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Interview With Tony Blair On Globalization And Western Democracy. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired June 29, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, Western democracy is under unprecedented threat after yet another week that's seen both President
Trump and European populists chip away at our bedrock values.
I sit down with the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who tells me that if we want to protect the gains of globalization and the liberal,
democratic world order, we must deal with its consequences.
Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
This week has seen strong men consolidate gains and democracies struggle to hang on to basic values and principles.
The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was reelected with sweeping new powers, sparking fear of a further crackdown on civil society.
And it's been announced that the Russian leader Vladimir Putin will get some important face time with President Trump in Helsinki next month,
sparking anxiety amongst NATO allies, especially in light of CNN reports that Trump calls NATO just as bad as NAFTA.
This fresh off Trump beating up on Europe's longtime leader, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, via Twitter for her immigration policy.
This week, also, a worrying new study commissioned by the former President George W. Bush and the former Vice President Joe Biden. It found that
more than half of all Americans believe democracy is vulnerable in the USA, an idea that would have been unthinkable a decade ago when the likes of
President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair were wrapping up their terms in office.
While Blair is still speaking up, defending old alliances and a globalized world, and calling on politicians to do their jobs and fight the false
promise of populists by finding workable solutions.
From the United States to the frontiers of Europe, crying out for a solution is migration, something Blair says must be addressed if our
liberal democracies are to have a fighting chance against today's new breed of populists.
We sat down together at his office here in London.
Prime Minister Blair, welcome to the program.
TONY BLAIR, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: You have just given a speech, which might sound a little sort of disconnected from reality in defense of globalization.
BLAIR: Yes, absolutely. When you take a step back and look at the broad sweep of history, globalization and the general process of the world
opening up to each other has brought enormous benefits to the world.
It's lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. It's given us prosperity. It's allowed us to live and think and work quite differently
and, of course, it's got its challenges.
But globalization, you look back over it, yes, of course, it's benefited mankind.
AMANPOUR: So, how do you convince people of that narrative because it does seem to be alternative narratives of winning the day? How do you tell
people two or three years into the populist wave that actually that's not the answer to your political, economic and social problems?
BLAIR: Because you've got to deal with people's underlying grievances. So, if you're in European politics today, you're not dealing with the issue
of immigration, then you're going to get this populism on the rise and you can't - the difference, I think, with myself and other people on the more
progressive pro-globalization side of the argument is that I don't think the concerns and anxieties are illegitimate at all.
On the contrary, I think they've got to be dealt with by vigorous government action. But that is the right way of dealing with them, not
pushing back against the whole process of globalization.
AMANPOUR: Is anybody doing it right to your mind right now? Is Chancellor Merkel doing it right? Is President Macron doing it right? Is anybody
addressing this particular issue in the correct way right now?
BLAIR: Well, I think that those mainstream European politicians are - I think what Macron is doing in France particularly is steering a path on
immigration, on reform, on other things, which is allowing us - or allowing France, as it were, to say we keep basic principles of social solidarity,
but we're going to have to reform our economy and on migration and basic adherence to the values of our country.
We've got to be tough on it. And, for example, if people are coming in from majority Muslim countries into our countries, we've got to say here
are the rules, there's a shared space for diversity and there's a common space which is treating people equally and there's no amount of cultural
difference that can title you to discriminate against gay people or discriminate against women or believe that the rule of law shouldn't apply
[14:05:00] So, these are basic - if you want to protect the gains of globalization, you've got to deal with the consequences, deal with the
people who feel they're casualties of it, particularly on this immigration issue since I think this populism is at least as much driven by cultural
questions as economic.
You've got to be clear about people's anxieties, which are real and are not unjustified.
AMANPOUR: So, how do you think and what do you think of the way President Trump has dealt with the US-Mexico border, for instance? And saying things
that don't comport with the facts and with evidence, saying things like they bring more crime in when statistics and bipartisan studies show that
actually migrant and immigrant neighborhoods have historically less crime than Americans, so to speak?
