That said, I think that anxiety went away quite quickly, because I think that the traffic, the telephone calls between Downing Street and the White House was intense in the days after the atrocities. People in Downing Street came very quickly to the conclusion that they might have called this one wrong, in fact, and the people around Bush -- and indeed Bush himself -- were rather restrained, rather statesmen-like figures who were not going to rush into action, who were going to take counsel from around the world, who were very keen to construct a coalition of the willing before they went to war in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
... I remember being told by one of Blair's closest allies that Bush was actually rather a patient guy -- and that was an astonishing thing for them to discover at a moment when the world was still reeling from this amazing and terrible event; that the president, the man under most pressure in the whole world, should have responded, not by lashing out, but by displaying a measure of restraint. I think in Number Ten they found [that] extremely impressive, and probably quite surprising. ...
[Do you think the British public and European public outside of America don't understand the threat, that they don't understand the genuine fear amongst American people?]
I was told by one of President Bush's advisers two days after the Sept. 11 attacks, "They'll all support us now. Just wait until a year and half has elapsed." I remember being very struck by that remark, and how true it was, because it's very easy to get the world united around you in the wake of an atrocity like the destruction of the World Trade Center. It's much harder for people to realize that America has not healed; it has not changed its mind; it still feels under threat, because it is under threat.
But that is a very difficult concept for people in other countries to continue to believe day after day, week after week, that the war on terrorism really wasn't a one-off -- it wasn't just the removal of the Taliban in Afghanistan. It was the beginning of a struggle which Bush said, from the word go, might exceed his own lifetime -- this was something that was going to occupy America for a very, very long time. Now that notion, that promise, is something which simply hasn't become embedded in European thinking. It isn't there.
[Do you think part of the reason for that is because people just don't trust Bush, don't trust Cheney and Rumsfeld, because they see that Iraq was on the agenda to be attacked even before Sept. 11?]
There's no doubt that there's a lot of tribal opposition to Bush on the grounds that he's a conservative Republican president, in the view of many in Europe, prosecuting an agenda that was already on his mind before 9/11. That's particularly so inside the Labor Party where the loathing of Bush is extraordinary. The hatred of Blair for siding with Bush is almost as great. He is an incredibly unpopular figure in the Labor Party. I think it is true that a lot of what is presented as moral opposition to the war is actually political opposition to Bush. ...
[When was it that Blair's thinking developed in a global sense?]
I think Tony Blair is a prime minister who has always been very interested in the way global issues interact with one another -- the environment, poverty, AIDS, terrorism and so forth. I think this was a side of his politics which hadn't really been given very much display before 9/11. It was not an issue that he had very many opportunities to talk about. British politics had been focused very much on domestic issues.
I think after 9/11 he was able to develop these thoughts himself. Not only that, he was able to talk about them more candidly and more openly. Suddenly you saw Blair as a prime minister who definitely had a vision of the way the world should be constructed. ...
So what was that vision?
Blair's vision can be captured in the single word -- interdependence. He thinks everything links in to everything else. In some ways, it's a rather woolly vision. I don't think it has clear lines; I don't think it has clear contours. But he believes, for example, that its impossible to sort out what's going on in the Middle East, with Iraq, with Syria, with Iran, without dealing with the problem of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
He sees fundamental links between everything. He looks at the difficulties of fanaticism in Africa and he points to the problems of poverty and so forth that have been afflicting Africa for generations. ... All these things in his mind are interlinked, and I think some people find that rather annoying. They find it sophomoric and a little bit infantile, even. But the fact is that there is a fairly integrated vision that Blair has. ...
[Blair gave] a party conference speech a while before Sept. 11, [where he gave] a very, very emotional plea to the world to do something about the "scar," as he described it, of Africa and its plight. At the time, a lot of people thought, "Where is this coming from, what does it mean?" Because it wasn't really explicable in terms of anything that Blair was doing politically at the time.
I think now, looking back, it's very clear what it meant. But it only became clear after 9/11. ...
[What was the big defining issue going to be?]
In America, the natural response to 9/11 was to see that this is a security issue; this was about protecting the American people from future attack. I think Blair saw it in a slightly different way. He saw it as a challenge, if you like, to Western leaders to get out and try and reconstruct the world in a way that prevented future events of this kind happening, which is a slightly different thing. It's not simply about defense. It's not simply about protection. It's not simply about targeting your enemies and destroying them. It's actually about creating an entirely new global environment, in which phenomena like Al Qaeda, rogue states like Iraq, simply don't happen.
Now this is a fantastically grandiose image. A lot of people find it as it were, quite infantile, because it assumes that individual powers like Britain and America can go out and re-make the world. But nonetheless, I think that is the way he sees things.
[Blair recognised politically what Sept. 11 meant in terms of a new threat. Why do you think he was quick to see this?]
I think Blair understood faster than any other leader outside America that there was a problem here. There was, on the one hand, Islamic fundamentalist terror groups -- networks had operated around the world in a very shady and shadowy way -- and, on the other, rogue states developing weapons of mass destruction.
I think what he appreciated was that, sooner or later, those two paths were going to meet, and the consequences of such a meeting could be horrible beyond belief, beyond imagination really. I think that he realized that very fast. It was a view that had been prevalent in Pentagon thinking for many years. It was a view that in America was almost commonplace, particularly in conservative circles. ... I think Blair understood very fast after 9/11 that these two phenomena were not separate, and it was in Iraq that they came together.
[Why do you think that Blair specifically recognized what Bush was trying to do?]
One of the things that distinguishes Blair from other leaders outside America is that he's actually got a great deal of military experience -- surprisingly perhaps. He's fought campaigns in Kosovo; in Afghanistan; he's assisted America in an earlier attack on Iraq -- Desert Fox. He fought a short campaign in Sierra Leone. This is actually a prime minister who, in a few short years, has had a great deal of contact with the military world.
Add to that, that he's prime minister of Britain, which is a country that has been under various forms of attack from terrorists in Northern Ireland for more than a quarter of a century. I think that here was someone who understood better perhaps than his European counterparts what the stakes were, what the possibilities were. It's interesting, too, that Spain, which after all has had its own domestic terror problem, should be taking a broadly similar approach. So I think that that's an important element.
[On a personal level, how much did Blair's religious conviction factor into his decision-making?]
Blair's entire political behavior has to be linked to his private religious beliefs. He doesn't talk about his religious beliefs very much, but they are fundamental to anything and everything that he does. So the moral certainty that's characterized a lot of his behavior since 9/11 has to be linked to that faith. I think it's impossible to see one without the other.
Now it's certainly true that we have in this alliance of Britain and America an unusual situation, where both the president and the prime minister are people of strong religious conviction. I doubt myself that this is something that they discuss explicitly. It's not really Blair's style to discuss his religious beliefs outside the privacy of his own home and church. nonetheless, I am sure that in an unspoken way it contributed to a certain affinity between Bush and Blair, in that they're both people who, in a sense, arrive at quite simple conclusions about things. They're men of tremendous moral certainty.
Now Bush and Blair come from different ends of the political spectrum, and their policies differ enormously, especially on the domestic front. In fact they have differed during the war on terrorism. But nonetheless, ... they're people to whom prayer and reading the Gospels matter a great deal, [and] in a way that was probably never articulated, never actually spoken, [that] mattered a great deal.
[Back to what was actually going on after Sept. 11 and this change of thinking about Iraq. How did the idea to go after Saddam eventually gain currency?]
I think towards the end of the year 2001, British government ministers starting receiving intelligence, perhaps principally from America, which really made them stop and think. Of course, British intelligence is excellent and always has been. But I think there was a new dimension here. The intelligence that was coming out of the CIA's increased efforts to find out what was going on in international terror networks was producing some absolutely terrifying allegations, threats, and statistics about the ambitions of these groups, and also their links to rogue states -- Iraq, but not just Iraq.
I think what happened at the end of 2001 was a shift really in thinking, which was that ministers in Britain started to realize that this was something that was going to happen, if it was going to happen, very soon.
The time frame was actually very short. There had always been a knowledge, a vague knowledge that terror groups might be looking for nuclear weapons, biological weapons, chemical weapons. That wasn't a new presumption. What was new, though, and 9/11 had, I suppose, illustrated it, was the urgency of this. What British ministers bought was the American concept that this was in a sense a war; that this was something that was being fought as a campaign between two sides. ...
[Can you remember anything that anyone said to you in terms of their reaction to this stuff?]
I remember a very close ally of the prime minister saying around that time, towards the end of 2001, "If you could see the things I see coming across my desk, you wouldn't sleep at night."
[How was the "axis of evil" speech received in Parliament?]
The initial response by British ministers to Bush's axis of evil speech was unfortunate in the sense that Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, alleged that it was a piece of electioneering; it was simply political posturing. I suspect he did that knowing that the axis of evil catchphrase sound bite would go down very badly with British public opinion, and he was simply trying to dampen some of those fears. But, nonetheless, I think that the vigor and sheer aggression of the phrase did cause some tremors in the government. They knew that this would cause them problems, and they also knew that the naming of three countries -- Iraq, Iran, and North Korea -- would raise the stakes. So yet again there was an intake of breath. ...
I think that Number Ten throughout this conflict -- by which I mean the war on terror generally -- has always been conscious of the fact that Blair has to explain to the rest of the world what Bush means. So when something like the axis of evil slogan comes out, there is a sharp intake of breath in Number Ten and perhaps even some eye rolling, as they think, "What are we going to say about this? How are we going to explain this?" ...
[What happened when Blair met Bush at Crawford, the president's ranch in Texas, in April 2002? What's the significance of that meeting?]
The meeting at Bush's ranch in Texas in April 2002 was absolutely fundamental to Blair's involvement in the Iraq crisis. ... A cabinet minister very close to the prime minister told me not long after the meeting with Bush at Crawford that Tony had looked George in the eye and realized that America was going to war with Iraq. This is an absolutely fundamental moment in the war on terror and Britain's participation, because it was then that Blair realized that the saber rattling against Iraq was definitely going to lead to a conflict. Behind the scenes, he and Bush engaged in some serious discussion about how that might happen, with the involvement of the U.N., how Britain might help, the conditions of Britain's participation.
I think this was an absolutely vital moment in the history of Britain's participation, and what Blair at that point realized was going to be a very long conflict.
[Do you think that Blair came away from Crawford ready for the reality that Britain would be going to war?]
Blair is a natural participator. He sees a line and he runs towards it. He sees a club and he wants to join it. He sees a campaign and he wants to be part of it. That's his personal inclination. Add to that the fact that any British prime minister in office wants to be part of any American activity if at all politically possible -- it's given, it's part of the British way of doing politics. So I think Blair came away absolutely sure that he would be taking part in the war on Iraq. The question was how could he persuade his own party, his own public, that this was a viable option, that this was something that wasn't entirely reckless.
[Did Blair at that time see his role as one of bringing the Europeans on board?]
Throughout this period, Blair was conscious of his own role as a bridgehead between America and Europe, and he sold himself as such to Bush. Bush was not in any way interested in the reactions of European countries; he was contemptuous of them. I think he felt that they would renege on promises, that they were not likely to be helpful. Blair said to him, "Look, you've got to involve them in some way, and I can help you. I can be your ambassador. I can be your envoy. I can go to European leaders and say to them, 'Look, this is not a reckless undertaking. This is a campaign to try and make the world a more peaceful place.'"
I think it was on that basis that Blair sold his ambassadorship in Europe to Bush.
[Did the increase in the pace of U.S. action take Downing Street by surprise?]
Downing Street was worried that the speeches being made by Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, which appeared pretty scornful of the U.N. and the U.N. inspection [process], would throw the whole thing off course. I don't think they were actually worried that Bush would ever change his mind. I think by then they'd secured undertakings from Bush that, when he did go, he would go through the U.N. But they were worried it would cause enormous problems both on the British political scene and in the wider world generally, so there was concern, yes. ...
