Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair


Former British prime minister Tony Blair came as close as he could to endorsing Hillary Clinton for president without actually doing it.

At a Reuters talk on Tuesday morning at Microsoft in Times Square, Blair emphasized what he called America’s “destiny” of leadership, not isolationism, before addressing the presidential race here and the consequences of a potential Donald Trump presidency.

“The world needs an America that is engaged in the world. If America starts to close itself off from the world — if it engages in policies that are going to alienate it, its essential allies — it’s a huge problem not just for you but for us,” Blair said. “Rather than say anything about Mr. Trump, I would just say this about Hillary Clinton, because, I have known Hillary for over 20 years. I’ve worked with her very closely when she was Secretary of State. I was the person from the international community working on the Middle East peace process. She is someone in my view who I personally would trust completely. I think she has enormous wisdom, common sense and integrity. Whatever you vote in your election is up to you, but if you want to hear from someone who has worked with her closely over a number of years, this is someone I respect and admire greatly on the basis of experience and not on the basis of what I’ve read.”

The conversation, which was led by Reuters editor-at-large Sir Harry Evans, explored a variety of topics including American politics, Brexit, the Middle East and ISIS.

Since Blair resigned as prime minister in 2007, he has been spending more time in the Middle East working for his foundation, and that experience has cemented his thinking on what he calls “Islamic extremism.”

“When you stop being prime minister, it’s amazing how much you learn,” Blair said, before turning to extremism. “Its roots are deep…it has grown up over a significant period of time.”

He cited a handful of examples, including the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and the storming of Mecca afterward in Saudi Arabia. The former prime minister said the decades-old ideology isn’t reflective of the religion but nonetheless, requires a strategy, which entails generational struggle and allies to overcome it.

“If you don’t defeat the ideology, you will always have the violence,” he said, adding “we will defeat ISIS in the end.”

Evans pointed out that Blair’s controversial Middle East policies as prime minister — particularly his decision to back the American invasion of Iraq, which is still under investigation in the U.K. — are partially blamed for permitting ISIS to come to power, to which Blair said: “I think it’s a big mistake to see ourselves as having caused this phenomenon.”

Blair then spoke broadly about political ideology in politics in the Western world, noting that the divide he sees is less about left versus right, and more about “open versus closed” ideologies.

That extends to Blair’s own country, where its citizens voted to exit the European Union, as well as a line of thinking that is anti-immigrant.

Evans turned to the role of social media in today’s political climate and journalism, noting: “There are no gatekeepers anymore.” Evans offered the example of Twitter, and how it gives way to “echo our own prejudices or falsehoods.”

“The middle ground doesn’t seem to exist,” the editor said.

Blair agreed, offering that in the U.K., there is a fragmentation of the media with it skewing either left or right.

Democracy, he said, isn’t just about voting.

“Democracy is also about content. It’s about information. It’s about debate. It’s about how do you create a conversation amongst the public at which people hear the other person’s point of view,” Blair said. “This is much, much more difficult today. The tyranny of the Twitter feed is a big problem for political leaders.”

He continued: “At the very time when this is making leadership more difficult, I think the public actually does want leadership. It wants leaders who are prepared to stand up.”

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