BLAIR: Right. So, again, my point is very simple. If you don't deal with the problem, reasonable people don't deal with it, other people come along
and exploit it.
If you're, for example, saying to the Italians right now, look, we're just not dealing with your problem, you've just got to take these people in,
there's nothing we can do about it, that's just the way it is and that's consistent with European values.
You might have a rebellion on your hands. And you're going to have people, and now you do have people, who are going to come and exploit that issue
and (INAUDIBLE 1:12) prejudice.
But people want rules. So, I don't - as I say, I am not so familiar with the Mexico-USA situation, but if I was in the Democrat Party at the moment,
I would be saying, OK, I can condemn what the president is doing in this respect, in that respect.
AMANPOUR: The separation of children and all of that.
BLAIR: Obviously. But I need to work out how to deal with this anxiety then in a reasonable way. And part of it, of course, may be producing a
gateway for people to come in and be legitimized and so on, but part of it is going to be making sure there were proper border controls and so on
because people expect governments to do that, and we need a proper system of identifying who's got a right to be in Europe and who's not.
So, for example, in the British context, I've said we should have an electronic system of identity. I mean, we should be entitled to know who's
here and who's not.
AMANPOUR: What does that mean exactly?
BLAIR: Well, it means that you - the old idea, you'd have an identity card, you actually can today simply, through technology, have an electronic
identity, which shows exactly who you are. You can actually put a whole lot of privacy measures around that, but that allows you to access
government services and to show that I've got a right to be here.
And for a country like Britain, at any one time, we will have hundreds of thousands of people who have outstayed their welcome who were here
illegally. People want us to deal with that.
And what I will say to people is, if you don't have rules, you'll have prejudices. So, the choice if you're trying to deal with these populist
surges is to realize most people aren't unreasonable. You provide them with a proper solution, they'll buy the solution. If you don't provide
them with a solution, they'll buy the anger.
AMANPOUR: You said that the populist solution is not the answer. That will not answer the public's, whatever, anxieties, particularly about
migration, about economics, about feeling left behind.
But it's really gaining traction. And it's not just populism on the right, it's populism on the left as well.
BLAIR: Yes, sure. Because when people are pessimistic - and this is where you've got to think through a new policy agenda for changing times. When
people are pessimistic, they look for people to blame. And the right tends to blame immigrants and the left tends to blame business, and neither is
Now, what we're trying to do in the Institute here is to develop the policy agenda that might be called more centrist, if you like, but which is
focused on things like - with this technological revolution, it's going to change so much. It's got enormous benefits, but it's going to have
displacement effects. How do you access the benefits and deal with the risks.
This type of policy form formulation, making sure that, for example, you're building the infrastructure that you require for the mid-21st century. I
mean, all of these things, reforming your tax system, your benefit system, dealing with that 10 percent of the population that's kind of cut adrift,
all of these things require radical, but sensible policy solutions.
AMANPOUR: Do you feel that all of this has conspired to put democracy at risk in the Western alliance and also in other countries that are nominally
BLAIR: It depends how I feel when I wake up each morning. Some mornings, I feel, yes, it does. And other mornings, I feel, well, maybe that's just
I'll tell you what I do think, though. I think the fracturing of our society culturally into two groups of people who don't talk to each other,
listen to each other or like each other is a problem, and I think you've got this in the US right now.
We've got this in Britain. And that's dangerous because democracy has got a spirit as well as a form. And the spirit is a bit of give and take, a
recognition that what unites us is more than what divides us and a willingness of the politicians to build bridges with those who disagree.
If you get into a situation where your opponents become your enemies, that's a much more difficult politics to have.
[14:10:05] AMANPOUR: And that definitely is happening. wouldn't you say?
BLAIR: Yes, it is. Yes.
AMANPOUR: And what about the situation where -
BLAIR: By the way, the media makes it worse, in a sense. I don't mean this media, but the media - because the media commercial model is changing.
