As we watched Graydon Carter interview Tony Blair in front of a small audience of Vanity Fair editors and friends at MoMA last night, we became certain of two things: One, Carter is a surprisingly funny interviewer, and two, Tony Blair’s memoir, which he’s writing longhand and turning in to publishers next year, is going to be one hell of a book. What else did we learn about Blair, whose main job is working on the Israel-Palestine conflict as the official Envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East on behalf of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, and Russia? Below are highlights, including Blair’s only answer when Carter started playing “Word Associations.” (We left out the part where Carter said one of his friends thinks the Queen is the “sexiest woman he has ever known.”)
On keeping up with George W. Bush:
I talked to him [on the phone] a couple of weeks ago … Actually, funny enough, which is a truly bizarre thought for both of us — but certainly anyone who knows my technological capabilities, very odd for me — we do e-mail together.
On what they talk about:
Lots of things. The world. [Long pause, audience laughter.]
On the film The Queen:
You’ll never believe it when I say this, but I actually have not seen it … When the film first came out, I actually had my weekly audience with the Queen … I mean, the real Queen, where you sit rather — well, not quite like this; it’s a lot more respectful than that — but anyway, she said to me, she opened the conversation by saying, “I gather there’s a film.” I said, “Ah, yes. I think there is.” She said, “I’d just like you to know that I’m not going to watch it. Are you?” So, uh, as a dutiful subject, I said, “No! Of course not!”
I didn’t even have a mobile phone until the day I left office. So that was my first mobile phone, and after they gave me my first mobile phone, I decided to send my first text to an old friend of mine saying, “Hi, how are you? Let me know what you’re doing.” And I hadn’t realized, because I’m particularly technologically ignorant, as I say, that my name didn’t appear on the text, so I got a message back saying, “Sorry, but who are you?” And I’m sitting there thinking … It’s been 24 hours.
On Bush’s one regret, that there were no WMDs in Iraq:
[Carter, who can’t resist: “It’s a bit like a man who shoots another man because he believes he raped his wife, who then finds out the man didn’t rape his wife, and then when he finds out is asked if he had any regrets, and he says, ‘Yeah, I wish the guy had raped my wife.’ I mean, his logic is so … so Bushian.”]
Well, let me put it in Blair-ian terms. I don’t regret removing him from power, and that was the choice that we faced in the end. It’s true that the threat that was posed with respect to WMDs, as I’ve said many times, cannot sustain the original case from the intelligence, which was wrong. But what you can sustain is a very good case for not having him there. And, yes, it’s been extremely difficult and bloody since he was removed, but that, in my view, is because the very selfsame forces we are fighting everywhere, including Afghanistan, went in there deliberately, through terrorism and chaos and external forces supporting some of the indigenous forces, in order to create the situation where Iraq was destabilized. And in that situation, I think we had to stand up and fight back to make sure the country was able to get on its feet.
On not going after Robert Mugabe, Kim Jong-il, and Vladamir Putin:
I wouldn’t put them in the same category. People often say to me about Mugabe, “He’s an evil dictator. Why don’t you get rid of him?” And I say, “I would get rid of him, but actually military action against him would not be possible.” … Because the surrounding countries would not support it, and would in fact oppose it deeply. It was not something Great Britain could do on its own. My view of this, and this is my view of foreign policy, is if you can intervene to save people from brutal dictatorship, you should do it. That’s basically what I believe. However, there are countries that are dictatorships that will evolve in a benign way. So for example, China is not a democracy, but in my view China will evolve in a benign way. We should be their partner in that evolution. Zimbabwe under Mugabe is not going to evolve in a benign way. Iraq under Saddam was not going to evolve in a benign way.
On his autobiography:
Instead of doing this as “I met such and such five world leaders on such and such a day and they said such and such,” I’m writing it more as, if you like, a personal journey. This is how, as a human being, how I felt and I thought and why I acted as I did. Not as a means of sort of self-justification, because I don’t think there’s any point in getting into that, but in a sense to try and describe what it’s like be doing a job like this … What did I learn and what are those lessons for the future … What it’s like to be in one of the very senior positions of authority and power, which is an enormous privilege but a hugely onerous responsibility? And how does it actually affect you personally?
Word Associations: Prince Charles
Prince Charles, actually, the one thing he is absolutely expert of, is everything to do with wildlife and the countryside … And you know, every year, you as prime minister spend a weekend with the royal family [in Balmoral], and one day when I was up, Prince Charles and I, we had gotten to talking about wildlife and the countryside and what plants are used in what way and so forth and he then explained to me — he actually took out and showed me — the mushrooms you could eat and the mushrooms that you couldn’t.