Tony Blair Rejects David Gregory's 'Nonsense' That Iraq War to Blame for Terrorism

In an interview with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Sunday's NBC Meet the Press, host David Gregory attempted to blame the war in Iraq for ongoing Islamic terrorism by citing the former head of Britain's MI-5 claiming the conflict "increased the terrorist threat by convincing more people that Osama bin Laden's claim that Islam was under attack was correct" and "provided an arena for the jihad for which he had called." [Listen to the audio]

In response, Blair blasted the argument: "We've got to liberate ourselves from this, because we're making a huge error when we end up thinking somehow it's our actions that have caused this....So you can carry on explaining all this by saying, 'It's us. We provoked them. You know, it's really– they're just trying to react against Western Imperialism.' It's nonsense."

Blair continued:

If it were the case, for example, that the reason why they were engaged in this terrorism in Iraq was because of the presence of American troops or British troops, you would expect when we'd get out, the terrorism would stop. It doesn't. And it doesn't because it's not coming from us. It's coming from this ideology. And we aren't going to defeat it until we liberate ourselves from the attitude that somehow we're the cause of it.

Earlier in the exchange, Gregory bashed Blair and George W. Bush over Iraq: "Isn't the legacy of your leadership and that of President Bush, in part, responsible for the reality today?...by invading Iraq, there was necessarily a transfer of tremendous resources to fight the war in Iraq. And today, the Taliban is resurgent and still very powerful in Pakistan and could be once again in Afghanistan."

Gregory harped on the issue: "Could the world more effectively deal with radical Islam had the invasion of Iraq not occurred?" Blair began to explain: "No, because the fact is, you know, radical Islam was responsible for 9/11, before Afghanistan, before Iraq. This has been a long-time gestation-" Gregory interrupted: "But that wasn't Saddam Hussein."

Blair shot back: "No, it wasn't Saddam Hussein. But the fact is that the existence of this ideology, it didn't start post-9/11. It didn't start post Afghanistan or Iraq. You know, again, this is where we've got to be realistic about this. This has grown up over a long period of time."

Here is a transcript of the April 27 exchange:

10:52 AM ET

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DAVID GREGORY: Isn't the legacy of your leadership and that of President Bush, in part, responsible for the reality today?

To whit, I mean this. I have spoken to writers, other journalists, leaders, former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates writes in his memoir. Afghanistan was the proving ground for Islamic fundamentalism in the Muslim world. And by invading Iraq, there was necessarily a transfer of tremendous resources to fight the war in Iraq. And today, the Taliban is resurgent and still very powerful in Pakistan and could be once again in Afghanistan.

So part one to that, did you, did President Bush, did the West fail to deal with the extremism you talk about today appropriately in Afghanistan in a sustainable way?

TONY BLAIR: I think we did. But I think we've got to recognize one thing very, very clearly. This is a long battle, right? The best way to look at this is to take an analogy probably with something like revolutionary Communism or even Fascism. In other words, this ideology, it's not going to be defeated by an engagement in Afghanistan, in Iraq, or even in these individual arenas. It's going to be defeated over a long period of time.

GREGORY: Right, but it's very difficult. I mean, you're a former politician. In order to keep free societies engaged in the kind of engagement that you say is necessary for a long, sustained period of time. And then you have to ultimately look at results, right?

So the question about Iraq. Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, of course, former head of MI-5 in Great Britain, the domestic service there, she said this back in 2011 about the invasion of Iraq and the impact. "In my view," she says, "whatever the merits of putting an end to Saddam Hussein, the war was also a distraction from the pursuit of Al Qaeda. It increased the terrorist threat by convincing more people that Osama bin Laden's claim that Islam was under attack was correct. It provided an arena for the jihad for which he had called, so that many of his supporters, including British citizens, traveled to Iraq to attack Western forces. It also showed very clearly that foreign and domestic policy are intertwined, actions overseas have an impact at home." Which is to say that radicalization there will also come home to roost and affect Great Britain and could, indeed, affect America.

BLAIR: So we've got to liberate ourselves from this, because we're making a huge error when we end up thinking somehow it's our actions that have caused this. Let's be very clear in Afghanistan and Iraq. You can agree or disagree with either decision. We removed brutal dictatorships, allowed the people a chance to elect their government. They came out in both cases and voted, showing that they wanted such election.

We gave them a massive amount of financial support. What was the disruptive effect? The disruptive effect was that very Islamist ideology I'm talking about, on the one side being pushed out of Iran from the Iranian theocracy, on the other side Al Qaeda and other groups. And they combined to try and destabilize the wishes of the majority of the country.

Now, when we weren't involved, as in Syria, they're still going and fighting jihad there. So you can carry on explaining all this by saying, "It's us. We provoked them. You know, it's really– they're just trying to react against Western Imperialism." It's nonsense.

If it were the case, for example, that the reason why they were engaged in this terrorism in Iraq was because of the presence of American troops or British troops, you would expect when we'd get out, the terrorism would stop. It doesn't. And it doesn't because it's not coming from us. It's coming from this ideology. And we aren't going to defeat it until we liberate ourselves from the attitude that somehow we're the cause of it.

GREGORY: The obvious conclusion to me from what you're saying is this administration, this president is making a mistake by disengaging from Iraq, by disengaging militarily from Afghanistan. And by having a view, as he has said publicly, that the United States should only intervene where it truly believes it can make a difference. I hear you saying, "No, if you want to tackle radical Islam, if you want to prevent the occurrence of failed states, America specifically must project its power in these places, because the struggle is so long."

BLAIR: No, I'm not criticizing President Obama at all over this, because as I say, I went through these types of decisions. I know how difficult it is. And what he would quite rightly point to, which you indicated David earlier is, you know, public opinion has been through – has got fatigue with engagement. What I'm saying is this, the engagement that we enter into doesn't have to be like Iraq or Afghanistan.

GREGORY: Could you be – could the world more effectively deal with radical Islam had the invasion of Iraq not occurred?

BLAIR: No, because the fact is, you know, radical Islam was responsible for 9/11, before Afghanistan, before Iraq. This has been a long-time gestation-

GREGORY: But that wasn't Saddam Hussein.

BLAIR: No, it wasn't Saddam Hussein. But the fact is that the existence of this ideology, it didn't start post-9/11. It didn't start post Afghanistan or Iraq. You know, again, this is where we've got to be realistic about this. This has grown up over a long period of time. It's come out of the Middle East. It's been taught in informal and formal education systems.

And the thing that I'm saying is, look, climate change is a big issue. The running of the global economy is a big issue. But so is educating our young people to an open-minded attitude and mindset for the world.

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— Kyle Drennen is News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.