Tony Blair on Syria. ITV interview by Mark Austin


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6th April 2012

ON SYRIA TONY BLAIR SAYS – well… not that much.

Tony Blair said "all options should remain open" in regard to Syria Photo: ITV News

If you’re a Tweep or a Facebook socialite concerned over Middle East issues you will have seen the regurgitated, all-knowing –  “Well? So what is the Middle East peace envoy doing about THIS?” 

The question is usually spat out with putrid venom, which is only to be expected given that it emanates from the depths of malodorous ignorance.  (See – Tony Blair is not the ‘envoy’ )

The mention of Mr Blair’s name raises such hackles in some quarters that he now falls into the category – damnedifhedoesdamnedifhedoesn’t.

Ever wary of being accused of “intervention” it is unusual for the former prime minister to say much overtly about domestic politics or even international politics. For that reason alone his video interview yesterday with ITV News’ Mark Austin is worthy of note.


Harking back to his 1999 Chicago “Doctrine of The International Community” Mark Austin says – “So although Mr Blair is no longer in power, the question is whether as an enthusiastic interventionist, he would now support military action in Syria.”

Austin: “In an interview I put that question to him. He said that Assad cannot be allowed to continue killing people but fell short of calling for military intervention. Though he did say “all options should remain open”.

In my own humble opinion Tony Blair is actually saying nothing new here. Faced with such international threats he always says and always did say – “all options should remain open.”

But I do notice that he doesn’t mention the UN at all, at least in this section of the interview. Perhaps there is a reason for that.  (Kofi Annan:  “Syria violence must end by April 12th”)

And what of the positions on Syria of the present government and Her Majesty’s loyal opposition?

Well, we can look at HALF of the present government/coalition. The Liberal Democrats are insular and think nothing much about foreign policy except with hands-off or when it can be handled without cost. In other words, hardly EVER.

Last thing I recall on Syria from Nick Clegg was on 6th February, when he said he was “bitterly disappointed” over Russia’s & China’s UN veto.  Bless.

On 5th April the Foreign Secretary William Hague said –

“The Syrian authorities must prove to the international community and more importantly the Syrian people that they are sincere about ending the killing. If they do not, the Security Council must act to increase the pressure on the regime.”

A month earlier, on 6th March, Ed Miliband at PMQ –

Miliband: “.. that he will be making clear to [Putin] that action is necessary and that the Russian position is frankly unacceptable”.

“Action is necessary”? What kind of action, Mr Miliband?

Since then…  silence.

I am left wondering how the present leader of the Labour party would be reacting if he were in the prime minister’s seat right now.

The left, especially the New/Old I’m not Tony Blair left,  must find itself in a tricky situation. After all, not for them the interventionism which STOPS dynastic, tyrannical leaders killing their own.  Perish the thought. To be fair my assumption is that all of the parties would be supporting the stance of the present government: do nothing, make the right condemnatory noises  and hope that – THIS time – Kofi Annan & the UN can be effective.


The other notable words uttered by Mr Blair were, “I am not going to second-guess the guy who is taking them [these decisions] now”

Quite. But I am sure Mr Cameron and his cabinet will be pleased to know that if he were still in Number 10 Mr Blair would be doing as they are doing right now.

Leaving all options on the table.


Mark Austin – Interview with Tony Blair on Syria

Full transcript of the interview

Mark Austin: If you were Prime Minister now, would you be looking to get involved in Syria? To intervene militarily in Syria?

Tony Blair: We have got to treat each case on its merits and with its own circumstances. So, I think Syria is again a different case but having said that we should always understand that if we are not active in this situation and we just allow it to develop in this case as Assad wants it to develop in Syria, we know what will happen.

Already thousands of people have died and many thousands more will die. So these are decisions, when you intervene, it’s always important to recognise if you intervene there will be consequences some of which are unpredictable and adverse and if you don’t the consequences actually are more predictable and probably very adverse also.

Mark Austin: You sound as if you think we should be looking to do more?

Tony Blair: I think the government is doing all it can do at this point in time but I think we should keep all the options open. In particular, what is very important is that we carry on sending a very strong message to Assad and the Syrian regime that this is not something where they can just roll over the people and then we are going to say ok lets just forget about it.

No, we will be there and be active in support of the Syrian people who want freedom and want the chance elect their government.

Mark Austin: Would you be finding it hard as a Prime Minister now not to intervene in Syria?

Tony Blair: All these situations are different and they are all tough so having been in this position, trying to take these decisions, I’m not going to second guess the guy who is taking them now.



Dr Matthew Partridge’s excellent review of  Peter Lee’s “Blair’s Just War: Iraq and the Illusion of Morality”. Excerpt:

‘Last year NATO intervened in Libya. There is also talk about doing so again in Syria. Many of the same people who marched against the Iraq war nine years ago are now tweeting demands that Obama, who also opposed it, send more advisors to Uganda. Does Tony Blair therefore deserve an apology?’

Dr Matthew Partridge has recently completed a PhD in Economic History at the London School of Economics. He is a freelance journalist who has written for The Guardian, Times Higher Education and the websites of Prospect and New Statesman.

Independent – “Assad metes out a day of brutal violence”

Guardian – “Syria Crisis: Live Updates”

Tony Blair, said “when you intervene, it’s always important to recognise if you intervene there will be consequences”.


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