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Brzezinski and Mead on Tony Blair

March 20, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Now, a look at Tony Blair; the British prime minister addressed his nation tonight on television. Here’s part of what he said.

TONY BLAIR: I know this course of action has produced deep divisions of opinion in our country, but I know also the British people will now be united in sending our armed forces our thoughts and prayers. They are the finest in the world, and their families and all of Britain can have great pride in them. The threat to Britain today is not that of my father’s generation. War between the big powers is unlikely, Europe is at peace, the Cold War already a memory. But this new world faces a new threat of disorder and chaos, born either of brutal states like Iraq, armed with weapons of mass destruction, or of extreme terrorist groups. Both hate our way of life, our freedom, our democracy.

My fear, deeply held, based in part on the intelligence that I see, is that these threats come together and deliver catastrophe to our country and our world. These tyrannical states do not care for the sanctity of human life. The terrorists delight in destroying it. Some say if we act, we become a target.

The truth is, all nations are targets. Bali was never on the frontline of action against terrorism. America didn’t attack al-Qaida; they attacked America. Britain has never been a nation to hide at the back, but even if we were, it wouldn’t avail us. Should terrorists attain these weapons now being manufactured and traded around the world, the carnage they could inflict to our economies, our security, to world peace would be beyond our most vivid imagination.

So our choice is clear: Back down and leave Saddam hugely strengthened, or proceed to disarm him by force. Retreat might give us a moment of respite, but years of repentance at our weakness would, I believe, follow. It is true Saddam is not the only threat, but it is true also, as we British know, that the best way to deal with future threats peacefully is to deal with present threats with resolve.

JIM LEHRER: And again to Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser during the Carter administration; and Walter Russell Mead, senior fellow for foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

How do you feel about Tony Blair’s performance during the run-up to war and now that we’re there?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well, first of all, I was quite struck by the trivial background to his appearance, that cheap little lamp with the lamp shade and the door to that closet. But more seriously -

JIM LEHRER: Something — you expected something more majestic from the prime minister of…

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: More majestic from the prime minister for Her Majesty. I think he made a powerful case for the doctrine of prevention, much better than the president has made. And that was the major theme. But speaking more to the crisis itself, his role here, I think, has been essentially twofold. First of all, he really worked Pres. Bush over to go to the U.N. and to try to put it in an international context, which would make the action more palatable. That didn’t work out but that was his major contribution. And secondly, he has reminded Pres. Bush just days ago that we need to address the Arab-Israeli– the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the president’s commitment to unfold the road map presumably in the next two tore three days is the direct consequence of Blair’s injection of a wider political perspective on this military action.

JIM LEHRER: How do you see Blair’s role?

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Well, it was a terrific speech. I think if George III might have been that good, we might not have had a revolution over here. I really see Blair, his role in this crisis is part of a larger political project that’s really enormously important for Britain, which is that sort of in Britain’s heyday as a world power, there was a British liberal party that was the center of British free market economics and also of idealistic hopes for a better world. And this liberal party, which is really where Winston Churchill spent a lot of his career, when it collapsed, he moved to the Tories, tried to reconcile power and right in a way that really left a powerful impression on the world, and actually Woodrow Wilson was a great admirer of Gladstone in this tradition. Blair is trying to remake the British Labor Party, which has its roots as a working class socialist party, into a new version of this old liberal party that can then reassert British moral and political leadership in the world. This task this, war, is a crisis a real test of that vision. And I think so far, Blair has done an absolutely amazing job of carrying it through.

JIM LEHRER: Do you see it the same way in the larger picture?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Yes, I would agree with that. And I think he realizes if Britain is to play a major role in the world, it can only do so as an extension of American power, so he is willing to make adjustments. He is willing to do things which probably he would prefer not to do, but at the same time, by sort of attaching himself to us, he has a capacity to influence us, which vastly increases his influence, his role in the world and particularly Britain’s role in the world.

JIM LEHRER: Somebody suggested that on this program a few weeks ago when we were talking about Tony Blair, saying that Britain, itself, standing alone is not that powerful – if it stands with the United States, as it is, it’s become almost the second most powerful nation in the world.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: That’s right. It is the England-American undertaking here and that gives Britain the standing comparable to World War II, even though its power is vastly smaller.

JIM LEHRER: What about… back to the politics. I mean the polls show that the majority of the British people do not support what he is doing; that members of his own party, some of them are defecting. He still has got a majority in parliament. He won a vote yesterday by a rather large… 100 votes. But still a lot of his own folks are not with him on this. Is he risking his political future, or is he making his political future or is it the same?

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: We’ll see. But the attack on Blair and Britain has always been that he was a manipulator, a schmoozer, almost a British Clinton in some ways. People said he had no core of character. I think he has laid that to rest. I think there is another thing going on here, too, that seared into the minds of every British politician is the memory of the Suez crisis in 1956 when Britain and France invaded Egypt without the blessing of the United States, and the United States humiliated them, blocked the venture, forced them to back away. The French, to a certain extent, since then, have been looking for, maybe revenge is too strong of a word, but drew a less of opposition. The British have said at every crisis you have to stand with the United States at the end of the day and I think Blair is again following along in this tradition.

JIM LEHRER: Dr. Brzezinski, the word Churchillian has been used to describe Tony Blair. Is it legitimate to compare… as a matter of history and personality and impact, is it correct to compare what he is doing to what Winston Churchill did during his time?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Frankly, I think it is an overstatement to do so. Churchill really stood alone, even within his own cabinet, there were a number of people who believed in May, June of 1940 that they should have stood with Hitler and wanted to use Mussolini as an intermediary.. Churchill really stood alone and changed the course of history. Blair is influencing us. He is increasing British role in the world. But he is not the decisive voice on this issue. He has made us do some adjustments. He perhaps gave us more confidence. But he didn’t make the basic choice for us. And frankly, I don’t think that choice, by us, is either Churchillian because we are so powerful, we are so dominant, that we can even afford to be wrong and we’ll still prevail.

JIM LEHRER: Thank you.