Insights from former Primer Minister of the UK
Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1997 to 2007), provided his views on extremism, politics and isolationism during a Thomson Reuters Newsmaker event A Discussion with Tony Blair.
He tackled pressing global issues and imparted wisdom from the decade in which he led Great Britain, giving a clear depiction of what we, collectively, need to do to create a safe and prosperous world. In his words, “If we’re not strong and we’re not shaping the world, it’s going to become a much more frightening place for our children to live in.”
The Middle East is the region of the world undergoing the most turmoil given its transition to modernity, as Blair describes.
It is more important now than ever to find ways to break the cycle of indoctrination and hopelessness facing young people. “The real issue we need to focus on today is how you help countries on a path to build rule-based economies and religiously tolerant societies,” said Blair. “You’ve got young populations who do not have economic opportunity, and you’ve got people — extremists — who are trying to compensate them through political ideology.”
In terms of where future opportunity exists, Blair sees great investment opportunity in the northern part of Sub-Saharan Africa. He describes this region as at risk of becoming a collection of future failed states and havens of terrorism given their large population of young people, unless they find a way to the future. Investing in these regions now will save us – the world – a huge amount of dollars in the future.
Blair explains that it’s time to evaluate to what degree the political structures and traditions of the 19th and 20th centuries are relevant today.
He described two political camps in the United Kingdom: the culture of protest and the culture of government. If the sensible center ground doesn’t deal with people’s concerns properly, the populist left and right gain, which can lead to populistic extremism. And, unfortunately, we’re at a point right now when the center ground has lost a lot of its muscularity. In other words, “We’ve become managers of the status quo and we’ve got to become change makers.”
As a leader, “when you decide, you divide.” He described the harsh environment of debate and disillusion around politicians, yet went on to say that there’s also still a residual desire for leadership. Blair claimed we’re at a type of tipping point in politics. “I have this fear as to whether this populism is something we’re going to have to experience before we realize it’s not really sensible.”
Some things are better left untouched, as is the case with Blair’s passionate and pleading view regarding the role the United States plays on the global stage, and the critical choice at hand in electing the next American president.
As Blair says, “The reason why America is exceptional is because it’s the most powerful country in the world and it stands for a set of values that are important.” Those values are looked up to. According to Blair, they are yearned for by many, many hundreds of millions of people, people you don’t see and people who don’t have the rule of law in their nations or the opportunity to vote.
“The values that America has are what you offer to the world. If you turn away from what is happening in the world when those values are undermined, you don’t fulfill your destiny as a country. That is my honest belief.”
And that’s why Blair believes isolationism is wrong, because no other country but the United States can play this role in the world today. And as new countries emerge ‑‑ powerful countries and big players ‑‑ he sees totalitarian ideologies operating, stating that the world needs America to remain engaged. “How you engage, we can debate. But don’t please turn back in on yourselves.”
“Whoever is elected as America’s next president, realize that for our children to grow up in a safe and prosperous world, we need an America that is strong and engaged in the world. And then if you are, by the way, our duty in countries like mine [England] and in the rest of Europe is to stand with you. But, if you’re shutting away from the world and we’re left on our own without your leadership with us, then I fear for the 21st century. I really do.”
Watch the full Discussion with Tony Blair.
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