANYAHU: I see in you a partner for peace. Together we can lead our people to a historic future that can put an end to claims and to conflict.

ABBAS: We call on the Israeli government to move forward with its commitment to end all settlement activity and completely lift the embargo over the Gaza Strip and end all form of incitement.


AMANPOUR: So, Tom Friedman, is this real hope? Is something different this time than all the previous times?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I've been around this track so many times. Here's what strikes me about this moment, if you look at the commentary about everyone's basically saying, "Been there, done that, not possible." And my attitude is, you know what? Let's let this story breathe.

I think there's -- there are some new things here that just -- I make no predictions whatsoever.

AMANPOUR: But the president's involvement at such an early stage of his -- of his presidency is different than the previous president.

FRIEDMAN: Yes, I don't think that's the decisive thing, though, because I think there's -- the things that are important, I think Netanyahu is more serious. That's what he strikes me. He's come out for a two-state solution. He did do a moratorium freeze on settlements. We don't know if it's going to continue. But those are important.

AMANPOUR: Don't you think that's the key indicator...


AMANPOUR: ... in three weeks from now, when that moratorium is maybe lifted...

FRIEDMAN: We'll see if they can finesse that, you know, some way or another. Second, you have a rebuilt Palestinian security force in the West Bank that the Israeli army will tell you, these guys are serious.

There -- we had an incident right in the middle of these peace talks, four settlers in the West Bank murdered, one pregnant woman, OK? Normally that would have blown up everything. Everyone would have walked away. It didn't this time.

So you have an Arab world that's obsessed with Iran, OK? And so you have a natural Sunni-Israel alliance building. So all I'm saying is, let is breathe. Don't be smarter than the story. I make no predictions, but we could be surprised.

JORDAN: But Israel, too -- don't you think that their number-one enemy one or their number-one concern is Iran? And they would be happy to make peace with Palestine more than they have in the future just so they can focus on Iran?

FRIEDMAN: (inaudible) you know, the structural problem we have now is both Israelis and Palestinians are going to have to have a civil war to get this thing over the -- you know...

AMANPOUR: Literally?

FRIEDMAN: Well, something close to it. You have 300,000 settlers in the West Bank. If a deal to swap land and whatnot makes 80 percent of those settlers part of Israel, you're still dealing with 60,000 people. Remember, it took Israel 55,000 soldiers to evacuate 8,100 Jews from Gaza, which was not part of the land of Israel. Ditto the Palestinians. Hamas now has its own state, OK? And they are going to fight this tooth and nail.

So -- but I'm just saying, let it breathe, you know? I think Netanyahu is in an interesting place. I think Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, is, the Arab world is. I'm going to sit back and pop popcorn, put up my feet, watch this, hope for the best, make no predictions.

AMANPOUR: Well, and Hillary Clinton's -- in rather an extraordinary joint interview with both Palestinian and Israeli journalists said that this would be the last chance for a very, very long time.

But, also, let's go back to President Obama's Oval Office address in where he talked about the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Let's listen to that.

Well, we were just -- we were just looking for that, where he's basically said that he's announcing the end of the Iraqi combat mission in -- in the -- the U.S. combat mission in Iraq. People are concerned that there's still not a government there, that there's potential vacuum being created. What do you think the legacy of that will be?

WILL: Well, the -- the basic rule for presidents and for everyone else is, don't speak unless you can improve the silence. And I don't think he improved the silence with this, because what he said was, well, we're done with Iraq.

The trouble is, Iraq can't -- what, five minutes -- five months on, doesn't have a government. Now, we went through this when -- when our party system emerged, first with the 1880 election, took us 36 votes in the House of Representatives to pick Jefferson as president over Aaron Burr. So new nations have these problems, but this is a nation without Madison, Jefferson, Marshall, Hamilton, Washington, people like that.

AMANPOUR: We've brought up Iran in the discussion, and also Tony Blair brought up Iran and its nuclear program, basically, I thought, with quite a hard line on what it would take to confront and prevent Iran from the worst-case scenario. People seemed to me, both the White House and elsewhere, sort of pedaling back on any kind of military solution to what's happening in Iran. Do you think that that could...

