Britain and its allies should be ready to mount Libya-style interventions in other Arab countries, Tony Blair declares today.
The former Prime Minister, who committed British troops to military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, says that Europe and the United States must draw up a proper plan to support the so-called Arab Spring.
In a new introduction to the paperback version of his memoirs published today, Mr Blair says: “We need to have an active policy, be players and not spectators sitting in the sands, applauding or condemning as we watch. Like it or not, we have to participate.”
He argues that a Libya-style operation should take place only when regimes have “excluded a path to evolutionary change”. But he does raise the prospect of intervention in some circumstances in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran and Jordan.
Mr Blair admits that, because of what happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, some leaders will be advised to “stay out” of the Arab world and that interfering would make things worse. “I don’t notice much [public] appetite in the US or Europe,” he concedes.
But he insists: “The alternative view is that we have major interests engaged in the region. We have no real option but to be active.”
In the extracts released last night, Mr Blair makes no comment on his 2004 “deal in the desert” with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, which helped turn the Libyan leader from an international pariah who exported terrorism to an ally of the West.
Defending the current action in Libya, Mr Blair says that if it had not happened, Gaddafi would have retaken the country and suppressed the revolt with “extraordinary vehemence” and many would have died.
“But the more far-reaching consequence is that within a period of months, we would have supported the removal of a key ally, President Mubarak of Egypt (and you can't rewrite history, he was our ally); and then stood by as Gaddafi (who despite his change on WMD and terrorism could not be considered in the same way) kept power. The damage to the West's reputation, credibility and stature would have been not just massive but potentially irreparable. That's what I mean by saying inaction is also a decision.”
The former Prime Minister says that “evolution is better than revolution” and where there is the possibility of evolutionary change, Britain should encourage and support it. “This is the case in the Gulf States. Instability there would be damaging not just to our interests but to those countries and their people. Many are already embarking on a path of steady change. We should help them keep to it and support it. None of this means we do not criticise strongly the use of violence against unarmed civilians. Or that if that violence continues, we do not reserve the right then to move to outright opposition to the status quo, as has happened in Libya.”
'A Journey' by Tony Blair is published in paperback with a new introduction, by Arrow Books, (£9.99). It is also available as an ebook