'The Only Just Way Is Two States for Two Peoples'

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, author of the new memoir A Journey: My Political Life, speaks to TIME about being prepared for office, the Iraq war and hopes for Middle East peace

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British Prime Minister Tony Blair addressing an Investment Forum in London.

Tony Blair talked recently to TIME's Michael Elliott about being prepared for office, a turning point in the Iraq war and the hopes for Middle East peace.

What most surprised you about taking a leadership position rather than just thinking about it?
The huge difference between exploring a problem, talking about it, even putting forth a solution to it, and doing it. What you are unprepared for is the sheer complexity and difficulty of the business of governing. I always come back to that Mario Cuomo phrase, "You campaign in poetry and govern in prose." It's absolutely correct. [But] you do learn. It's like anything else — you do learn.

Do you think it is now more difficult for the Western democracies to advance the ideas in your 1999 Chicago speech on the responsibilities of the international community?
More difficult, yes, because it is clear that if you are engaged in intervention in which [this new strain of extremism based on a perversion of Islam] is a factor, then that intervention may be protracted and hugely challenging. [The ideas are] not any less necessary, however.

It seemed that your objective in the pages on Iraq was simply to ask people to think again about their ideas of what the war was about and how it was fought.
Yes, exactly so. My function in the book is not to persuade you but to ask you to understand there is a different point of view. I simply ask people to open their minds.

I was struck by your suggestion that a defining moment in Iraq was the attack on the U.N. in August 2003.
This was an act absolutely aimed at the international community, not at the Americans or the British or the coalition of countries that had supported [the war]. What really should have happened is that the international community came together and said, Look, this is an assault on us, and we should defend ourselves, and we should ensure that we come together. But that's not what happened.

Tell me a little about the donation of your proceeds from the book to the British Legion, which works with members of the armed forces and their families.
I have a huge respect for them, and it is right that we honor them and help them in any way that [we] can.

The Middle East peace talks are about to get under way again. Are there reasons to be optimistic?
Yes, there are. First of all, there is no alternative but to find a just way of people living together in peace, and the only just way is two states for two peoples, as it were. So let's get on and do it. The single most important thing is the Obama decision to do this from the beginning. That gives us the space and the time to get this thing done.