Tony Blair challenged on guilt by Archbishop of Canterbury

By Harry Farley
BBC religious affairs journalist

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Tony Blair
Image caption,
Mr Blair said the decisions he took on Iraq and Afghanistan were complicated

The Archbishop of Canterbury has challenged former prime minister Tony Blair on how he handles feelings of guilt, in a series for BBC Radio 4.

Mr Blair, a Catholic, told the Most Rev Justin Welby his faith had helped him cope with knowing people disliked him.

The programme, part of The Archbishop Interviews series, included questions about the Iraq war, Afghanistan and negotiating the Good Friday Agreement.

"I had to do what I thought was the right thing," Mr Blair said.

He said the decisions he took were complicated and warned people not to trust politicians who told them "simple slogans".

'Rooting out evil'

Mr Blair also addressed the conflict in Ukraine in the interview, recorded on the morning of the Russian invasion.

"It's massively contrary to our interests to have a country, an independent sovereign country on the doorstep of Europe, essentially invaded and taken over," he said.

Reflecting on his decisions to intervene in other conflicts around the world, he said an "enlightened view of self-interest means that it is better that you act to prevent something happening that ultimately will affect you".

He denied it was the role of a political leader to go around the world "rooting out evil".

But he added: "When you're faced with a situation in which you believe that the interests of your country demand that you stop something bad happening, it's important that you stand for that, and that you take the action necessary to stop it."

Wrong decisions?

Mr Blair defended his decisions to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, alongside US President George W Bush.

"People often say over Iraq or Afghanistan that I took the wrong decision but you've got to do what you think is right," he said.

"Whether you are right or not is another matter. In those really big decisions you don't know what all the different component elements are, and you've got to follow, in the end, your own instinct."

He admitted he "may have been wrong" about Iraq and Afghanistan but insisted: "I had to do what I thought was the right thing."

Image caption,
The Blair interview is part of a series by the archbishop for BBC Radio 4

Asked about the dislike some people now have for him as a result of those decisions, Mr Blair said: "The most potent thing about Christian belief, to me - maybe you could say more generally about religious faith - is you acknowledge something greater and more important than yourself.

"I find that I will often have more in common with someone, for example, who is of the Muslim faith, because they are also a person of faith, than I will with someone who just regards [faith] as hocus pocus."

When asked about a sense of guilt, Mr Blair said: "You have to be prepared to acknowledge when you've got things wrong. I think in politics you can do that. I think people respect you more if you do do that."

But he added: "The problem of politics is that in a world that is in fact very complex, people search for simplicity."

He said people should "at least respect the fact of that complexity rather than reduce it to something that's a simple slogan.

"Because the politicians you really shouldn't trust are the people that get up and tell you the simple slogans."

Listen to The Archbishop Interviews at 13:30, Sunday 6 March on Radio 4 and BBC Sounds.