Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair told a Baltimore audience Tuesday night that the world's challenges have never been greater, nor come with such speed, and he advocated intervention in struggling countries by powers such as Great Britain and the United States.
"I don't think there's been a more difficult time to be a political leader than now," Blair, who left office in 2007, told an audience of 2,800 at Loyola University Maryland. He described challenges posed by globalization and ever-evolving technology and said that "often the best short-term politics is in collision with the best long-term policy."
Blair said the global financial crisis has forced many nations to make long-needed structural changes to their tax and spending policies, especially in regard to entitlements, and also affected European Union members' willingness to bail out euro zone nations.
Blair, a close ally of President George W. Bush during the Iraq War, said the U.S. and Britain should "push back" on nations such as Iran, a country he said was "destabilizing the region."
He said it was important for global powers to help countries seeking a more democratic form of government, such as those in the post-Arab Spring Middle East. He said the international relationship that will matter most in the future is that between the U.S. and China.
The former leader of the Labour Party also paid tribute to his predecessor, former prime minister and Conservative Party head Margaret Thatcher, who died Monday.
Organizers of the event Tuesday said nearly half of the audience were students. Some waited in line for more than an hour to get tickets.
"I always admired Tony Blair as a prime minister and I think it's an amazing opportunity to hear him talk about foreign affairs," said graduate student Liz Perla.
Added her friend and fellow graduate student Corey Molzon: "It's an opportunity of a lifetime."
In a question-and-answer session after the speech, a student asked about Blair's support of the U.S. choice to go to war in Iraq in 2003, noting that many see it as a "stain" on Blair's record.
"These decisions are fantastically difficult, and I never disrespected people who had the completely opposite point of view," Blair responded. "But I think in the world we live in today, you can't risk having a rogue state that is threatening the stability of the world."
Of Thatcher, Blair noted that the two had "differences" of opinion on policy, but he said he admired her political will and commitment to freedom.
"What she did, really, was she realized that Britain had to become competitive again and had to sort out privatizing the state-run industries and get the tax and spending issues sorted out," Blair said. "And in many ways I was able to come to power and build on some of those things."
Blair's appearance was part of Loyola's Hanway Lecture in Global Studies, an endowed series funded with $5.2 million by alumnus Ed Hanway, chairman of the school's Board of Trustees, and his wife, Ellen.
School officials hope to bring more international leaders to campus as an annual event.
About two-thirds of Loyola undergraduates study abroad, school officials said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector contributed to this report.
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