It is the simplest thing for the media today, is to take a group of people, wind them up into a state of permanent grievance and keep them in that
state, right, against the other people.
And you see it right and you see it left. And I think social media amplifies that. It often distorts the nature of debate and that - then
that fracture becomes - you see this when you read the crazy social media stuff in politics today, I mean.
AMANPOUR: So, if you were prime minister still or president of the United States or wherever, what would you do to address that because that is
really debilitating? And many Americans and Europeans bemoan that fact, the poisoning, the partisanship of politics.
But at the same time, there's a - every two seconds, it seems there's a new study that shows, bipartisan study, the latest one in America that,
potentially, I think it's two-thirds of the American people, are concerned that their democracy is being eroded, are concerned that they might sort of
default into some kind of strong man autocracy. The times are sort of leading towards that direction.
BLAIR: Yes, they are. And I think the way of dealing with it, if I was in office today, as I say, you've got to try and build those bridges, do it
very openly. Understand what - if you're on the left, understand what makes people irritated with the left. If you're on the right, realize what
makes the people on the progressive side of politics anxious.
It requires a different mindset. And so, that's why if I was back in politics today, as I say, I would be dealing with these things that are
fueling some of the right-wing populism and also explaining to the people on the left where - of course, you want to make sure you're promoting
responsible business and social opportunity for people, but you need a thriving enterprise sector if the economy is to grow.
So, this is - this is where I think you could, if you wanted to, build bridges. The trouble - I think, one thing certainly here, this is a big
problem, I don't know how much it's a problem with the US.
To get selected as a candidate nowadays, you're often appealing to an activist base that doesn't really want to hear that message. I mean, they
want to hear red or blue meat, and that's dangerous.
AMANPOUR: I want to put you a few points that have been made in many articles, just as they're looking towards what's happening in the foreign
policy sphere, particularly in the aftermath of the G7 summit.
I think it was a big shock for a lot in the foreign policy establishment to see something that we haven't seen a president of the United States,
normally the leader of the Western world, beating up on his own allies, beating up on the very - not just personally against, for instance, Prime
Minister Trudeau, against Chancellor Merkel, but on the whole system to the point that President Trump withdrew America's signature from the final
communique and wouldn't condone the sentence international rules-based order. What do you make of that first and foremost?
BLAIR: Well, to those of us used to dealing with G7 summits, it's obviously fairly shocking, but I think we've got to stay engaged with the
American administration from the European perspective.
And the role of Europeans right now that think that this president, this administration just don't care about the trans-Atlantic alliance, and
indeed regard it as having had its day, I don't think that's true.
I think what is an unresolved question for me is whether this administration and the president are prepared, as it were, to approach
America first as not inconsistent with America in alliance with others.
And even when the president came to the World Economic Forum in Davos, he said America first doesn't mean America alone. That registered with the
Europeans. But -
AMANPOUR: But he looks like he's changing. Now, more people are saying it's America alone.
BLAIR: You see, if you've got real trade issues - for example, the points that America is raising with China, by the way, perfectly sensible. You
could probably get European support for raising those.
It's a lot to do with how it's done. And I think the actual question for a lot of Europeans, and I I'm not in a position to answer this, is does the
president really consider a necessary part of his political appeal in America that he actually does not seek their support that in a sense this
kind of unilateral action is part of the aura of the presidency?
[14:15:08] Now, I personally would doubt that because I think you can see perfectly well, and sensibly, the value of the alliance.
But I think, for example, one of the things that's important for Europeans to say to America right now is, when you're dealing with the emerging power
of China, which is - it's still an understated geopolitical fact, but everywhere I go in the world, I see China more and more powerful. And by
the way, that is perfectly natural and in a sense right. China deserves to be in that position of power.
But it's going to pose big challenges to the West and to America. If you have Europe divided and isolated and individual countries dealing with
China without some collective sense of Western solidarity, they're going to get picked off. They're going be poor allies to America in that.
