In Aspen, Blair talks of open minds, Gore of climate

Former United States Vice President Al Gore

ASPEN — Achieving peace in regions troubled by religious-based conflict requires people opening their minds and embracing tolerance, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Monday at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

“It isn’t hopeless. There are decent people out there and we should support them,” said Blair, who along with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore sat down for interviews Monday afternoon at the event.

Blair spoke as news emerged Monday of the discoveries of the bodies of three missing Israeli teens — one a dual Israeli-American citizen — and as Iraq faces a deteriorating situation because of the inroads made by the Islamic militant group ISIS.

Blair said the discovery of the dead Israeli teens is another reminder that until the poison is taken out of politics in the Middle East, there won’t be peace.

“There can be no justification for it, there can be no compromise with those responsible,” he said.

Blair supported the war led by President George W. Bush to remove former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and was asked by broadcast journalist Andrea Mitchell on Monday if that was a mistake.

“I don’t believe so,” said Blair, who stood by his view that Iraq is better off without Hussein.

“Having said that, of course, there were mistakes made,” said Blair, who said he has accepted full responsibility for his part in them.

While he said he could continue to engage in debate on his view about ousting Saddam, “I do think the challenge now is to recognize what the nature of this (current) problem is and how we unite to defeat it.”

He said Iraq is being hurt by the sectarian nature of its government. Blair said of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, “if he doesn’t change then he should be changed” and a more-inclusive government must be put in charge.

He said that in country after country where dictators have been removed in recent years, societies have had a choice between taking a reactionary view toward politics and religion, or embracing modernity, being tolerant of different faiths and “understanding that democracy is a way of thinking, not just a way of voting.”

He said problems in places such as Iraq and Syria “are complex and will take a generation to sort out.” But his hopes for such regions are based on his belief in the many “decent people” he said inhabit them.

Applying his call for tolerance and the embrace of pluralism more globally, Blair said the biggest divide politically isn’t between the left and right.

Rather, it “is between those with an open-minded view of the world and those with a closed-minded view.”

In his comments, Gore spoke encouragingly about the advances against climate change. He praised the unexpected speed at which renewable energy has become widely available and said he has been surprised at how quickly photovoltaic power has come down in price.

He cited how Germany has made solar an integral part of its energy portfolio, and said battery technology and pricing are reaching points that are enabling people to go off-grid.

“That trend is extremely powerful,” said Gore, who claimed electric utilities are beginning to fear they’re entering a “death spiral” like land-line phone companies are enduring thanks to the proliferation of cellphones.

Still, Gore worries about whether the world will come to grips with the threat posed by climate change soon enough.


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