Speaking with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Meet the Press Sunday, NBC's David Gregory implicates Blair and George W. Bush's leadership, along with their Iraq invasion, as the reason there is a resurgence in Islamic extremists.
Blair was quoted as saying, "The threat of this radical Islam is not abating. It is growing. It is spreading across the world." This spurred Gregory to ask, "Who do you specifically blame for it happening?" Blair said it wasn't a matter of blaming anyone, but understanding the extreme ideology held by Islamic extremists.
Gregory then asked if it was the Obama administrations policy of "taking its foot off the gas" -- even Obama's campaigning to bring the troops home -- as to leading to this rise in terrorist activity. Blair calmly responded, "Rather than saying, 'Whose to blame for this,' is to say, 'What is the nature of this threat and how do we counter it.'"
Gregory was clearly not satisfied with Blair's answers throughout the interview. So much so, that he invoked Blair's association with George W. Bush to get to the heart of his matter -- isn't Bush to blame for this mess?
But Blair calls out Gregory's fumbling assessment of the subject and calls it for what it is -- "nonsense." Here is more from the interview:
Gregory: Isn't the legacy of your leadership and that of president bush in part responsible for the reality today? To wit, 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...
Gregory: … 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?
Blair: I think we did, but I think we've got to recognize one thing very, very clearly -- This is a long battle. 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 is 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 -- 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-Bueller the 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 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, in effect, Great Britain and indeed affect America.
Blair: Right. 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 dictatorship, 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 to destabilize the wishes of the majority of the country. Now, when we weren't involved, as in Syria, they're still going in 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 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 are the cause of it.
The extended version of the interview can be seen here at NBCnews.com.