Radical Islamism goes deeper than we think, says Tony Blair

In a forensic and measured interview by the BBC's John Humphrys, the former Prime Minister defends h

Tony Blair has sparred with John Humphrys over his prime ministerial record.

The BBC Today interviewer asked Blair whether he believed the "war on terror" had been won. "We've achieved significant results . . . but I don't think this is over," he replied. I think the radical Islamism which gave rise to this terrorist group is still with us, still powerful."

In a wide-ranging 28-minute interview, taking in Iran, extraordinary rendition and the death toll in Iraq, Blair repeated several times his belief that al-Qaeda was part of a "bigger, broader picture". He also said he had no knowledge of British collusion in the torture of detainees who had been subject to extraordinary rendition: "You can't know everything the security services are doing."

Here are some of the key exchanges.

On the "war on terror":

Tony Blair: The real question is not whether you call it the war on terror or you don't, it is: what is the nature of the threat? I think the most interesting and difficult question for me ten years on is: was this a group of isolated people, terrorists, with an ideology, who committed a terrible atrocity or was this group at the furthest end of a spectrum of what I would call radical Islamism, and therefore this is something far bigger, far greater than even we assessed after September 11 . . .

I don't think you can treat these people as just a weird and warped group with no connection to the wider world.

On the threat of Islamism:

TB: When I'm in the Middle East, and you see the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood, or Hamas, you look at the role that Iran is playing in the region, I think it's a big mistake to say this was just about Bin Laden and a group of terrorists. That's my view.

John Humphrys: The fact you pitched the "war on terror" at every stage against the worst that we could imagine led to appalling consequences.
Tony Blair: I wouldn't agree with that. I think the difficulties we had in Afghanistan or Iraq - we removed the regimes actually quite easily, the Taliban in a couple of months and Saddam in two months - what then happened is the very forces I'm talking about combined together, Iran from the outside, al-Qaeda from the outside, insurgents from inside, in order to try to destabilise those countries.

On the death toll in Iraq:

JH: That's rather the dismissing the consequences of what you did . . . Look at Iraq. The deaths of tens - most people believe hundreds - of thousands of entirely innocent people. . . Many more than had been killed in any acts of terrorism.
TB: The figure that the Iraq Body Count gives is over 100,000.
JH: Johns Hopkins [university]... 650,000.
TB: Those figures were hugely discredited.

On WMD:

TB: Let's look at what we did in Afghanistan and Iraq. What we did was remove a brutal and repressive dictatorship.
JH: ... that wasn't threatening us. Or the Western world.
TB: I disagree. I think the Taliban harbouring al-Qaeda was threatening us. I think Saddam was undoubtedly a threat.
JH: How? He didn't have weapons of mass destruction, as we now know.
TB: He was in breach of United Nations resolutions going back many years, and had used chemical weapons against his own people. And by the way, started two wars in the region.

On how Blair dealt with Bin Laden:

JH: You went off on the wrong foot and created massive problems.
TB: That is to assume that the problem was Bin Laden and a group of terrorists. That comes back to the difference in analysis between us - if you were right, then now that Bin Laden is dead, you would expect to find this radical Islamism dying with him. But it's not. Look at Nigeria, Somalia, look at what's happened in the Middle East, in Lebanon, look what's happening in Yemen today. Look at what's happening in all of these countries where radical Islamism is developing. It's not about one man.
JH: And we're not dealing with all of those by invading those particular countries.

On Iran:

TB: Iran was a threat before Saddam.
JH: But it's a greater threat now.
TB: It's a threat that has been growing for a period of time. The reason it's a bigger threat now is not because Saddam has gone in Iraq.
JH: Oh, it is. [Ahmedinajad] has influence in Iraq that he didn't have before.
TB: That is correct that Iran is trying to influence Iraq in a way that is deeply unhelpful. My answer to that is you deal with Iran.
JH: What do you do to Iran?
TB: If necessary, you've got to be prepared to use force to stop their military nuclear programme.
JH: What kind of force . . . could it include invasion?
TB: No, I don't think it would include invasion, but I think you cannot rule out using military force against Iran if they continue to develop nuclear weapons.

You can listen to the full interview here. It begins around the 1.32 mark.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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The economic and moral case for global open borders

Few politicians are prepared to back a policy of free movement everywhere. Perhaps they should. 

Across the world, borders are being closed, not opened. In the US, Donald Trump has vowed to halve immigration to 500,000 and to cap the number of refugees at 50,000. In the UK, the Conservative government has reaffirmed its pledge to end free movement after Brexit is concluded. In Europe, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic are being sued by the EU for refusing to accept a mandatory share of refugees.

Even Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has followed the rightward drift. Its general election manifesto promised to end free movement, and Corbyn recently complained of the “wholesale importation of underpaid workers from central Europe”.

Among economists, however, a diametrically opposed conversation prevails. They argue that rather than limiting free movement, leaders should expand it: from Europe to the world. Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, likens the present system to leaving “trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk”.

Economists estimate that allowing migrants to move to any country they choose would increase global GDP by between 67 and 147 per cent. A doubling of GDP (a $78trn increase) would correspond to 23 years of growth at 3 per cent. By contrast, the International Monetary Fund estimates that permitting the entirely free movement of capital would add a mere $65bn.

The moral case for open borders is similarly persuasive. As the Dutch historian Rutger Bregman writes in his recent book Utopia for Realists: “Borders are the single biggest cause of discrimination in all of world history. Inequality gaps between people living in the same country are nothing in comparison to those between separated global citizenries.” An unskilled Mexican worker who migrates to the US would raise their pay by around 150 per cent; an unskilled Nigerian by more than 1,000 per cent.

In his epochal 1971 work A Theory of Justice, the American philosopher John Rawls imagined individuals behind a “veil of ignorance”, knowing nothing of their talents, their wealth or their class. It follows, he argued, that they would choose an economic system in which inequalities are permitted only if they benefit the most disadvantaged. The risk of being penalised is too great to do otherwise. By the same logic, one could argue that, ignorant of their fortunes, individuals would favour a world of open borders in which birth does not determine destiny.

Yet beyond Rawls’s “original position”, the real-world obstacles to free movement are immense. Voters worry that migrants will depress their wages, take their jobs, burden the welfare state, increase crime and commit terrorism. The problem is worsened by demagogic politicians who seek to exploit such fears.

But research shows that host countries gain, rather than lose, from immigration. Migrants are usually younger and healthier than their domestic counterparts and contribute far more in tax revenue than they claim in benefits. Rather than merely “taking” jobs, migrants and their children create them (Steve Jobs, the son of a Syrian immigrant, is one example). In the US, newcomers are only a fifth as likely to be imprisoned as the native born. A Warwick University study of migration flows between 145 countries found that immigration helped to reduce terrorism by promoting economic development.

In a world of open borders, the right to move need not be an unqualified one (the pollster Gallup found that 630 million people – 13 per cent of the global population – would migrate permanently). Under the EU’s free movement system, migrants must prove after three months that they are working (employed or self-employed), a registered student, or have “sufficient resources” (savings or a pension) to support themselves and not be “a burden on the benefits system” – conditions that the UK, ironically, has never applied.

But so radical does the proposal sound that few politicians are prepared to give voice to it. An exception is the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, who argued in 2016: “Inevitably, in this century, we will have open borders. We are seeing it in Europe already. The movement of peoples across the globe will mean that borders are almost going to become irrelevant by the end of this century, so we should be preparing for that and explaining why people move.”

At present, in a supposed era of opportunity, only 3 per cent of the global population live outside the country of their birth. As politicians contrive to ensure even fewer are able to do so, the case for free movement must be made anew.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear