Tony Blair was hauled up in front of the sparsely-attended Foreign Affairs select committee today for a grilling about his links to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi — particularly around the time of the 2011 uprising. The former prime minister said he met with Gaddafi ‘once or twice’ because ‘it was important to bring them in from the cold’. If Britain hadn’t engaged with the regime, Blair said it would be ‘continuing to sponsor terrorism, was continuing to develop chemical and nuclear weapons and would have remained isolated in the international community’.
Blair mentioned that he currently visits the Middle East once or twice a month and his philosophy is that ‘evolution is better than revolution’ — but it would not have been better to keep Gaddafi in power: ‘what the Arab Spring shows you is that however much we may want to have dealt with these people, the populations of these countries are not going to tolerate it’.
There was much discussion of the phone calls Blair made to Gaddafi at the time of the West’s military action four years ago. Utilising air quotes, he denied he was trying to ‘save Gaddafi’. Instead, he argued that he was investigating the possibility of a peaceful transition, urging Gaddafi to escape to a ‘safe place’.
Although he wasn’t sure, Blair said he thought these calls were undertaken under his own initiative but Downing Street was ‘perfectly open’ to his actions. Despite judicious prodding from the select committee members, he declined to criticise David Cameron’s decision to undertake military intervention:
‘I know how difficult these decisions are. I am sure they did it for reasons that are perfectly well intentioned and in good faith’.
As ever when Blair publicly appears these days, it’s hard to believe he once led the Labour party as it exists today. For the current Labour leadership, his appearance is an unwelcome reminder of a time when the party engaged in dodgy deals in the desert. For others, it’s a throwback to a time when Labour was more willing engage with the rest of the world.