The problem for Blair was that he had, by that stage, been given assurances by Bush that the U.N. was the route that Bush was going to take on Iraq. Nonetheless, American domestic politics required the Bush administration occasionally to say things which were going to seem ugly to the British audience. It was around the summer of 2002 this started getting into the British media in a big way. This did cause problems for Blair, because suddenly he seemed to be engaged in an enterprise that, in some people's views, was spinning out of control. ...
[Are you saying that before September, Blair understood from Bush that he was committed to taking this to the U.N.?]
I've been told by people very close to Blair that Bush's undertaking that he would go through the U.N. was made very early; certainly by mid-summer of 2002, and possibly in principle even earlier. I think that Blair really depended on that private assurance. He knew that things might be said by other members of the Bush administration to conflict with it. But he depended on it, and I think he believed it.
[Did the Bush administration also seem to understand that they were putting Blair at risk, domestically?]
Condoleezza Rice certainly said to at least one of Blair's closest advisers, "Listen, we understand that occasionally you're going to have to distance yourself from us in America. But that's OK, because what matters is that Britain remains part of this enterprise." So there was a sophistication on the America side, too. ...
[We've sort of picked up gossip that there was a commitment by Blair at some stage that he would back Bush in going to war with Iraq, come what may, so long as the Americans went through the U.N.]
There's no doubt that by the time Bush was committed to the U.N. route, he had obtained a private assurance from Blair that he would go to war with him, pretty much no matter what. There's a reason for that, which is by that stage, Blair had himself become very much convinced of the case that something needed to be done about Saddam.
[Bush goes to the United Nations on Sept. 12 and he makes a speech, where he says that sometimes the U.N. doesn't do what it's supposed to do.]
Bush's words were received with dismay, outside Britain and other countries in Europe, because what he seemed to be saying was, "You can have any color you like, as long as it's red. I'll go through the U.N. as long as you agree with me." I actually don't think that's what he was saying. I think he was really saying, "It's time for the U.N. to prove its capabilities. It's time for the U.N. to prove its relevance in this new context of the war on terror."
But nonetheless there were so many people on the Continent predisposed to see Bush as an isolationist, predisposed to see him as an insular toxic Texan figure, that it was inevitable that that form of words would be interpreted as it was. I think in Britain it was seen in a very different way.
[Was it the beginning of the end of the U.N.?]
It was the beginning of the end for the U.N. as we know it when Bush made that speech, because what he was saying to the U.N. was, "If you want the U.S. to be a committed active participant in the U.N., you can no longer just be a talking shop. These resolutions we pass have to mean something. We can't do something about everything. We can't be perfect. But here we have a rogue state that has ignored resolutions for 12 years. It has made a mockery of the U.N. We have to pass a resolution, and we have to give Saddam a last chance to disarm. If he fails to disarm, we have to do something. And that," Bush said, "will be as much of a test of the U.N. as it is for Saddam."
[I wonder if you could recall the falling out between Blair and French President Jacques Chirac.]
It's said that Chirac and Blair traded genuine insults. They said to one another that they'd never been spoken to in that way. This was not just the normal grazing of one politician against another; this was real personal insults. I think it was at that moment that Blair realized that Chirac saw the world very differently to him. Blair is a man of very strong opinion. ... At that moment, I think he looked at Chirac and thought, "I can't really be dealing with you anymore. You're not someone that I find congenial."
There was a real fissure in the relationship between Britain and France at that moment.
[What had their relationship been like prior to that moment?]
Initially Blair liked Chirac. Blair likes the French. He speaks French moderately well. He enjoys the culture very much. He admired Chirac. I think he admired Chirac's style as panache, and after all, had gone to meet Chirac on holiday and he'd been out in France. There was a certain mentor-protege relationship between the two of them.
They did fall out, and when they fell out they fell out spectacularly. It was a matter of personality. ...
[How would you characterize the relationship now?]
