Blair: “I was more popular at the start, but a better leader at the end”

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    3rd November, 2009

    Blair cites pivotal moment for leadership to Madison audience

    Peace envoy, former prime minister points to global change in talk at Drew University

    tblair_MoDBy SALLY CAPONE

    Staff Writer

    Published: Nov 3rd, 8:11 AM

    MADISON – In an ever-changing world where challenges and problems spread more quickly and affect more populations, there is still optimism for the future, said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the second Drew Forum lecture of the season.

    “The world will be so much better for my 9-year-old son than it was for my father,” Blair told a packed house Friday, Oct. 30, at the Simon Forum on the campus of Drew University in Madison.

    “It’s a tough time to be a leader – power is shifting fast from the West to the East,” he said, citing the growth in the leading economic nations from G-8 to G-20.

    “The challenges are global – the solutions must be global,” he said.

    Calling himself an advocate for peace, Blair, who served as prime minister from 1997 to 2007, touched on his role in the Northern Ireland Peace Process by helping to negotiate the Good Friday Agreement.

    Middle East Envoy

    He is presently working for the U.S., the United Nations, Russia and the European Union as the Envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East, helping the Palestinians prepare for statehood.

    Blair highlighted four areas of global importance: alliances, China, security issues and the approach to difficult situations.

    “We can’t rely on traditional alliances, and we have to strengthen existing ones like the Atlantic alliance between America and Europe,” he said, calling America and Britain two nations divided by a common language.

    “We need to rethink alliances and also factor in the U.S. in relation to China and Japan,” he said.

    Blair urged more focus on the Pacific Rim as well including India, Brazil and Russia.

    “The world is changing fast.

    “How they come to the table could have a dramatic impact on us,” he said.

    In relation to China’s anticipated emergence as a world power, nations need to have a clear view of what they want, Blair said.

    “We need to know where we are headed and why when China comes into their own and becomes a partner,” he said.

    Security issues are even starker, Blair said.

    “Do we take military action or reach out; we need both ‑ a wise combination of military force and diplomacy,” he urged.

    Blair said he favors talking to Iran, but that Iran should not be allowed a nuclear capability.

    The issue of peace between Israel and a Palestinian state must be resolved, and world leaders should help Palestine to statehood, he added.

    “We have to be clear in our values and purpose,” he said.

    Politics are either “open” or “closed,” said Blair, who led Britain’s Labour Party from 1994 to 2007, and is the party’s longest-serving prime minister in history.

    “It’s as important as left versus right.

    “Do we become isolationists or realize that the world is coming closer together,” he said.

    Recalling his time as prime minister, Blair observed that the expectations people have of their leaders are impossible to satisfy.

    “This is a really big moment that requires breadth of character and leadership,” he said.

    ‘Sincerity Of My Decision’

    After his 45-minute remarks, several Drew University students asked questions, including Blair’s stand on the invasion of Iraq.

    Disenchantment in Great Britain over mounting casualties and the conduct of the war led to accusations that Blair had misled Parliament, and to his resignation as both Labour Party leader and prime minister in June 2007.

    “The intelligence on WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) was wrong, but (Saddam) Hussein was a threat ‑ the world is a better place without him and his two sons,” Blair responded.

    “All I ask is that you understand my actions were taken on the conviction of the right thing to do ‑ respect the sincerity of my decision,” he appealed.

    Asked if he would accept the position of president of the European Union, Blair declined to comment on his chances to become the EU’s first full-time president when it implements a recent treaty and moves away from rotating leadership.

    While he said he would be the worst judge of his place in history, Blair said he has learned about leadership.

    “It’s what you honestly believe is right,” he said.

    “You are massively judged when you begin and then it broadens.

    “I was more popular at the beginning,” Blair said, “but a better leader at the end.”

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