AMANPOUR: And if you have an America sort of withdrawing, it's going to allow China the space to take over.
BLAIR: Absolutely. So, this is basic power politics. So, if the Europeans - this is where the British position with Europe is also so
important because Britain, I think, is more robust always in ensuring people understand the importance of the American alliance.
So, if that seems to fracture and you take America's foremost ally out of that European alliance, you've got individual countries dealing with China
- look, I know this very well, what will happen. They will find it much easier to deal with individual countries (INAUDIBLE).
AMANPOUR: Play one off against the other.
BLAIR: And this is power politics. It's not a criticism of China. I mean, America does that in its own way. So, there's no criticism.
But we have to understand that our basic value system of governance, Western democracy and what it stands for, independent media, rule of law,
free speech, electing your government, that is the system under challenge today.
And for the first time since the 1950s, there are a group of countries who are saying your system doesn't work and our works better.
Now, in those days, it was the Soviet Union, which said we may not be democratic, but we can deliver for our people more efficiently, more
productively than you can. In the end, they lost that battle.
But they didn't lose it simply because democracy was a better idea. They lost it also because democracy delivered more for its people.
Today, you've got this strongman concept of government. It's a shorthand for the idea you need one leader, they take the decision, they drive the
thing through and it's got attractions for people.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you to respond to this. This is from the Brookings Institute. "Make no mistake, there is a concerted attack on the
constitutional liberal order and it's being spearheaded by the president of the United States." It's bad - yes. What do you think about that?
BLAIR: Appears to be an exaggeration. I mean, I think it's - what I'm saying is we need to understand what this value system is about.
And I remember going back in time when there were very, very sharp, hard disagreements inside American politics and - again, sometimes you think,
well, is this qualitatively different, and there are people I know who will say, yes, it definitely is.
I think from the point of view of the international sphere, no, I think it is still possible and achievable that America and Europe can see eye to eye
and that whatever the peculiarities of the way your political system seems to work at the moment - and, by the way, we've got our own peculiarities -
I still think we can make sense of that. So -
AMANPOUR: You have been prime minister under several presidents. With Clinton, you had more of a political alignment. But you also were good
friends and allies with President Bush, Republican president.
But he, as you remember, whether it was the Iraq War or many of his policies, created a huge problem for America in the world, right? And
President Obama was considered to have come in and put balm on those wounds and healed the division between America and the rest of the world.
I guess I'm asking you to tell me whether you think Bush era was much more sort of divisive between America and the rest of world or the Trump era?
Put it into your perspective.
BLAIR: Well, to me, the context is different. If you've got 9/11 and that attack on America, I mean, it shifted the whole pivot of American interests
and foreign policy.
The one thing I would say because I, obviously, did work very closely with President Bush is that although he created division, obviously, because the
decisions were very difficult, he was always trying to put it back together again.
[14:20:00] And I remember, for example, when we did the 2005 G7, he came there and specifically agreed to stuff on climate change that I don't think
he was a 100 percent signed up for really, but he agreed it nonetheless and launched what became a huge program, the PEPFAR program and debt relief for
AMANPOUR: PEPFAR was, of course, to help with the AIDS crisis.
BLAIR: Yes, and which, by the way, is probably the largest life-saving program that the donor community has ever launched. And he did believe in
And so what I think - and, by the way, I think this could be done by this president and this administration. There are things they could do that
could reignite a sense in Europe that, for all our disagreements, we're still fundamentally on the same side and pulling in the same direction.
And I think the administration just needs to look for ways of doing that and then put that within an intellectual and geopolitical framework that
Europe can understand.
AMANPOUR: What do you think of the former CIA Director Michael Hayden saying, "The fact that America's president is doing his best to help that
along" - in other words, the collapse of the world order - "is a shock to Berlin. We have never seen a US president egg on the undemocratic forces
amongst our closest allies. Trump sees that Merkel is down and he's trying to finish her off."
