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Tony Blair: “Democracy isn't just about a way of voting, it's a way of thinking”

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At the start of UN General Assembly Week, Quartet Representative Tony Blair sat down with Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today Show to discuss the situation in the Middle East. This interview was first broadcast at 0700 ET on NBC.

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Matt Lauer: Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair joins us exclusively. Good to see you. Great to have you here.

Tony Blair: Thanks, Matt.

Matt Lauer: Lester Holt was reporting the insider attacks on the rise in Afghanistan, the fear that we may leave behind a situation a lot less secure than we anticipated. Does it give us a hint of what's to come after a dozen years of fighting? Could we see chaos return to Afghanistan?

Tony Blair: Well, it describes the challenge, for sure. First of all, if I may, I’d like to pay tribute though to your armed forces, to the service men and women who serve in Afghanistan and to give my deep sympathy to the families of those that have lost their loved ones there. We know what it's like from our side in Britain as well. We’ve lost over 400 soldiers in the course of the campaign in Afghanistan. And, look, it's very difficult when people see these insider attacks. They say, well, is it all worth it? I think we have to go back 11 years to realize why it is we were in Afghanistan, to realize that we actually have made our country safer as a result of this, but to understand that it's going it be an on-going and difficult struggle. It’s true that there are those who are insiders who are committing these crimes, but it's also true there are Afghan forces doing the job they should be doing.

Matt Lauer: I hate to put it on a scale of 1 to 10 question, but scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the Taliban is back in power after we leave and 1 being it's not going to happen, where is it?

Tony Blair: I don't believe they will come back in power. I think that we shouldn't underestimate the degree to which, for example, your surge, where you put some 30,000 troops into Kandahar and Helmand, which are the most difficult provinces, actually they have had an impact. You know, what we're engaged in in Afghanistan is a struggle in which there will be people that will carry on trying to do their very worst to disrupt the progress  of that country, but it's important to understand that there are also Afghans fighting on our side.

Matt Lauer: Let me ask you about things, the images we've seen around the world, in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa over the last several of weeks, protests against the United States. What is behind what seems to be this new wave of anti-Americanism, in your opinion?

Tony Blair: Well, I think, you know, if I can say one thing about America and the way it's viewed in this part of the world. I’ve just come back from my 88th visit to the Middle East since leaving office. If I were you in America, I would not worry about being loved. That’s not your role in the world, right? Your role is to be strong and you are strong. What you have to understand in all of these circumstances, there are two groups struggling for what's going on in the world. so it’s true You have anti-American protesters burning the flag, saying terrible things, trying to kill American people and you also have in Libya, for example, after the tragic death of your ambassador there, thousands of people coming out protesting against the killers and demanding action taken against them. So, you know, in the end, you've got to see this as a long struggle in which we've got to be on the side of the decent people, and there are decent people out there.

Matt Lauer: But we do worry what the result of the Arab spring for example has been. Mohamed Morsi, the new president of Egypt, gave an interview in advance of him coming to New York this week, and he said this: by backing dictatorial governments in the past, the quote, “successive American administrations essentially purchased with American taxpayer money the dislike, if not the hatred, of the peoples of the region”. How do you feel about that?

Tony Blair: Well, I feel about that that, you know, actually most of the governments of the world dealt with, for example, President Mubarak in Egypt and by the way for perfectly sensible reasons, my government did as well. Look, again, what you will find in all of these countries is they have thrown off a lot of these repressive dictatorships, but they are now having to learn that democracy isn't about just a way of voting, it's a way of thinking, you know, and if they want to make progress, we've got to help them but also challenge them to realize that the test of a democracy is not just how the majority win but how they then treat the minority, how they treat, for example, people of different religious faiths to their own.

Matt Lauer: I want to just end on a question that's near and dear to your heart. You’re here for climate week as well. We’ve had a crazy year in this country of extreme weather. Are you seeing around the world the kind of motivation and will that's necessary to, A) admit that there's a problem and then address the problem?

Tony Blair: Well, not enough frankly. I mean, I think we've go the to be very clear about this. I know we've got all these economic problems to deal with, but this climate issue is real, and we are very irresponsible for future generations if we don't deal with it and we should recover a sense of urgency about it. 

Matt Lauer: I hope we will. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, always nice to have you in New York.  Always nice when you stop by.

Tony Blair: Thank you.

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