CNN speaks with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair about the fiscal cliff, Britain’s economy and what to do about the crisis in Syria.
Here in the United States, we talk about the fiscal cliff – unemployment 9.1 percent, millions of people would lose their jobs, the country would go back into a recession. What are the global implications, if, in fact, we do go over the fiscal cliff?
Very bad if it happens. So everyone hopes it doesn’t. I mean, I think right now you would expect people to be flatly rejecting the other side’s proposal…It’s going to be a really tough negotiation. The expectation by the way in the world is that you will sort it out. And if you do, I think the American economy – I would be probably more optimistic about the American economy right now than certainly any part of the rest of the Western world. So if you can get this sorted out, you can really move forward.
And therefore, I think now that your elections are out of the way, I’m just speaking as an outsider, now your election is out of the way, there’s going to be all this bargaining and positioning. But my expectations, and the desire of the world is sort it out, and we can move on, and then sort our own problems out.
For those of us in the United States, we see what seem to be two intractable issues. Republicans saying they will not raise taxes on the top two percent of earners, while the Democrats say they are certainly not going to have spending cuts that hurt the middle class. And as the proposals go on the table they seem intractable on it.
They do. But you would expect the Republicans to be more on the tax side and Democrats to be more on the “we’re not cutting spending side.” This is a pretty routine type of argument. The question is, you know, are they so far apart they can’t bridge the gap? I think they could bridge the gap. There have been proposals put forward on a cross-party basis before that very nearly resulted…we’ve just got to hope that after all the tough bargaining, if everyone just came together and said we’ve got an agreement, then that would be rather unlikely.
So, I hope it doesn’t run on too long because the world really is watching. And the single thing that would give the biggest boost to global confidence right now would be to resolve the fiscal cliff position…what a fantastic natural advantage is in this huge game change you’ve got in energy policy with the shale [gas] and so on, to see that economy really take its proper place again. And if that happens, I think that will also have an impact on the Eurozone, which is still very, very fragile.
A couple of big “ifs” in there. You have written an article, a special to CNN, called “Be bold to escape the economic crisis.” That’s the headline. What is the lesson? I think often the big superpowers don’t necessarily look to Africa, for example, for good lessons on how to strategize. But many of those countries, those emerging economies are growing at a rate faster than the United States, and faster than many others.
Yes, they’re moving ahead very fast as economies. But I think if you take Europe, they’ve got to take some really big decisions now, and, as it were, sort out the short-term issues to do with the single currency crisis, and then make the long-term reforms that we’re all going to have to make.
I mean, your fiscal cliff – some of the issues there, around entitlements and welfare and reform, they’ve got echoes of what we’re trying to do in Europe. And in the U.K., frankly a lot of the systems we’ve built up in the post-war years, as a result of technology, as a result of an aging population, as a result of rising costs in health care and elsewhere, you’re going to have to make some quite big fundamental changes. So I think the issue is to sort out the short-term problem and then get going on those long-term reforms that will allow us to start being competitive again and taking our places as strongly growing economies.
Let’s talk a little bit about Syria. Hillary Clinton had a statement out yesterday. She’s in the Czech Republic, and she said this: “I’m not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event there’s credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people, but suffice it to say we are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur.” First of all, what do you think that means, specifically? And, and what should it mean?
I think it means that it’s a red line for Americans and the world. If that were to happen then I would expect some form of very tough military response.
Which would be what?
[U]p to now what the West has been doing is giving some political support to the Syrian opposition, obviously trying to resolve the situation as far as is possible, and it’s not been possible so far.
And every day 100 people die or more.
There are a lot of people dying. Now the death toll probably would be around 40,000 since this began. That’s a large number of people. But if there were any sense at all that Assad was going to use chemical weapons or did use chemical weapons against his own people, I would expect a very tough response that would be military.
Would he use chemical weapons do you think?
I do know him, but I don’t know the answer to that question, except that you’ve got to take into account that he is content to have a situation which, as I say, almost 40,000 people have died so far. They’re dying every day…This is why large numbers of civilians are dying – essentially the Assad forces can no longer really combat Syrian opposition hand-to-hand on the ground. So what they’re doing is they’re just using their superior air power and fire power just to wipe out villages and towns. And that means you have an indifference to the loss of civilian life that I’m afraid is not a great character reference for what he might do.
Now, he’s got to understand that the consequences of going that step further and using chemical weapons would, as Hillary Clinton has made clear and President Obama made clear, invoke a completely different response from us. I think, though, we’ve got to be looking for ways to try to bring this ghastly conflict to an end.
You said we need to ramp up pressure on Assad, and I think there are people in the State Department who said we’ve been trying to do that. What needs to be done?
Well, I think we are. But, I think we’ve also got to look at ways now that we give support to the Syrian opposition, especially around this notion of how you protect certain parts of the territory for them and really just send a signal to Assad that this will only have one outcome. The important thing here is to show that in the end it is a matter of time. It’s when and not if.