Tony Blair made a keynote speech on Friday about the role of UK Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a brave speech designed to confront his critics, he called for a national debate about the role of UK Forces abroad, and posed the question: "Should they continue to be used to do what the British people want, to invade sovereign states in the time-honoured tradition?" In a speech designed to pave the way ahead for future successors, Blair raised important, sometimes sensitive, and always personally painful issues:
"The British people invested me with powers that said, 'Hey, go out there. Don't be afraid. Be strong abroad, and meet aggression with resistance, meet bullying with stand-up-for-yourselfness."
Looking tired from his efforts to bring peace to a troubled region, he said:
"The British people gave me a mandate, and that mandate was the only mandate I served, the mandate of the great British people who won two world wars, and ruled over an empire, a vast and far-reaching empire, like mine."
As rain began to fall, he defended the British people.
"They don't want to be walked on, messed around, seen as weak, deindustrialised, missing their old empire. No. They want strong leadership, and that's what I gave them."
Appearing tearful, Blair went away from his carefully typed and rehearsed script to show that he is not an automaton:
"But there are those of you, and I hear you, the few, who say, probably cruelly, but, you know. They say, 'Hang about, you can't take 20 million people prisoner, and be seen as a US poodle. Oh yes, I hear you. A poodle. But that's not me. A poodle would wince at the hanging of a despot. But not I. So I say to you, talk about the role of UK forces, think about it, in all honesty, and I will listen. Do you want to continue letting them be outnumbered, despite my best efforts. Do you want to keep putting them into impossible situations in spite of all I did? Think about what you've done."
And then, to universal applause and a two hour standing ovation, he touched on the future:
"And I say to my successor, whoever he or she is, take this ring, and use it wisely. Thank you. God bless."