... I think [Blair] sees him as someone who cannot be trusted, particularly because it was Chirac that proposed the system at the U.N. where there would be two resolutions on Iraq -- the first which became the U.N. resolution 1441, and then another after the inspections. This was seen in Downing Street as a French initiative, and it was seen as an initiative in order to keep the French on board. So when the French started creating problems, this caused absolute fury in Downing Street.
[In January 2003, Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder issue a declaration opposing waging war in Iraq. How much of a blow was that for Blair?]
The fact that the French and the Germans had reverted to their traditional axis -- basically stitching up a policy on behalf of the rest of Europe in their own eyes -- was very, very disappointing for Blair. It was also very embarrassing for him, because he had presented this entire strategy to Bush as, "Listen, George, I can deliver the votes you need for these resolutions. Don't worry." And here were Schröder and Chirac making Blair look ridiculous. So of course within Number Ten there was absolute fury over this.
[When did Downing Street realize what had happened? How did they react to the French position?]
There was a certain amount of denial in Number Ten, and also in the Foreign Office about what the French were doing. The view was initially that the French were just doing what the French always do, which is to resist cooperation to start with, to exact a price from the international community, and then to jump on board at the very last moment. I don't think it was until well into March that Number Ten finally realized that the French meant what they said. ...
[Then we get the U.S. "road map" for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. Tell me why this was important.]
Blair has always regarded the Middle East peace process, the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, as fundamental to any settlement of the region and also fundamental to the war on terrorism. This is one the few really substantial differences between the British and the Americans in the war on terrorism. The Americans regard a settlement in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians as a likely consequence of the removal of Saddam Hussein -- get rid of Saddam and you can move on to negotiations about the West Bank and Gaza. Blair, in contrast, thinks we have to do all these things simultaneously, and he was very disappointed not to get more out of Bush at that meeting about the Middle East. ...
[Talk about Blair's speech on March 18 and the pivotal debate in the House of Commons. Paint a picture of how that came about and what happened.]
The debate in Parliament was an extraordinary event, because it was clearly going to be the last big ... debate before war, and therefore a lot of people agonized about what to say. The quality of speeches was very high. You had people on both sides of the House of Commons, Conservative and Labor, saying things that were at odds with their leaders. You had people standing up and almost saying they didn't know really what they did think, but they were frightened of what lay ahead. It was an extraordinary democratic event. Quite apart from its political implications for Blair, it was a massive forum of confusion, of conflict and of debate, and a very important political event in British history.
Do you think Blair's finished?
Blair isn't finished. This is without question his greatest test. But I think that he believes very strongly that the campaign in Iraq will be short, successful, and more than that, will produce a better Iraq and a safer Middle East. If that happens, he will be a much strengthened political figure because he will have helped to achieve that, against all the odds, against public opinion in his own country, against opinion in his own party, and with all sorts of difficulties with his European partners. If, against that background, the war now achieves what it set out to do, Blair will be an enormously strengthened figure. ...
[What do you know about Tony Blair's perspective on war, its necessity?]
During the conflict in Sierra Leone, Tony Blair called in his chief defense advisers and had a long conversation with them about what the cost of a serious intervention would be in terms of human lives. A very senior defense adviser told me that he informed the prime minister that the cost could be many hundreds of lives. Apparently, Blair paused for a moment, very, very carefully, and then said, "Do it."
That tells you a great deal about the way the man operates, which is, this is not someone who is reckless, this is not someone who is gung-ho. But it's also someone who is capable of tremendous moral certainty when he thinks the cause is just. ...
He's really gambled everything. How much influence has he really had over Bush, over American strategy? Was it all worth it?
Blair's had considerable influence. It's important not to exaggerate it as it's important not to underestimate it. Of course, Bush doesn't sit there with a pencil thinking, "I must phone up Tony before I make a policy." This is a president who is very clear on what he's going to do, and has always made clear that he would prosecute the war on terrorism with a coalition of the willing if possible, but on his own if necessary.