FRIEDMAN: You know, there was a very interesting debate that happened in Iran this week, where Ahmadinejad, the president, did -- there was al-Quds Day, annual celebration about Jerusalem and solidarity and whatnot, and there was a whole movement inside Iran that said, "Knock off the al-Quds stuff. Let's talk about our country, what's broken here. Stop trying to distract the Iranian people."

This was inside Iran. This was loud. These were his opponents. I believe Iran as a regime, like the Soviet Union, totalitarian regimes like this are totalitarian, they break from the top. And I don't know when or how, but this one's not going to be broken from the outside. If it breaks, it'll break from the top.


KRUGMAN: ... this is not 2003. People in this country, people are -- you know, the public no longer believes that drop a few bombs, shock and awe, and we can remake the world in -- in our image. So I think there's -- people are just not willing to cede this.

WILL: I think a race is on. I -- I believe that you cannot have totalitarianism, as classically understood, autarky imposed on the mind of a country in an age of cell phones, the Internet, satellite dishes, and all the rest.

So regime change, I think, is coming to Iran. The question is, there's a clock ticking. And the Israelis are not going to wait on regime change to save them from a nuclear weapon, if it takes five years.

AMANPOUR: Well, the -- the administration seems to think that its peace efforts towards -- you know, to get the Israelis and the Palestinians together are actually being more accepted and more welcomed by Israel because of the way it's dealing with Iran. What are you getting from the Israeli side on that?

WILL: Well, I think they're prepared to cut the administration some slack and move as far as they can in this way on the assumption that, A, that these sanctions, which are more severe than they had thought they would get, are going to work and, if not, that they would have a partner in attacking Iran. But they will attack Iran, if that is the option.

JORDAN: But I do think that it's not just in -- in the White House and in America, but around the world, that they know America is very war-weary. You know, a servicemen and women have served now, Americans, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and people are really tired. There is fatigue of war.

So even though they're saying, you know, all options are on the table in Iran, everybody kind of knows that it's...


AMANPOUR: And for years you were bureau chief in London. You've traveled all over the world. Sitting in Europe, Japan, India, all the places where you've been, what does -- what do you think people are looking at as the potential of another U.S....

JORDAN: I think that they're a little disappointed in Obama. Remember when he was elected that there were spontaneous parties in Africa, in Europe, and in Asia. They couldn't believe, they were so excited about America's ability to -- to turn from George W. Bush to Barack Hussein Obama. And they -- they were jumping up and down. They thought he would be an intellectual, somebody that would grab foreign policy, and they feel neglected.

AMANPOUR: You wrote a column -- and yours has come out today -- super-broke, super-frugal superpower, bringing this whole economy back to the issue of -- of foreign policy. And you said, you think the world had too much American power? We'll see what it's going to be without it, because it's coming to a geopolitical theater near you. What do you mean?

FRIEDMAN: The column, Christiane, was about a book Professor Michael Mandelbaum's written called "The Frugal Superpower," and it basically argues that, for all the economic reasons we're talking about, that foreign policy is a lagging indicator, basically, foreign and defense policy.

That is, the economy keeps remaining weak. Eventually, that will reflect in our ability to project power around the world.

Now, when Great Britain receded as a superpower, the provider of global public goods and global governance, we, the United States, were there to pick up right, you know, all the pieces and all the power. There is no one behind us, not a China, not a Russia, not an E.U. And so it's going to make for probably a more dangerous and destabled world.

AMANPOUR: And if America pulls back -- do you think it's going to pull back from interventions?

FRIEDMAN: I don't know when -- I don't know how. But one thing for sure is that we are going to go -- we have to decide what is desirable and what is vital. And on Afghanistan, maybe desirable, but is it really vital?

AMANPOUR: What does that say to the American people who -- who like their exceptionalism and like their optimism and being part of leading the world?

WILL: Exceptionalism and optimism has never historically been tied really with remaking the world, particularly in places like Afghanistan. The second-in-command in Afghanistan, General Rodriguez, was asked this week when the December re-evaluation of Afghan policy comes up, will you be able to mark significant progress? He said progress, but he flinched from the word "significant."

Mr. Gates, Secretary Gates, says the American people have to know that we will not be fighting here in 15 years, not 15 months, 15 years. That's not good enough.

AMANPOUR: Thank you all so much. And the roundtable continues in the green room at abcnews.com/thisweek, where you can find our fact checks in conjunction with PolitiFact and our reporter's notebook stories from around the world from our ABC correspondents.