Tony Blair Has Some Advice for the Next US President

Former UK prime minister Tony Blair is co-chairing a new commission with former CIA Director Leon Panetta tasked with forming a plan to counter violent extremism.
February 25, 2016, 9:55am
Photo via Getty Images

With an American election up for grabs and the Islamic State and its supporters refusing to go gentle into that good night, Washington, DC think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has launched a commission on countering violent extremism (CVE).

CSIS has put together a diverse group for this endeavor, including Islamic scholars, Ivy League professors, and tech sector executives. It's the kind of mix one might expect from a CVE initiative, except that at the head of this one is not an academic or specialist in Sharia — it's former UK prime minister Tony Blair.

Blair, who co-chairs the commission with former CIA director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, told VICE News that he wants to be able to lay out a "radical but sensible plan for the way forward."

"You're going to have a new president coming to the US, new leadership," Blair said. "How do we give those who are in office a practical policy handbook, guidebook, for how to deal with this? Because I know, if I was in office today, that's what I'd want."

CVE programs are currently in vogue. Last year, the White House hosted a three-day CVE summit that focused on awareness, countering recruitment narratives, and community-led intervention. DC-based CVE organization WORDE has been around since 2002 and, according to an annual report, works to influence public policy by "cultivating a better understanding of ideologies that promote pluralism and service to humanity." Minneapolis-based Heartland Democracy uses "discussions, readings, values, activities, and stories to engage participants in meaningful ways," according to its website. And Chicago-based Life After Hate, which was created by "former influential members of the radicalized American violent far-right," focuses largely on examining pathways into and out of extremism.

In a field that is growing increasingly crowded, the CSIS commission will stand apart by offering more proactive military approaches to CVE.

"There are places in North Africa, there are places in Central Asia, places in the far East that suddenly get a surge of jihadist problems," Blair said. "There isn't a huge amount of analysis on what is the right way to put together a force capability that can move quickly to snuff out this jihadist threat wherever it might originate."

Blair sees kinetic military action as a legitimate approach to CVE, but he doesn't think the world should wait for those with radical ideologies to engage in physical violence before intervening.

"The issue is not just violent extremism, it's extremism," he said. "In other words, I think if you bring up people to an idea that women are the property of men, then don't be surprised if an element of those people start doing what Boko Haram did and kidnap young girls. And likewise, if you say that Islam is in fundamental hostility with the West, don't be surprised if you end up with a certain number of those people saying, 'Well, in that case, we should go and fight them.'"

Related: Stepping Down as UN Envoy, Tony Blair Likely to Keep Close Ties With Powerful in Gulf

Blair continues to endure criticism for his role in the Iraq War, and controversy surrounded his selection and tenure as a United Nations peace envoy in the Middle East, a position from which he resigned last year. So his entrance into the world of CVE, where solutions tend to be centered more around non-coercive means than projections of power, is bound to cause a stir.

"Some people would say 'Well, he shouldn't be, you know, he's disqualified, or that person shouldn't be speaking,'" Blair said. "You're just gonna have to get over that, because the important thing is to realize this threat is growing, it's global, and it's gonna take a generation to defeat it."

Watch Tony Blair: The VICE News Interview here:

Follow Jason Mojica on Twitter: @elmodernisto