That said, he's also a much more intelligent president than many in Britain and Europe give him credit for. He saw in Blair someone who was experienced, someone who had been in power for a while, someone who had actually fought military campaigns and also was clearly a very gifted politician and could give him good advice on what to do. I think Blair has been extremely influential in that regard, that the shape of the Iraqi conflict would have been materially different if he hadn't been advising President Bush during it.
Why has he sacrificed so much over this, or potentially sacrificed so much over this?
Blair, like many politicians, has two sides. One side is almost paralyzed with fear of public opinion: he watches focus groups, he reads private polling, he changes policies on the back of what he sees in those results. The other side is a man of tremendously strong and almost perverse moral certainty. He believes what he believes; he comes to a conclusion and he sticks with it.
Now, I think in this case on the question of Saddam, weapons of mass destruction, the role of the United Nations, the need for regime change in Iraq, he has come to an absolutely clear, immovable position. He believes that this will be one of the issues on which he is remembered, and I think that is why he has bet so much on it. I don't think he expected when he became prime minister in 1997 for a minute that this would be the issue on which he bet the farm. But it has become that issue. For that reason, he has stuck to his guns, and I think that that is why he has been so certain about it.
[What do you think the ultimate effect will be on these global governing structures -- the U.N., NATO, for example?]
What's happened as a consequence of the run up to the conflict with Iraq is that the entire architecture of international organization, European Union, United Nations, NATO, has been shown to be out of date. What will emerge from this over the next ten or 20 years is a completely different architecture.
So Blair's initial ambition when he became prime minister to be at the heart of Europe remains the case. But the question is, what will that Europe look like? I think when he became prime minister, he imagined it would be a federal superstate of some description with a common currency, a common defense policy and so forth. It's clear that the Europe we will have in 15 years' time will be something very different, and more than that, that its relationship with America has yet to be decided. So the goal of being at the heart of Europe doesn't change; but what Europe will be, how Europe will shape itself, is still very much in flux. ...
This is the real [question]. ... The war in Afghanistan was an inevitable and basically uncontroversial response to the destruction of the World Trade Center. The world was behind America so much at that point that a lot of the debates that needed to be had as a consequence of 9/11 were postponed. We're having them now. The scale of those debates cannot be exaggerated. It's about how we organize the U.N. It's about the role of NATO. It's about the organization of the European Union. It's about Britain's relationship with America.
The list goes on, and in each case the questions just keep getting bigger. ...
[Will the U.N. emerge from this a weakened or strengthened organization?]
The Iraq conflict has revealed structural flaws within the United Nations. It's not that the countries that have pursued war against Saddam have weakened the U.N.; it's that the U.N. has weakened itself by showing itself unwilling to prosecute the resolutions it has passed itself. Nothing could be more calculated to please Saddam Hussein than for the U.N. to pass a hard-fought resolution like 1441, and then for the main countries that sit on the Security Council to fight like cats for months afterwards about whether or not Saddam is in breach of that resolution.
Clearly, that system cannot work any longer. ...
So is this the revelation of a new world order and, if so, what is it?
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, President Bush Senior predicted the emergence of a new world order, and we've been waiting for that new world order to emerge. I think it is now. I think it's emerging around conflict, and it's very difficult at this point to say what shape it will take. But what you can be certain of is it will not be the order that we were used to during the Cold War. That structure has been shown not to work, and we will need new structures to deal with coming conflicts.
[So do you agree with those who say that we actually are witnessing the dissolution of the American empire?]
The notion of the American empire is, in a sense, a facile one, because there's always been an American empire. America has been a dominant political nation, military nation for very many decades. In a sense, looking back on the Cold War, it was obvious that it was going to win. What people call the American empire pejoratively was already in place then.
What we're seeing now is a new organization of other powerful countries around the beacon of America. How does a country like Britain or Germany or France relate to a country that's as overwhelmingly powerful as America? What role should America play in the world? People talk about America being the global policeman; it's always been the global policeman. The question the rest of the world should ask is, how much longer will it be willing to be the global policeman?