This also - what's your view of that? Because the US ambassador said that it's his job to promote conservative leaders across the Germany and across
BLAIR: Yes. I mean, I think - the only thing I would say about this is that it's just - when you're dealing with international politics at a very
high level, I would always try and be mindful of the politics of the person I was dealing with because their politics is difficult, your politics is
difficult, sometimes the politics of both people are in collision with each other in some way.
I'm not a big fan of all the tweeting stuff, I've got to say. But I think the most important thing is to rise above that in a bigger way on some
clear strong issues.
And I think the NATO, the upcoming NATO summit, is a way of saying even if, by the way, the president is perfectly correctly saying Europe's got to do
more, but saying - and the reason you've got to do more is because this alliance matters, we are totally committed to it and we'll carry on being
committed to it.
AMANPOUR: One other question on this issue, like Robert Kagan, the conservative scholar in the United States, has said people forget that the
post Second World War order has been an aberration.
It relied on America to keep it together. Under Trump, we're returning to a world of multipolar competition. That's very different and a more
dangerous world than the one we grew up in.
Do you think this period of prosperity, peace and the liberal world order is an aberration? We're going back to the world of the flies.
BLAIR: I've grown up with this, so it doesn't feel like an aberration to me. I guess, if you go back through centuries, you can say it is.
I think my response is to say, I mean, we do live in a multipolar world, but that's the reason why that part of the world that shares Western values
and the Western democratic system has got to hold together.
I mean, as China becomes more and more powerful, you're going to have a world in which essentially you've got three giants - China, India and
America. You've got some tall countries, be it Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico and so on. And then, you have some medium-sized ones like Britain and
France and Germany.
The medium-sized ones are going have to band together. Otherwise, the giants will sit on them. That's the reason for Europe.
And for those people, whether they're tall, the giant or a medium-sized one, those who believe in Western values and the system of Western
democracy, they're going to have to realize this is going to come under contest.
So, that's - I hope his view of the future turns out to be wrong, but the risks are very obvious. And it could turn out to be right unless we
understand why it is we formed this system of Western values and why they're important and why they matter, both to our way of life and to our
AMANPOUR: And finally, many, many people are beginning to say, we just don't know what the truth is and they're beginning to say to even
mainstream organizations, well, everybody's biased. Obviously, this is fueled by President Trump and the whole fake news debate.
But in the context of the Iraq War, people often say, listen, how can we trust governments. We believe they lied about the weapons of mass
Anyway, this is having a follow-on effect. How toxic is not knowing the truth and thinking everything is relative to democracy and what do you
think of -?
[14:25:00] BLAIR: Yes, it's absolutely corrosive of democracy. I mean, I'd just remind people on Iraq, agree with it or disagree with it, we had
six different inquiries here which all found the same thing, which is the government may have been mistaken, but it didn't lie.
AMANPOUR: But people believe that. That's why I'm asking you.
BLAIR: This is where I think it is the interaction of politics with the modern media environment that is also important because if you do get a
fragmentation of politics that then is echoed in the media, so that the media isn't - if it's a left media, it's not really prepared to give Trump
anything. It just want to pull him down. And the right media wants to support him right or wrong. Over time, it becomes very hard to have a
And then, social media boosts all of that, and so you get people spreading rumors and conspiracy theories and so on.
Now, this is for a longer conversation for another time, but I think one thing that those of us who believe in democracy are going to have to do is
think what are the things we need to do to change the environment within which we work, so that that democratic debate can be held on a basis where
people can disagree, but at least there's some validity and integrity in the information upon which they're making their decision.
AMANPOUR: Tony Blair, thank you very much indeed for joining us.
BLAIR: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: So, as he says, part of that solution, of course, must be when real debate can be heard, when real policy, and not just bitter politics,
can be discussed.
And that is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast, you can see us online at Amanpour.com and follow me on
Facebook and Twitter.
Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.